On many issues, John McCain’s position is far enough to the left, and Barack Obama’s position is muddy enough, that it’s hard to draw sharp distinctions between them. That, I think, will be McCain’s most serious liability throughout the campaign. On some issues, however, they differ starkly. Fighting terrorism is one.
Obama wants to return us to the 1990s model of treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem. There’s a fundamental problem with that—it doesn’t work. Why? Because law enforcement generally responds to crimes. It’s not well suited to preventing them. The police don’t predict who will commit robberies, and then follow them to prevent it from happening. They wait until a robbery is committed, and then try to catch the thief. Do the same with terrorism, and you wait until terrorist attacks occur and then try to catch those responsible.
Reaction from former Navy Secretary John Lehmann:
I can’t believe that Senator Obama will not change his position on this, because it is a totally unsupportable position. It would provide such an opening for terrorism that, no matter how naive he is, he would not go forward with it, in my belief. If he did, it would certainly make it far more dangerous in the United States.
From Jim Woolsey:
I don’t say this lightly: This is an extremely dangerous and extremely naive approach toward terrorism, international terrorism and toward dealing with prisoners captured overseas who have been engaged in terrorist attacks against the United States.
From Andrew McCarthy, lead prosecutor in the 1993 World Trade Center attack:
This is a remarkably ignorant account of the American experience with jihadism. In point of fact, while the government managed to prosecute many people responsible for the 1993 WTC bombing, many also escaped prosecution because of the limits on civilian criminal prosecution. Some who contributed to the attack, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, continued to operate freely because they were beyond the system’s capacity to apprehend. Abdul Rahman Yasin was released prematurely because there was not sufficient evidence to hold him — he fled to Iraq, where he was harbored for a decade (and has never been apprehended).
Scott Johnson, about the 1993 prosecution, and responding to Obama’s contention that the Nuremberg trials are an example of his approach:
According to Obama, the blind sheikh was “incapacitated” and therefore rendered harmless by his conviction and imprisonment. In fact, however, with the assistance of attorney Lynne Stewart, Abdel-Rahman continued to wage jihad, issuing instructions to his followers in Egypt. Stewart has been convicted for the assistance she lent to Abdel-Rahman, but she remains at liberty.
…the Nuremberg trial was conducted before a military commission composed of representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The most prominent surviving Nazi leaders were brought for trial before the Nuremberg tribunal in late 1945. Winston Churchill had proposed, not unreasonably, that they be summarily shot. The victorious allies nevertheless agreed that they be brought before a military commission to be convened pursuant to the London Agreement of August 8, 1945.
In Boumediene, the Supreme Court disapproved of the system of military commissions Congress had adopted at the Supreme Court’s urging. Obama to the contrary notwithstanding, the Nuremberg defendants’ “day in court” occurred before the kind of tribunal the Supreme Court found constitutionally inadequate in Boumediene.
The Nazi war criminals were given no access to American courts.
Even on this issue, Obama’s position is muddy: which rights and privileges would he grant detainees?
Still, there are obvious problems, in addition to those mentioned above. You give terrorists the rights you’ve given other criminals, and you get terrorists released on technicalities; terrorists released because of soft-headed judges; terrorists found not guilty by reason of insanity; terrorists who use their day in court to wage jihad by other means; terrorists released by jurors who refuse to convict co-religionists; etc. Look at Britain, which is releasing Osama Bin Laden’s “right hand man in Europe.”
UPDATE: Abu Qatada, freed, is already calling on Muslims to “terrorise non-believers.”