NEWBURGH, N.Y. – John Kerry (search) said Friday he would put Usama bin Laden (search) on trial in U.S. courts rather than an international tribunal to ensure the "fastest, surest route" to a murder conviction if the terrorist mastermind is captured while he is president.
"I want him tried for murder in New York City, and in Virginia and in Pennsylvania," where planes hijacked by Al Qaeda (search) operatives crashed Sept. 11, 2001, Kerry said in his first interview as the Democratic presidential nominee.
The Saudi-bred terrorist is suspected of plotting attacks that have shed blood across the globe, not just in the United States. Kerry suggested he would place the highest priority on avenging American deaths.
He called the Bush administration's attempt to create a Muslim security force in Iraq an overdue act of desperation. "Great idea," he said. "Should have been done from the very beginning."
Kerry, fielding questions about foreign policy, presidential politics, abortion and the death penalty during a 12-minute interview with The Associated Press in this GOP-leaning Hudson Valley community, took Bush and his Republican allies head-on.
"They don't have a record to run on so all they can do is attack," Kerry said. He was responding to Bush, who a few minutes earlier had said from the campaign trail that Kerry had no significant achievements in Congress.
Word of the criticism drew a chuckle from the fourth-term senator, who wore an open-collar shirt and slacks. "That's the response to a positive campaign," he said sarcastically.
The night before, in his hometown of Boston, Kerry accepted the Democratic nomination at a convention scripted to project a positive, upbeat image to independent voters. The Democratic National Committee launched a one-week, $6 million ad campaign that features images of the convention, and party officials expect the DNC ads to turn negative this summer.
Noting that federal law limits his influence over DNC ads, Kerry didn't rule out airing his own ads critical of the White House. "I'm going to certainly reserve the right to respond to these people if they continually hack away," he said.
On the Muslim force initiative pushed by Saudi Arabia, Kerry said "Why is that being done as an act of desperation today rather than two years ago before a lot of lives were lost?" He said it was yet another lost opportunity to build a coalition that would help ease the U.S. burden in money and lives.
"A change in the presidency is essential to our ability to restore our respect" in the world, Kerry said.
Replied Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt: "John Kerry's decision to characterize progress in the war on terror as an act of desperation is his latest attempt to inject politics and opportunism into a subject that should unite Americans."
Kerry has long been an opponent of the death penalty, but in recent years has made an exception for terrorism. The former prosecutor said crimes like rape and child murder do not warrant the highest punishment.
"It's certainly terrorizing to the person who's undergoing it. I understand that," Kerry said. "But terrorism is a political act to terrorize a nation, to try to challenge a way of life and a standard. It's just a different act."
He said bin Laden deserves to die.
"I would go the fastest, surest route of conviction, and in my belief that would be a trial for murder in the United States," the Democrat said when asked if he would seek to try bin Laden at The Hague.
Stepping gingerly into another social issue, Kerry reiterated that he believes that life begins at conception — and that a woman has the right to choose whether to abort.
Asked whether he believes abortion is taking a life, Kerry said a fetus is a "form of life."
"The Bible itself — I mean, everything talks about different layers of development. That's what Roe v Wade does. It talks about viability. It's the law of the land." The Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v Wade ruling legalized abortion in America.
"I don't believe personally that it's the government's job to step in and take my article of faith and transfer it to somebody who doesn't share that article of faith," said Kerry, a Roman Catholic.