Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday the Trump administration will keep open its option to prosecute terrorists in military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, and he expressed support for the plan to abolish the Diversity Visa Lottery program.
In his first public address since Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York, Mr. Sessions said preventing dangerous people from entering the country is key to protecting the U.S. from terrorist activity.
“This is not a political or an ideological matter — this is a safety matter — a national security matter. This is about what a great nation must do to protect itself,” Mr. Sessions said as he spoke at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. “First of all, we need to keep potentially dangerous people from getting into this country. Second, we need access to electronic evidence with court approval. And third, we need to lawfully, aggressively surveil non-citizen terrorists overseas.”
New York terrorist suspect Sayfullo Saipov came to the U.S. from Uzbekistan through the Diversity Visa Lottery program in 2010.
President Trump initially said he would consider sending the 29-year-old immigrant, accused of using a truck to mow down pedestrians and cyclists on a New York bike path, to the notorious military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
But on Thursday the president walked back his enthusiasm for that approach, writing on Twitter, “Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system. There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”
Mr. Sessions said detention at Guantanamo would remain an option going forward in all terrorism cases.
“Terrorists should know: this Administration will use all lawful tools at our disposal, including prosecution in Article III courts or at Guantanamo Bay,” Mr. Sessions said. “If anyone has any doubt about it, they can ask the more than 500 criminals whom the Department of Justice has convicted of terrorism-related offenses since 9/11. And they can ask the dozens of enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay.”
Mr. Sessions joined the chorus of Republicans expressing skepticism of the diversity lottery program, which was established in 1990 and provides 50,000 slots each year for immigrants from countries that do not send many citizens to the U.S.
Adopting a merit-based immigration system like Canada and Australia would be a boon to the economy and improve public safety, Mr. Sessions said.
“This is the best way to ensure that the immigration system in America is benefiting America,” he said. “It is not just an issue of economic security; it is an issue of national security. A merit-based system, by definition, would be safer than a lottery or even extended family-based immigration.”