WASHINGTON — Democrat Barack Obama says he'll take no lectures from Republicans on who will keep America safer. GOP rival John McCain's campaign criticized Obama Tuesday for speaking approvingly of the successful prosecution of terrorists.
A McCain aide said, "Obama is a perfect manifestation of a September 10th mind-set" and does not understand the dangers posed by U.S. adversaries.
Obama told reporters that the Republicans have no "standing to suggest that they've learned a lot of lessons from 9/11."
He said they "helped to engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11." He said Osama bin Laden is still at large in part because of their failed strategies.
In a conference call with reporters, McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann said Tuesday: "Senator Obama is a perfect manifestation of a September 10th mind-set. ... He does not understand the nature of the enemies we face." Former CIA director James Woolsey said Obama has "an extremely dangerous and extremely naive approach toward terrorism ... and toward dealing with prisoners captured overseas who have been engaged in terrorist attacks against the United States."
The Obama campaign quickly responded with its own conference call in which Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official in Republican and Democratic administrations, argued the McCain campaign was emulating Karl Rove, President Bush's former political adviser.
"I'm a little disgusted by the attempts of some of my friends on the McCain campaign to use the same old, tired tactics ... to drive a wedge between Americans for partisan advantage and to frankly frighten Americans," Clarke said.
GOP criticism of the presumed Democratic nominee echoed the words of Rove, who in January 2006 said Republicans have a post-Sept. 11 view of the world and Democrats a pre-9/11 view. Eleven months later, the GOP lost control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections.
At issue were Obama's comments Monday in an interview with ABC News. Obama was asked how he could be sure the Bush administration's anti-terrorism policies are not crucial to protecting U.S. citizens.
Obama said the government can crack down on terrorists "within the constraints of our Constitution." He mentioned the indefinite detention of Guantanamo Bay detainees, contrasting their treatment with the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
"And, you know, let's take the example of Guantanamo," Obama said. "What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks — for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center — we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated.
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"And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, 'Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims. ...
"We could have done the exact same thing, but done it in a way that was consistent with our laws," Obama said.
Obama agreed with the Supreme Court ruling last week that detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have a constitutional right to challenge their indefinite imprisonment in U.S. civilian courts. McCain derided the ruling as "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."
Kerry, who as the 2004 Democratic nominee faced Republican claims that he was soft on terror, accused McCain of "defending a policy that is indefensible" by siding with Bush's policies — particularly with respect to the Iraq war.
"The U.S. is less safe, less respected and less able to lead in the world, and that is the record John McCain has chosen to embrace," Kerry said.
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