The White House announced Monday that the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, will be tried in federal court for his alleged crimes. Press secretary Jay Carney flatly rebuffed demands from many Republicans that Tsarnaev be designated an "enemy combatant" in order to interrogate him without constitutional safeguards like access to a lawyer.
"He will not be treated as an enemy combatant. We will prosecute this terrorist through our civilian system of justice," Carney told reporters at his daily briefing.
Carney pointed to the convictions and life sentences handed down in other high-profile terror cases like the so-called Times Square Bomber, Faisal Shahzad, and the so-called Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. "The system has repeatedly proved that it can successfully handle the threat that we continue to face," Carney said.
Carney said the decision fell to the Department of Justice and especially Attorney General Eric Holder, but stressed that “the whole national security team supports this decision.”
Tsarnaev is a a U.S. citizen of Chechen heritage.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has led calls for the government to hold the suspect as an enemy combatant in order to question him unhindered. Graham and other lawmakers argue that failing to do so could hamper investigators' ability to detect and disrupt potential threats that Tsarnaev might know about.
But Carney said doing so would be illegal.
"Under U.S. law, United States citizens cannot be tried in military commissions," the press secretary said. "And it is important to remember that, since 9/11, we have used the federal court system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists."
He added, "The effective use of the criminal justice system has resulted in the interrogation, conviction and detention of both U.S. citizens and noncitizens for acts of terrorism committed inside the United States and around the world."
Obama has not yet weighed in publicly on the issue, but he praised America's courts in his statement after the manhunt ended on Friday.
"When a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it's important that we do this right. That's why we have investigations. That's why we relentlessly gather the facts. That's why we have courts. And that's why we take care not to rush to judgment—not about the motivations of these individuals; certainly not about entire groups of people," Obama said.