NEW YORK – A day after President Donald Trump threatened to send the suspect in the Manhattan truck attack to the military prison at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said the administration would “use all lawful tools at our disposal,” including the federal courts and military system, to prosecute terrorism suspects.
He also touted the Justice Department’s recent terrorism prosecutions, remarks that may not have been notable if Trump had not, a day earlier, denounced the American criminal justice system as “a joke” and “a laughingstock.”
Sessions’ remarks on Guantanamo Bay reiterated a long-held position in favor of continuing to detain terrorism suspects without trial there and to prosecute some before a military commission. He said earlier this year that he would advise Trump to send newly captured terrorism suspects to the wartime prison, which he called a “very fine place,” rather than to bring them to civilian court for prosecution by the Justice Department he runs.
But his comments took on new urgency when Trump on Wednesday said he was open to transferring the Manhattan truck attack suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, from civilian courts into the military system set up for foreign terrorists. A short time later, just over 24 hours after the attack, federal prosecutors filed charges accusing Saipov of being inspired by propaganda videos from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
By Thursday morning, the president backed off his threat to send Saipov to the military prison. He once again called for Saipov to be executed, a public intervention that could make it more difficult for prosecutors to secure a capital punishment in any future trial.
“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantánamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” he wrote. “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”
In Sessions’ remarks, made at the Manhattan office of the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is prosecuting Saipov, he defended the Justice Department’s anti-terrorism work.
“The department currently has ongoing terrorism-related investigations against hundreds of people who came here as refugees,” he said. “As you all know, we expend enormous manpower and resources on these investigations, as well as on the hundreds of domestic cases inspired by foreign terrorists.”
Sessions did not mention Saipov by name and he did not take questions from reporters.