THE campaigns of Senators John McCain and Barack Obama have engaged in a heated exchange over the rights of terrorism suspects, with each side accusing the other of embracing a policy that would put the country at risk of more attacks in the future, reports The Washington Post. In a Tuesday morning conference call with reporters, McCain advisers criticised Obama as "naive" and "delusional" in his approach to the handling of terrorism suspects after he expressed support for last week's Supreme Court decision granting detainees the right to seek habeas corpus hearings. Obama fired back, saying the Republicans who had led failed efforts to capture Osama bin Laden lacked the standing to criticise him on the issue. The exchange marked the general election's first real engagement over the campaign against terrorism and demonstrated that both sides are confident that they have a winning message on the issue. McCain's aides seized, in particular, on remarks Obama made during a Monday interview with ABC News. In it, he praised the handling of the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Centre attackers, who, with one exception, were put on trial and sent to prison. "He's advocating a policy of delusion," Randy Scheunemann, a McCain adviser, said of Obama (D-Ill.). Former CIA director R James Woolsey Jr said Obama's attitude "ignores that we are in a war against terrorism." Scheunemann described Obama as having the "perfect manifestation of a Sept 10 mindset," saying he "does not understand the nature of the enemy as we face it." Separately, the McCain campaign circulated a statement by former New York City mayor Rudolph W Giuliani that said: "Barack Obama appears to believe that terrorists should be treated like criminals - a belief that underscores his fundamental lack of judgment regarding our national security." Obama did not back away from the fight, rejecting any lectures from his White House rival John McCain on fighting terrorism, in a scornful riposte to a day-long onslaught from the Republican's camp. "Let's think about this: These are the same guys who helped engineer the distraction of the war in Iraq at a time when we could have pinned down the people who actually committed 9/11," Obama told reporters on his campaign plane. He said his statements about Guantanamo Bay were intended to suggest that suspects have a right to be heard, not freed, and accused McCain (R-Ariz.) of playing political games on national security. "What they're trying to do is what they've done every election cycle, which is to use terrorism as a club to make the American people afraid," Obama said. Tuesday, the McCain team drew a direct line between the prosecution of the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, saying that submitting the bombers to the criminal justice system was, in the words of former Navy secretary and 9/11 Commission member John Lehman, "a material cause" of the 2001 attacks. Lehman participated in the McCain conference call. Lehman said grand jury evidence in the 1993 bombing was "put under seal" and not made available to the CIA, thus denying the agency timely access to information that "would have enabled many of the dots to be connected well before 9/11 and . . . give a good chance to have prevented" the later attack. In particular, he cited information concerning a connection between Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the alleged ringleader of the 2001 attacks who is imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, and the bombing.