New York Attacker Won’t Be Sent to Guantanamo, Trump Says

President’s decision to use criminal courts breaks with Graham, McCain

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., wants President Donald Trump to send the New York truck attacker to Guantanamo Bay. Trump signaled Wednesday the suspect will head to the criminal justice system. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President Donald Trump broke with congressional Republican hawks Thursday morning, signaling the Islamic State-inspired New York truck attacker will not be sent to the military’s terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

As top GOP Senate Armed Services members like Chairman John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina call for Sayfullo Saipov to be held by the military as an “enemy combatant,” Trump used morning tweets to signal he will be prosecuted via the criminal court system.

The commander in chief tweeted that he would “love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo,” but, citing unspecified statistics, he wrote the military justice process “takes much longer than going through the Federal system…” On Wednesday, he said that system is a “joke” and a “laughing stock”; his top spokeswoman later contended the president meant that is it makes how other countries view the United States.

In a second post, Trump, a native New Yorker, wrote he feels there is “something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed.”

The president also, again, appeared unconcerned about tainting a jury pool, expressing his hope the Uzbekistan native gets the “DEATH PENALTY!”

Past presidents and their senior aides have avoided prescribing sentences for crimes or terrorist acts, saying it would be inappropriate for the executive branch to influence the judicial branch. Trump, however, often ignores such long held separation of powers practices.

Trump’s national security and foreign policy moves have gotten mixed reviews from congressional hawks. For instance, they like his desire to boost Pentagon spending and decision to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan; but they disagree with his “America first” philosophy and isolationist instincts.

They also are concerned about his signaling Saipov will not joining the Gitmo population.

“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 in a statement Wednesday. “It’s ridiculous to believe that one day of interviews in a hospital tells us all we need to know about Saipov’s terrorist ties.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.