On Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) criticized the Bush administration’s indefinite detention of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, stating that the United States can crack down on terrorists “within the constraints of our Constitution“:
And, you know, let’s take 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.
Regurgitating Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy, Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) campaign blasted Obama yesterday for wanting to take a “totally criminal justice approach to dealing with international terrorists.” Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said:
The real problem is [Obama] having said that in essence, the 1993 situation was really correctly handled by it’s being a criminal prosecution, and these people were incapacitated. The reality is that I think most experts on terrorism who are non-partisan would tell you that that was a terrible mistake in not recognizing the full dimension of what we were involved with.
He also added, “I’m not saying they shouldn’t have been prosecuted. But it’s the idea that it’s the be all and end all that’s the mistake.” Giuliani, however, also once praised the prosecution of the 1993 bombers, agreeing with Obama that terrorists should have to face the U.S. legal system:
– “‘It should show that our legal system is the most mature legal system in the history of the world,’ he [Giuliani] said, ‘that it works well, that that is the place to seek vindication if you feel your rights have been violated.’” [The New York Times, 3/5/94]
– “[M]any who were bruised by the traumatic event were certain that no verdict by a jury or punishment by a judge will exorcise the pain and terror that remain. … Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani declared that the verdict ‘demonstrates that New Yorkers won’t meet violence with violence, but with a far greater weapon — the law.’” [The New York Times, 3/5/94]
– “I think it shows you put terrorism on one side, you put our legal system on the other, and our legal system comes out ahead,” said Giuliani. [CBS Evening News, 3/5/94]
As hilzoy points out, the McCain campaign’s allegation that Obama wants only a criminal justice approach to terrorism is a total distortion. In fact, in August 2007, he stated, “I will not hesitate to use military force to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to America.” Earlier this year when Obama proposed going aggressively after terrorists, McCain accused him of having “once suggested bombing our ally, Pakistan.”
“Even in the weeks after Sept. 11, [Giuliani] framed the attacks in the language of crime, describing the hijackers as ‘insane murderers’ and calling for restoration of the ‘rule of law.’”