Trump's Shift on New York Attacker and Guantanamo Riles Graham

(Bloomberg) -- Now that U.S. President Donald Trump has backpedaled on the idea of sending the suspect in this week’s New York City terrorist attack to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, his sometime golf partner Lindsey Graham is wondering if he’s gone soft.

“I appreciate President Trump taking the gloves off when it comes to unleashing our military” on Islamic State, the Republican senator from South Carolina said in a statement Thursday. “However, I’m dumbfounded as to why the Trump Administration still follows the Obama playbook when it comes to dealing with terror suspects.”

Decrying the attack in New York on Tuesday that killed eight people, Trump has called the suspect, an Uzbekistan immigrant identified by authorities as Sayfullo Saipov, an “animal” who should face the death penalty.  

Asked by a reporter on Wednesday whether Saipov should be sent to the U.S. military prison in Cuba, where terrorist suspects captured overseas have been detained, Trump said: “I would certainly consider that. Send him to Gitmo -- I would certainly consider that, yes.”

He added that the U.S. justice system is “a joke and it’s a laughingstock” because it doesn’t move quickly enough. “And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”

Those remarks remark drew criticism from Democrats and civil liberties groups. Saipov was a legal resident of the U.S., and no one arrested on American soil has ever been sent to Guantanamo Bay. Even though he allegedly declared himself a soldier of the Islamic State, there are constitutional questions about declaring him an enemy combatant.

On Thursday morning, Trump reversed course and said it’s best to put the alleged attacker through the U.S. judicial system -- using some of the same arguments that former President Barack Obama advanced for shutting down Guantanamo.

“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” Trump said in tweets. “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”

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