WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to rule out sending the New York terrorism suspect to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after threatening a day earlier to send the alleged attacker to the detention center.
Backing off his initial statement that he was considering detaining the suspect at America's most notorious prison, Trump said Thursday that Sayfullo Saipov instead should be executed through the civilian justice system, which historically has been delivered faster convictions than the military tribunal system.
Trump tweeted, "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!"
On Wednesday, Trump said he felt the U.S. criminal justice system was "a joke" because it took too long for accused terrorists — "these animals," he called them — to be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced.
"We need quick justice, and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now," Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. "Because what we have right now is a joke and it's a laughingstock."
When a reporter asked whether he would send Saipov to the Guantanamo Bay prison, Trump replied, "I would certainly consider that. Send him to Gitmo. I would certainly consider that, yes."
A few hours later, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president's unscripted remark should not have been interpreted as a statement of intention or policy.
"Look, the point he was making is that he supports, or would support that, but he wasn't necessarily advocating for it," Sanders said.
Sanders said the Trump administration considers Saipov to be an "enemy combatant," but stressed that no decision had been made about how to prosecute him or where he would be detained.