Supporters of Sen. John McCain seized upon comments about terrorism made by Sen. Barack Obama in an interview with ABC News Monday, saying his approving words about the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Center bombings indicated a naïve, pre-9/11, and dangerous view of how to combat terrorism.
"Senator Obama is a perfect manifestation of a September 10th mindset," declared Randy Scheunemann, the McCain campaign's director of foreign policy and national security.
James Woolsey, CIA director during the Clinton administration, said Obama was advocating "an extremely dangerous and extremely naïve approach toward terrorism."
The McCain supporters made their comments Tuesday on a conference call arranged by the campaign in response to an ABC News interview with Obama that aired on Monday.
Asked during that interview how Obama could be so sure that certain controversial domestic anti-terrorism policies instituted by the Bush administration were not crucial to the protection of U.S. citizens, Obama said that he didn't oppose all the efforts per se, but that "it is my firm belief that we can track terrorists, we can crack down on threats against the United States, but we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution."
Obama then cited "the example of Guantanamo. 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. 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.'"
Obama, McCain Camp Fight Over Response to 9/11
Obama concluded that the detainee camp at Guantanamo – which both Obama, D-Ill., and McCain, R-Ariz., have advocated closing -- "is an example of something that was unnecessary. We could have done the exact same thing, but done it in a way that was consistent with our laws."
Woolsey argued that Obama "is suggesting that we do everything through the law enforcement system," which, he argued, "is exactly what failed in 1990s."
The Clinton administration "proceeded with 100% law enforcement focus," Woolsey said. "It did not work." Terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden were indicted and went on to continue wreaking havoc with the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the U.S.S. Cole, and the September 11 terrorist attacks, said the former CIA head.
Former Navy Secretary Jonathan Lehman, a member of the 9/11 Commission, said that the commission's investigations "certainly made clear that the way the criminal justice system as applied to the perpetrators of the 1993 bombing…was a material cause of the greater tragedy of 9/11 because it was treated as a law enforcement issue."
Evidence was kept from CIA director George Tenet until after the conclusion of the trials, Lehman said, arguing that Tenet told him that if he had been able to see the evidence "he would have linked some of the perpetrators of the '93 bombing to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In fact they were relatives."
Lehman also said that the cost of opening the U.S. criminal justice system to enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay would be prohibitive, since it cost taxpayers more than $100 million to prosecute the seven defendants in the 1993 case. Obama's comments, Lehman said, indicate "a very deep, first, ignorance of the facts and a very, very dangerous policy."
'Politics of Fear'
Predicted Scheunemann, "I have no doubt that we'll hear in the course of the day that the Obama campaign will say we're practicing the 'politics of fear.' And the reality is that what Sen. Obama's statement reflects last night is that he's advocating a policy of delusion that ignores the failed approach of the 1990s that allowed Al Qaeda to thrive and prosper unmolested and that policy clearly made America less safe and more vulnerable."
Obama's top surrogates held a conference call with reporters Wednesday to defend the presumptive Democratic nominee and blast McCain's foreign policy record.
"We voted for war against al Qaeda," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on the call, "But Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11. So this is a completely fraudulent, fear tactic, scare tactic, play to the lowest common denominator strategy by John McCain and his colleagues."
"John McCain is Washington's biggest supporter of the worst policy decision of our generation," Kerry said of McCain's support for the Iraq War. "He has failed to learn the lessons of 9/11. We are paying for that failure today. He is the candidate of the Iraq war mindset. A mindset that completely misunderstands and dangerously underestimates the threats of the 21st century, of war-fighting and terror."
ABC News' Bret Hovell, Teddy Davis, and Alexa Ainsworth contributed to this report.