Trump Says Terror Suspect Should Face Death Penalty, Not Gitmo

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said Thursday the suspect in the deadliest terror attack in New York City since 2001 should be executed, and backtracked from an earlier call to send him to the military detention facility at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba because the stateside system is quicker.

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

Trump on Wednesday said he “would certainly consider” sending the suspect out of the country to Guantanamo Bay, where terror suspects captured outside the U.S. have been detained. No one arrested in the U.S. has ever been sent to the prison camp and there hasn’t been a detainee sent there from overseas since 2008.

In backtracking from that on Thursday, Trump echoed some of the same arguments that his predecessor, Barack Obama, used in urging that the facility be closed. While the number of prisoners there dropped from 800 to 41 at the end of Obama’s terms, he was unable to shutter the prison due to opposition from Congress.

Authorities identified the suspect in Tuesday’s attack as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old who came to the U.S. from Uzbekistan in 2010. He allegedly drove a pickup truck onto a bicycle path in the Tribeca neighborhood near the World Trade Center, killing eight people.

Trump on Wednesday said Saipov asked to hang an Islamic State flag in the hospital room where he is recovering from gunshot wounds.

“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Earlier, Trump called on Congress to end the visa program that allowed the suspect to enter the country. Trump also said the government would step up its vetting and said he wants to “get rid of chain migration,” where immigrants petition for their relatives to enter the U.S. The suspected attacker was “the primary point of contact” for 23 people who came into the country, Trump told reporters, citing preliminary information.

“We also have to come up with punishment that is far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now,” Trump said. “They’ll go through court for years, at the end -- who knows what happens.”

“What we have right now is a joke,” he added.

Laying Blame

Trump started Wednesday seeking to lay blame for the previous day’s attack on Democrats, specifically Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, for backing bipartisan legislation in 1990 that created the visa program. In a tweet Wednesday morning. Trump called the visa program “a Chuck Schumer beauty,” adding, “We are fighting hard for Merit Based immigration, no more Democrat Lottery Systems. We must get MUCH tougher (and smarter).”

The Department of Homeland Security confirmed the suspect in the attack was in the U.S. legally on a visa under the diversity lottery program.

The president’s response fit his pattern of responding swiftly to apparent terror attacks with demands for tougher immigration laws and with blame for other politicians. But Trump left out that Schumer later sponsored another broad immigration plan that included among its provisions elimination of the program. That 2013 legislation was blocked by the Republican-controlled House.

“President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be bringing us together,” Schumer said Wednesday on the Senate floor. 

Schumer criticized the president’s proposal to cut funding by 25 percent for the Urban Area Security Initiative, which helps high-risk cities such as New York prevent, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism. He said Trump should “rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorist funding immediately.”

Flake’s Retort

Trump’s tweet also drew ire from his own party. Senator Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who has publicly battled Trump, noted Schumer had been part of a 2013 effort in the Senate to end the visa program.

“Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there,” Flake, who’s leaving the Senate when his term ends, tweeted Wednesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, jabbed at Trump for politicizing the tragedy.

“You play into the hands of the terrorist to the extent that you disrupt and divide and frighten people in this society,” Cuomo said a news conference in New York. “This not a time for politics. This is not a time to point fingers,” he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later said Trump doesn’t blame Schumer or hold him responsible for the attack. She said adding Uzbekistan to the list of countries on the U.S. travel ban list “may be something that’s looked at.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.