[L]et'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.McCain's Foreign Policy Advisor Randy Scheunemann:
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."
So that, I think, 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.
Barack Obama's belief that we should treat terrorists as nothing more than common criminals demonstrates a stunning and alarming misunderstanding of the threat we face from radical Islamic extremism. Obama holds up the prosecution of the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 as a model for his administration, when in fact this failed approach of treating terrorism simply as a matter of law enforcement rather than a clear and present danger to the United States contributed to the tragedy of September 11th. This is change that will take us back to the failed policies of the past and every American should find this mindset troubling.Via Memeorandum, which collects commentary here.
It's sharp of McCain to put Obama in this box. But it should also be seen that Obama's statement is vague in spots. He could wriggle out of that box (if he wants).
First, Obama says that there is a precedent for arresting terrorists and convicting them within the ordinary judicial process. Then, he says that the Bush administration has "never actually put many of these folks on trial." That's not quite saying that they all should be put through the criminal process, only that it gives a bad impression to the world not to send "many" to trial. He highlights appearances (rather than legal requirements). What will the world think of us? And he expresses the belief that capturing and holding persons accused of terrorism has "given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment." In his view, if the government were to use criminal procedures, would-be terrorists would somehow love us.
Obama's tumble of sentences creates a mood. Did you feel it? If he is President, the world will respect us and peace will reign. If you believe... enjoy the pleasure of the dream. You love him, so why wouldn't the whole world love us? We will follow legal procedures, not because they are required and we must follow the law, but because the world will look at us with love if we do.
But why would that happen? I don't understand the mechanism. It didn't prevent 9/11. Since when do terrorists admire western legal traditions? Someone needs to push Obama with follow up questions.
I suspect that what he wants to say is that he believes in the American legal tradition and is committed to following it, but that he thinks this position isn't sufficiently politically popular, so he resorts to a cause-and-effect argument — following the law will fight terrorism — that doesn't hang together.