A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday described as a “big mistake” a decision to shut down the interrogation of the surviving accused Boston Marathon bomber before the FBI had completed its questioning so he could be read his Miranda rights.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said FBI agents were 16 hours into a planned 48-hour interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, when the session was halted and the suspected bomber sought an attorney, who stopped the questioning.
“I know the FBI has to be incredibly frustrated that they could not continue to interview this suspect,” Mr. Graham told Fox News. “This was a big mistake. They’re trying to play like there’s no war, but there is a war and it’s going to bite us.
“Bin Laden may be dead, but the war against radical Islam continues and this administration has let its guard down,” he said.
Tsarnaev, known to the FBI as “Suspect #2,” immediately stopped talking after a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston entered the room and gave him his Miranda rights, according to law enforcement authorities.
The questioning appears to have stopped after investigators learned and advised officials in New York that Tsarnaev and his older brother Tamerlin, 26, allegedly planned to detonate six improvised explosive devices in Times Square in Manhattan three days after the trail of carnage in Boston. That plan was scrubbed when they discovered their carjacked SUV didn’t have enough gas and the owner escaped, alerting police.
Mr. Graham, who steadfastly has called for the Obama administration to label Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant” for the purposes of intelligence gathering, said the Joint Terrorism Task Force had planned at least 32 more hours of interrogation.
“We should be focused on gathering intelligence from this suspect right now that can help our nation understand how this attack occurred and what may follow in the future. That should be our focus, not a future domestic criminal trial that may take years to complete,” he said.
The public safety exception that precluded the immediate reading of the Miranda rights to Tsarnaev is a domestic criminal law doctrine that allows questioning of a criminal suspect for a limited time and purpose.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said Tsarnaev told interrogators from his hospital bed that he and his older brother decided “spontaneously” the night of April 18 to drive to New York to “party” at Times Square but changed their minds and planned instead to take their remaining bombs and detonate them.
“They discussed this while driving around in a Mercedes SUV that they hijacked after they shot and killed the officer at MIT,” Mr. Kelly said. “That plan, however, fell apart when they realized that the vehicle they hijacked was low on gas and ordered the driver to stop at a nearby gas station.”
When they stopped for gas, the SUV owner escaped, alerting police. A car chase ensued into Watertown, Mass., resulting in a shootout. Tamerlin Tsarnaev was killed in that confrontation.
The younger brother escaped but later was found wounded and hiding in a boat in a nearby backyard. He was being interrogated at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where he is recovering from gunshot wounds. He was charged Monday in federal court with using a weapon of mass destruction, for which he could receive the death penalty.
“We don’t know if we would have been able to stop the terrorists had they arrived here from Boston,” said New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said. “We’re just thankful that we didn’t have to find out that answer.”
Mr. Kelly said when the brothers talked about bombing New York, they had six bombs in their possession — five pipe bombs and one pressure-cooker device similar to those used in Boston to kill three people and injure more than 260.