Republican presidential contender Fred Thompson said Monday that while Usama bin Laden needs to be caught and killed, the terrorist mastermind would get the due process of law.
In his first campaign trip to South Carolina, the lawyer and former Tennessee senator answered questions about his recent statements about the man considered responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. Last week, a new video with bin Laden surfaced, the first in three years.
On Friday, Thompson told reporters in Iowa that bin Laden is "more symbolism than anything else" and said his presence in the "mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan is not as important as there are probably Al Qaeda operatives inside the United States of America."
The remarks drew criticism from some Democratic rivals and later in the day, Thompson adopted a tougher line, saying bin Laden "ought to be caught and killed."
On Monday, Thompson said he wasn't suggesting that bin Laden's death would happen immediately after his capture.
"No, no, no, we've got due process to go through" depending on the circumstances, he said. "I'm not suggesting those things happen simultaneously."
Later, a Thompson spokesman explained that Thompson meant "the same rules ought to apply to him as to everyone at Guantanamo Bay, and there ought to be due process thru a special military court or commission."
"For anyone to suggest that we shouldn't squeeze out every last bit of intelligence information has absolutely no understanding how to fight a long term global war on terrorism," spokesman Todd Harris said. "It would be very dangerous for the long-term security of our country to not try to milk bin Laden for every ounce of information he has."
Thompson also told reporters removing bin Laden would not end threats to the United States.
Bin Laden "needs to be located and killed. But we also need to understand that there will be people who can replace him. You know, that top dog in Iraq that we killed a while back, you know, that was a great big deal, too. But how much changed after that?" Thompson said.
During his campaign stop, Thompson also explained his work aiding a fellow lawyer representing two Libyan intelligence officials charged in the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Thompson provided advice to a colleague at the Washington law firm of Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin & Kahn when he worked there in the early 1990s.
"As I recall, one of the senior partners at a law firm, asked me questions about -- I believe it was about -- venue; where a trial like that would take place," Thompson said.
Thompson said he had a background in handling that type of question and was only consulting with the other attorney.
Thompson spoke to about 350 people who crowded into a hotel banquet hall to see him wrap up his three-state campaign trip that began in Iowa last Thursday and included stops in New Hampshire during the weekend.
Thompson also railed against same-sex marriage and judges whose rulings allow it. Thompson said the U.S. is a nation of laws, but judges "more often than not are the main violators of the rule of law."
He said the "same-sex marriage business" is a "judicially created thing and needs to be addressed by a constitutional amendment." He was referring to an amendment that would limit the role of judges on the matter.
Thompson wrapped up his South Carolina swing in a Columbia parking lot, where a crowd of close to 400 sweltered on the black top or sought shade under nearby trees. He said the U.S. is a nation of immigrants who have worked and waited in line to become citizens.
"This is their home, this is our home. And together, we get to decide who comes into our home," Thompson said.