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WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Donald Trump is calling for swift justice in the case of accused New York City truck terrorist Sayfullo Saipov, including the death penalty.
In response to questions from reporters Wednesday, Trump said he would be open to transferring the 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant from the civilian justice system to the military system at Guantanamo. “Send him to Gitmo, I would certainly consider that, yes,” he said.
The president said Thursday on Twitter that he “would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer” than handling his trial through the U.S. court system.
The president said he would prefer that Saipov be tried in the U.S. court system because, if convicted, the defendant could be sentenced to death.
Other senior Republicans, including Trump’s attorney general, appeared to differ with the president on handling the Saipov case.
All lawful tools
In a speech Thursday to a conference in New York City on defending national security, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not rule out the option of declaring Saipov an enemy combatant.
“Terrorists should know: This administration will use all lawful tools at our disposal, including prosecution in Article III [federal] courts and at Guantanamo Bay,” Sessions said.
“If anyone has any doubt about that, they can ask the more than 500 criminals whom the Department of Justice has convicted of terrorism-related offenses since 9/11. And they can ask the dozens of enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay.”
A leading Republican senator, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, issued a statement ridiculing the idea of prosecuting the case in federal court.
“It appears the Trump administration is continuing the Obama policy of criminalizing the War on Terror by not declaring Sayfullo Saipov an enemy combatant,” Graham said.
The senator argued that trying Saipov in federal courts would severely limit the ability of investigators to glean valuable intelligence that could “help win the war.” He added, “The Trump administration missed an important opportunity to send a strong message to terrorists and make America safer.”
Appearing to mimic Trump’s Twitter style, Graham ended his statement by saying, “This is a huge mistake. Very sad.”
Entitled to due process
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley says declaring Saipov an enemy combatant is fraught with legal problems. “[It] would be a wrong as a matter of law and as a matter of principle,” Turley wrote in response to a VOA question.
“Saipov is a legal green card holder living in the United States. He is accorded the protections of due process under the Constitution. The legal status of the proceedings at Guantanamo Bay has always been somewhat uncertain and undefined. This would be a particularly bad case to test that status for the Administration,” Turley wrote.
The expert on Constitutional law, told VOA, “We are defined by our values as embodied by the Constitution. Saipov will receive due process not because of who he is but who we are as a people. He will receive all of the due process that he denied to his victims. He will then be punished according to the laws of this nation.”
Saipov, who came to the United States legally through the diversity lottery visa program, faces numerous terrorism-related charges in connection with Tuesday’s rampage down a New York City bicycle path in a rented truck, which left at least eight people dead and a dozen more seriously injured.
He was wounded after the attack, and taken to a hospital where authorities say he stated his allegiance to the Islamic State and asked that he be allowed to have an IS flag in his hospital room, a request that was denied.
Law enforcement officials noted that Saipov’s method of using a rented truck was similar to IS-inspired vehicle attacks in other Western countries in recent years. New America, a nonpartisan research center, said 15 vehicular attacks have been carried out since 2014, killing more than 140 people.
Uzbekistan’s president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, said Wednesday the attack was ruthless and cruel, and that his government stood ready to use all means to assist in the investigation.
With the New York City Marathon due to attract more than 50,000 runners and many hundreds of thousands of spectators this Sunday, the New York Police Department said it would increase the number of officers throughout the city “out of an abundance of caution.”