Enemy Combatant? Washington Tussles Over Tsarnaev Designation

The FBI confirmed today that Boston bombings suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev remains in serious condition today with a throat wound that's impaired his ability to speak.

Still, Washington is in heated debate about how to treat the Chechen terror suspect when or if he can speak -- and may be able to yield critical intelligence.

Shortly after Tsarnaev's Friday night capture in Watertown, Mass., Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) released a joint statement applauding the fact that the suspect had not been read his Miranda rights as "sound and in our national security interests."

"We have concerns that limiting this investigation to 48 hours and exclusively relying on the public safety exception to Miranda, could very well be a national security mistake.  It could severely limit our ability to gather critical information about future attacks from this suspect," the lawmakers said. “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."

“The public safety exception is a domestic criminal law doctrine that allows questioning of a criminal suspect without Miranda warnings for a limited time and purpose," they added. “We hope the Obama Administration will consider the enemy combatant option because it is allowed by national security statutes and U.S. Supreme Court decisions."

“We continue to face threats from radical Islamists in small cells and large groups throughout the world.  They have, as their primary focus, killing as many Americans as possible, preferably within the United States.  We must never lose sight of this fact and act appropriately within our laws and values."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) countered he's "not aware of any legal basis at this point for such a designation" of enemy combatant status in this case.

“I am not aware of any evidence so far that the Boston suspect is part of any organized group, let alone al Qaeda, the Taliban, or one of their affiliates -- the only organizations whose members are subject to detention under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, as it has been consistently interpreted by all three branches of our government. In the absence of such evidence I know of no legal basis for his detention as an enemy combatant," Levin continued. "To hold the suspect as an enemy combatant under these circumstances would be contrary to our laws and may even jeopardize our efforts to prosecute him for his crimes."