A debate over terrorism, security and the rule of law broke out on Tuesday as the presidential campaigns of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama exchanged pointed salvos over who could best keep the nation safe.

The eruption began when John McCain's top foreign policy and national security adviser, Randy Scheunemann, said in a conference call with reporters that Obama was displaying a "Sept. 10 mind-set" about how best to fight terrorism.

Obama brushed off the criticism aboard his campaign plane and questioned the McCain campaign's standing to debate anti-terrorism policy. "These are the same guys who helped to engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could've pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11," he said.

The debate began last week when the Supreme Court ruled that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have the right to challenge their detention in federal court. Obama praised the court's decision as a return to the rule of law, while McCain excoriated it, saying that it could make America less safe.

The latest battle began when McCain's advisers held a conference call to attack Obama for comments he made in an interview with ABC News in which he said that he believed that "we can track terrorists, we can crack down on threats against the United States, but we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution," and noted that the United States had been able to arrest, try and jail the culprits in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

"Let's take the example of Guantanamo," Obama said in the interview. "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."

The McCain campaign asserted that Obama wanted to go back to treating terrorism as nothing more than a criminal matter, called him naive, and argued that the World Trade Center case was an example of how insufficient that was. "Once again, we have seen that Sen. Obama is a perfect manifestation of a Sept 10 mindset," Scheunemann said on the call.

Obama asserted that the McCain campaign was using fear as a political weapon. "We can abide by due process and abide by basic concepts of rule of law and still crack down on terrorists," Obama said.