ACLU calls for Miranda rights for Boston bombing suspect

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for the Obama administration to read the suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings his legal rights.

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The Department of Justice indicated Friday that the administration would not read 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights, citing a public safety exception.

But Anthony Romero, the ACLU's executive director, said Saturday that the immediate threat is over and that Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen who became a naturalized U.S. citizen last year, should now be treated like any other suspected criminal.

“Every criminal defendant is entitled to be read Miranda rights," Romero said in a statement. "The public safety exception should be read narrowly. It applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety and is not an open-ended exception to the Miranda rule."

Tsarnaev was captured Friday night in the Boston suburb of Watertown after leading law enforcers on a tense, day-long manhunt that captured the attention of the nation and locked down much of Greater Boston.

Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, are suspected of planting the two bombs that detonated Monday near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 170.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police in Watertown in the early hours of Friday morning. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured Friday night after another shootout with police roughly a mile away. 

Legal experts say the younger Tsarnaev, who remains in a Boston hospital in serious but stable condition, could face the death penalty if convicted on federal terrorism charges. 

A number of powerful Republicans – including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), as well as Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) – are urging the Obama administration to treat Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant.

"Under the Law of War we can hold this suspect as a potential enemy combatant not entitled to Miranda warnings or the appointment of counsel," McCain and Graham said Friday in a joint statement. "Our goal at this critical juncture should be to gather intelligence and protect our nation from further attacks."

Romero and the ACLU are pushing back against that notion, arguing that even those suspected of the most heinous crimes have constitutional protections that law enforcers must abide.

"Every criminal defendant has a right to be brought before a judge and to have access to counsel. We must not waver from our tried-and-true justice system, even in the most difficult of times,"  Romero said. 

"Denial of rights is un-American and will only make it harder to obtain fair convictions."

Miriam Conrad, public defender for Massachusetts, told the Associated Press that there are "serious issues regarding possible interrogation." The news service reported that federal public defender's office in Massachusetts will represent Tsarnaev once he is charged.

--This report was updated at 4:42 p.m.