CHICAGO – Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s campaign is attacking rival Barack Obama for saying that if al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is caught, the United States should avoid making him into a martyr.
Allies to McCain have suggested the comment shows the Democratic candidate opposes the death penalty for bin Laden — an interpretation the Obama campaign says is false.
The Illinois senator was asked on Wednesday how he would proceed if bin Laden were captured. He said he was not sure if bin Laden would be caught alive because of shoot-to-kill orders.
Concerning how to try the al Qaeda leader, Obama said it was important “to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he’s engaged in and not to make him into a martyr and to be sure that the United States government is abiding by the basic conventions that would strengthen our hand in the broader battle against terrorism.”
McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann seized on the word martyr.
“Now, the last time I checked the definition of martyr, it’s someone who dies for a cause or is killed for a cause and it seems to be that Sen. Obama is ruling out capital punishment for Osama bin Laden were he to be captured alive under U.S. jurisdiction,” he said.
The Obama campaign said that interpretation was wrong and noted Obama is on record saying he believed bin Laden “would qualify for the death penalty.”
When he spoke about bin Laden on Wednesday, Obama cited the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II as an example of how the United States “advanced a set of universal principles” in bringing to justice people who committed heinous acts.
After the Nuremberg proceedings, 10 top Nazi figures were hanged following the main trials and several dozen lower-lever figures were hanged following other trials.