Sparring over bin Laden campaign claims intensifies


(CBS NEWS) WASHINGTON - A year ago Tuesday, a U.S. Navy SEAL raid killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

It was a milestone in the fight against al Qaeda.

Now, it's taking center stage in a political debate that's getting more angry every day.

Republicans say President Obama is using bin Laden's killing as a campaign tool.

He says that's not what he's talking about.

On Monday, the president firmly rejected the charge that his campaign is politicizing the anniversary of bin Laden's death to help him win re-election - and didn't back down from criticism that Mitt Romney wouldn't have made the same call to take out the 9/11 mastermind.

"I hardly think that you've seen any excessive celebration taking place here," Mr. Obama said.

He dismissed critics who assert his campaign is exploiting bin Laden's death for political gain, saying, "I think, for us to use that time for some reflection, to give thanks to those who participated, is entirely appropriate, and that's what's been taking place."

But what's also been taking place is the president's re-election campaign releasing two web videos highlighting his leadership.

And asking specifically, "What would Mitt Romney do?"

On Monday in New Hampshire, Romney answered.

Asked by a reporter if he'd have gone after bin Laden, Romney replied, "Of course."

Asked if he'd have given the order, Romney responded, "Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order."

In a news conference, Mr. Obama was asked about Romney's comparison, and he urged people to look closely at Romney's past comments.

"I'd just recommend that everybody take a look at people's previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go into Pakistan and take out bin Laden," the president said. "I assume that people meant what they said when they said it."

What Romney said in a 2007 interview is that it is "not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person." Romney's advisers say he was urging a more comprehensive terrorism policy.

Sen. John McCain (R, Ariz.) agreed with Romney that "any president" would have given the order to kill bin Laden, and accused Mr. Obama of exploiting the issue.

"The point is, though," McCain said on Fox News, "do you use that in political campaigns to attack your opponent? Mitt Romney would have done the exact same thing; I am confident, and any leader would have."

Much of the debate over whether the president's campaign is politicizing this issue started when Vice President Biden suggested that the whole campaign could be summed up in a bumper sticker saying, "General Motors is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead."

To see Norah O'Donnell's full report, click on the video in the player above.

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    Norah O'Donnell is the anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." She also contributes to "60 Minutes."