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WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers from Tennessee and Georgia are at odds over the degree of legal protections owed a controversial American citizen — the Boston Marathon bombing suspect.
Senior senators and elder GOP statesmen from both states said authorities erred in providing an attorney to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Instead, Tennessee's Lamar Alexander said, authorities should have interrogated the 19-year-old naturalized American citizen for a month in isolation to "learn what else he knows, what his connections are." Georgia's Saxby Chambliss agreed, saying law enforcement officials should have indefinitely questioned Tsarnaev without assigning counsel or reading his right to remain silent.
"I don't know why they gave him his Miranda rights," Alexander said in an interview. "I would think for a terrorist, even though he's a United States citizen, that it's appropriate to take a longer period of time to interrogate him before you give him his Miranda rights."
Asked how long he meant, Alexander said 30 days "might be a reasonable period of time."
On the other hand, a conservative East Tennessee congressman said withholding rights from citizens simply isn't the American way. And a North Georgia tea party Republican agreed, saying he trusts the Obama-led Justice Department's judgment.
"Whether you like it or not -- and I don't like what he did -- citizenship guarantees you in the Constitution some rights," said U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. "That's the way we do it in America."
The Johnson City Republican seemed to have a partner in U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, a North Georgia tea party idol who expressed faith in federal officials when asked about their decisions thus far.
"The authorities are doing their best," Graves said, "and I trust their judgment."
The Southern split illustrates a broader Republican conflict between tough-on-terror rhetoric and calls for civil liberties.
According to The New York Times, officials announced they would briefly question Tsarnaev under the "public safety exception" to the Miranda Rule, which grants the accused the right to remain silent. After the suspect said no other threats existed, authorities Mirandized the suspect, gave him counsel and charged him with using a weapon of mass destruction.
Roe praised that approach. He said that, from the beginning, he hoped the man accused of killing three and injuring more than 260 people at the Boston Marathon would get "due process, defense, prosecution, trial by jury, conviction and execution."
Chambliss said the Supreme Court allows "detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects as enemy combatants, regardless of citizenship," but a spokeswoman did not respond to a request to provide the case the senator was citing. Meanwhile, Alexander said authorities immediately should have begun an extensive barrage of questions.
Both men said authorities botched the entire process and jeopardized national security. Citizen or not, they said, Tsarnaev should have been subject to the laws of war. But the Obama administration has said terrorism suspects arrested within the nation should be tried exclusively in the civilian system, according to the Times.
Other local Republican lawmakers staked a middle ground.
"I don't know all the facts, you know?" said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. "I didn't know he was an American citizen. That puts a little bit different wrinkle on things."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, an attorney and Ooltewah Republican, declined to evaluate the Justice Department's judgment, opting to stay "within my constitutional role as a member of the House of Representatives."
"I think we have to defer these decisions to the Department of Justice and then just make sure that they're very diligent and vigilant in the way they prosecute this case," he said. "I think the key is to work toward gathering information."
Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfree press.com or 423-280-2025.