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 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."