WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would consider sending Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York City, to the notorious U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay.
“I would certainly consider that, yes,” Trump said in response to a question from Major Garrett of CBS. “Send him to Gitmo.” Trump also urged “quick justice” and “strong justice” for Saipov, calling him “this animal.”
As they had during the Obama administration, Republicans said the controversial detention center on the American military base on the edge of Cuba was the best place to send a terror suspect.
“Take him to Guantanamo,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “He’s a terrorist, he should be kept there. There’s no Miranda rights for somebody who kills Americans.” (Alleged murderers do, in fact, have Miranda rights.)
McCain also made a comment referencing the terrible track record of the military commissions system in Guantanamo. Sixteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, there’s still no firm start date for the trial of several defendants charged in connection with the attacks through the military commissions process that began long ago. The federal judicial system, on the other hand, has a long track record of convicting and sentencing alleged terrorists, including the Boston Marathon bomber.
“It doesn’t work well,” McCain said of Guantanamo, “but it beats the hell out of Miranda rights.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also said he supported the idea of treating Saipov, who has a green card, as an enemy combatant.
“The idea that America is not part of the battlefield is insane,” he said. Graham added that he spoke with Trump about holding suspect as an enemy combatant. “I think he’s inclined to make a change.”
Later Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to clarify Trump’s comments, saying he “would support” sending Saipov to Guantanamo “but wasn’t necessarily advocating for it.” When asked, she said the White House “would consider him to be an enemy combatant.”
Declaring Saipov an enemy combatant would set off an intense legal battle, as it’s not clear if such a declaration would even be legal. It has been more than a decade since the U.S. sent someone to Guantanamo Bay, and the detention center’s population dropped significantly during the Obama administration.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions supports trying terrorists in Guantanamo, and visited the facility over the summer. But the Trump administration blinked when it came to sending an alleged al Qaeda member to the remote military base, instead charging him in federal court.
Sending Saipov to Guantanamo would almost certainly delay justice for the victim’s families for years. Even if he were ever convicted through the military commissions system, there would be a lengthy appeals process. The conviction would also be viewed as illegitimate in many parts of the globe.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment when HuffPost asked whether the DOJ considered the suspect an enemy combatant.
Despite Guantanamo’s poor track record, Trump raised idea of trying U.S. citizens at Guantanamo when he was on the campaign trail. He has continually advocated for harsher treatment of terrorists, expressing support for waterboarding, an illegal practice widely condemned as torture.
Of prosecuting suspected terrorists, Trump said: “We’re going to have to do things that are unthinkable.”
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.
This story has been updated to include comments from the White House press secretary and a response from the DOJ.