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White House: Boston bombing suspect will not be treated as enemy combatant

The White House said Monday it will not treat the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon attack as an enemy combatant.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was charged Monday with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill three people and injure more than 200, would be tried as a terrorist in the federal court system.

“This is absolutely the right way to go and the appropriate way to go,” Carney said at Monday’s White House press briefing.

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Carney said the department of Justice and Attorney General Eric Holder, as well the entire national security team, support not trying the terror suspect as an enemy combatant.

A number of Republicans had called on the Obama administration to declare Tsarnaev an enemy combatant and put him in military detention in order to gather intelligence from him. They argue this would allow the government to gather more information from Tsarnaev for a longer period of time.

The government has yet to read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights, and Carney on Monday declined to comment on how long the Justice Department might question Tsarnaev under the public safety exemption from Miranda.

A group of GOP lawmakers led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had argued for enemy combatant status for Tsarnaev.

Graham said in a press conference Monday that he “strongly disagreed" with the Obama administration’s decision.

“I believe such a decision is premature,” Graham said. “It is impossible for us to gather the evidence in just a few days to determine whether or not this individual should be held for questioning under the law of war.”

Graham said that while he wants the Boston suspect held as an enemy combatant to gather intelligence, he also thinks that Tsarnaev should ultimately be moved into the federal courts for trial because he is an American citizen.

The Obama administration argues that it can gather intelligence from Tsarnaev in the federal system and that military detention is not necessary.

Carney listed off a number of prior cases, including the attempted Times Square bomber and “underwear bomber,” where federal interrogators gathered intelligence from terrorism suspects.

Tsarnaev remains in serious condition in a Boston hospital, according to the FBI. There were reports Monday that he had responded to some questions in writing.

Carney on Monday defended the FBI's handling of an interview with Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011. The older brother of Dzhokhar, killed Friday after a gunfight, is also suspected of bombing the marathon.

The Russian government reportedly asked the FBI about the older Tsarnaev brother, who had traveled to Russia.

Carney said the FBI "thoroughly investigated" a matter in 2011 on one of the terror suspects.

"It is clear that the FBI followed up," Carney said, adding that federal officials did not find Tsarnaev had terror ties foreign or domestic.

Carney also defended a pending Senate immigration reform bill and said it should not be held up because of the Boston attack.

"We agree with what some of the co-authors of the bill have said which is that one of the positive effects..is ... it will enhance when implemented our national security," he said, adding it's "another reason we need to move forward."

Asked if the White House is concerned that the immigration bill will lose momentum, Carney said, "It should not."

This story was posted at 12:57 p.m. and last updated at 4:11 p.m.