A former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee defended his call Sunday for the United States to treat the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing as an enemy combatant, arguing that his interrogation could provide essential intelligence.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, an American citizen, should be denied a lawyer during questioning in the short term.
He said the 19-year-old man could provide valuable insight to Chechneyan involvement in al Qaeda.
“This is a unique opportunity to go into a treasure trove of intelligence,” King added.
King said he believed Kyrgyzstan-born Tsarnaev, who became a U.S. citizen on Sept. 11 of last year, would ultimately be tried in civilian court. He added though that he had no doubt that Tsarnaev would be convicted in any case.
King said that while information gathered via questioning in the absence of a lawyer would be inadmissible in a civilian trial, investigators needed to move quickly to determine the motive for the bombing and subsequent crime spree allegedly carried out by Tsnarnaev and his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed following a shootout with police.
The suspect has not yet been read his Miranda rights, under a “public safety” legal exemption invoked by authorities. But King said justification for the exemption would not last long and Tsanaev would soon be able to “lawyer up” if action was not taken.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Saturday urged authorities to treat the suspect as any other and offer him his Miranda rights.
The younger Tsarnaev sustained a wound to the throat during his capture and has thus far not been able to communicate, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis said.
“He’s in no condition to be interrogated at this time,” Davis said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), appearing opposite King on the program, however, said denying the suspect access to an attorney during questioning would be unconstitutional.
King, who leads the Homeland Security panel’s counterterrorism and intelligence subcommittee, also raised questions about the FBI’s 2011 questioning of the elder Tsarnaev. He said the affair was the latest in a series of cases in which the agency had contact with individuals who went on to commit an act of terror.
“The FBI is given information about someone as potential terrorists, they look at him and they don’t take action,” he said. “Is there something deficient?”
Along with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), current chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, King has reportedly drafted a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller seeking a classified briefing on the FBI’s handling of the case.