After killing eight people in a truck attack Tuesday in lower Manhattan, Uzbekistan immigrant Sayfullo Saipov is said to have asked for an Islamic State group flag to put in his hospital room in Bellevue.
Clearly, according to the New York Post report, the terrorist was feeling good about what he had done in the name of the terrorist organization.
The mood in the room, however, is probably a lot less celebratory now that it seems President Donald Trump wants to see if he can send Saipov to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
According to NBC News, the president told reporters Wednesday that Gitmo was certainly a potential destination for Saipov.
“I would certainly consider that,” Trump said when asked about the possibility. “Send him to Gitmo — I would certainly consider that, yes.”
Sending Saipov to Gitmo would be a drastic move, as these things go — or, as the president might phrase it, yuge.
As The New York Times notes, no individual who has committed an attack on U.S. soil has been sent to Guantanamo Bay and nobody has been sent there, period, since 2008. At the very least, it would set off what the “paper of record” termed “novel legal questions,” which is (for The Times) rather atypical understatement in an issue involving President Trump.
Liberals, as liberals predictably do when Guantanamo Bay is mentioned, lost their cookies over the whole thing.
And The Times, of course, found someone to criticize Trump for it.
“The FBI would lose its mind” if Saipov were transferred to Gitmo, Joshua A. Geltzer, a former Justice Department attorney and senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council in the Obama White House, told the Gray Lady. “Why would (Defense Secretary James) Mattis want this headache?”
There is another alternative: Holding Saipov in a military prison as an enemy combatant. That move was used by George W. Bush’s administration with two terror suspects on U.S. soil, although the Supreme Court has never ruled on the legality of it.
In such a situation, an individual like Saipov could be held indefinitely without charges or access to legal counsel while he was interrogated, The Times noted.
On Wednesday, Saipov was charged in federal court with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and one count of violence and destruction of motor vehicles, according to ABC News.
That seemed to indicate that the Trump administration would not be taking the enemy combatant route, something that angered South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said the Trump administration had made a “huge mistake.”
“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 news release later that evening.
“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 Now that he’s all lawyered up, that will likely be the end of intelligence gathering except through plea bargaining … Given the facts, any first-year law school student could obtain a conviction in court. I am more concern about intelligence gathering to help win a war. That is a process that takes time — time which is now lost.”
Graham told a news conference that Saipov should have been held as an enemy combatant for at least 30 days rather than being given a Miranda warning and a lawyer. However, authorities said Saipov waived his Miranda rights and gave them significant details of the attack.
While authorities claim that Saipov is a lone actor, the New York Daily News raised some alarm when it was revealed his attack followed “almost to the letter” a published Islamic State group manual on how to carry out a terror attack with a truck.
If the Trump administration decided it wanted to take a closer look at Saipov’s terror ties, either sending him to Gitmo or holding him as an enemy combatant would be two ways of doing it. In a Wednesday news briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Saipov’s fate was undecided, but that “I believe we would consider this person to be an enemy combatant.”
That means the party could very soon be over for Saipov. While sending him to Gitmo would certainly raise “novel legal questions,” as The Times put it, it would also send a discomfiting message to would-be terrorists as to what their fates might entail. It’s certainly a message that the Obama administration would never send — which is part of the point, one guesses, for President Trump.
The question for the Trump administration then becomes whether such a drastic measure would be worth it, both when it comes to legal challenges and political capital.