The federal government erred greatly in not designating Boston bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev an enemy combatant, three Republican senators said on Wednesday.
“The decision to bring Tsarnaev immediately into our civilian system … effectively cedes basic intelligence gathering to his defense lawyers,” said Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain of Arizona.
The senators, all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote an op-ed piece for The Boston Globe that was published on Wednesday.
“While defense lawyers perform an important function in our society, they should not be the gatekeepers of intelligence vital to our national security,” the senators wrote.
“Americans rightly seek justice. They also want to ensure that we collect as much information as we can from suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to keep Americans safe from other threats.”
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Questioning the 19-year-old Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant would have helped to determine “whether the brothers had acted alone and whether there are any future attacks planned against us,” the senators said.
Tsarnaev’s brother, Tamerlan, 26, died in a police shootout four days after the April 15 explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 260.
Because the brothers may have had ties to al-Qaida, President Barack Obama “could have designated Tsarnaev an enemy combatant to collect intelligence to protect our country,” the senators said.
“Following the extended interrogation, Tsarnaev would have been transferred to a federal court for trial,” through which his constitutional rights would have been protected, they added.
He was read his Miranda rights last week by a U.S. District Court magistrate, who had shown up unannounced at the Boston hospital where he was being interrogated by law-enforcement authorities.
Federal officials had not finished questioning Tsarnaev when he was read his rights.
“It was important to question Tsarnaev at length to find out whether the brothers had acted alone,” the senators said.
The Globe had contended in an editorial that Tsarnaev was questioned properly under Miranda’s public-safety exemption.
“But that exception was intended to be used in rare instances and only for an extremely limited period of time — which is nowhere near sufficient in order to gather the information we need to protect our country,” the senators said.
“While our law enforcement and intelligence personnel are highly skilled, mere hours of questioning under a public-safety exception are not enough time to determine all that the suspect knows,” the senators said.
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