Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said the Obama administration should ratchet up its focus on homegrown terrorists and their links to overseas jihadists despite the death of Osama bin Laden, citing the Boston Marathon bombings as a reminder that radicalized Islam is a constant threat.
Mr. Giuliani, whose public profile is linked to his widely praised response to the al Qaeda-led attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said there is a tendency to underplay the diversity and complexity of the threat to the United States. He accused the Obama administration of “leading from behind” on the subject and intervention in Syria, where extremists may develop an outsized influence.
“The president kind of prefers to watch these things play out before he makes a decision,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” noting that there have been plenty of warning signs that homegrown jihadists abound. “We shouldn’t be claiming, ‘Oh my goodness, we just found this out.’ We should be trying to figure out why the heck didn’t we react to this faster three, four and five years ago.”
The Obama administration’s response to the April 15 bombings at Boston’s famous footrace has stirred controversy about the confluence of intelligence gathering, privacy laws and whether an American citizen can be labeled an “unlawful enemy combatant” with no right to remain silent ahead of judicial proceedings.
Republican lawmakers have called on the Obama administration to treat surviving bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, as such a combatant so investigators can extract as much information as possible about his potential links to radicalized groups in the Caucasus region of the former Soviet Union.
Tsarnaev was arrested April 19, one day after his elder brother and suspected accomplice, Tamerlan, was killed in a shootout with police.
“We have to recognize we are still in a global war with radical Islamic jihadists,” Rep. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, told the program. “And the president, by his policies and by the words of senior officials in his administration, are removing us from a war footing and putting us back into a law enforcement model.”
But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the program that there are several variables to consider when pursuing terrorism suspects as combatants or suspects entitled to basic rights.
He noted that Timothy McVeigh, before he bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, “was radicalized in a different way” from the Islamist radicals who have targeted the United States in recent years, and that Miranda rights don’t necessarily keep suspected terrorists from divulging intelligence.
“What are we afraid of?” Mr. Leahy said. “The law enforcement did a superb job in Boston. These people are before courts. Mayor Giuliani and I are both prosecutors. We would love to prosecute this case.”
Responding to more calls for ethnic profiling, Mr. Giuliani said it is “perfectly legal and perfectly legitimate if you are following leads, if you are following objective evidence.”
But Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said burgeoning efforts at immigration reform is the answer, helping the United States track potentially dangerous individuals who enter or exit the country.
“I’ve been sitting for more than three months with a bipartisan group of senators talking about a variety of issues, including making America safer,” he said, noting there has not been enough coordination among intelligence agencies “so that we know someone should not have been readmitted to the United States.”
“Our bill,” he said, “addresses that directly.”