There’s something bizarre about Presidential candidate John McCain hiring chief terrorism prosecutor Edward O’Callaghan to head up his effort to thwart an ethics investigation of his running-mate, Sarah Palin, as Newsweek reported this week.

Not just the obvious bizarreness of the so-called “maverick” defender of political integrity hiring a top-gun lawyer to argue that the potential next vice president is effectively above the law. (O’Callaghan is arguing that a bipartisan Congressional investigation into the firing of an Alaska state trooper — Palin’s former brother-in-law — ought to be closed down simply on the governor’s own lawyers’ say-so.) But hiring the chief of the national security and terrorism unit in the US Attorney’s office in New York implicitly endorses the man’s prowess in the prosecution of terrorism. It also suggests that prosecuting terrorism in the federal courts is a worthwhile thing to do.

Yet McCain, like Bush, has repeatedly insisted that prosecution in a US federal court is not an appropriate way to battle terrorists. No, we need a “war” on terror, he’s insisted. And that means the federal government needs to lock up potential terrorists and throw away the key – or, as they do at Guantanamo and at prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan, just hold prisoners there indefinitely, until the so-called “war” is over.

Yet many former prosecutors from the same office as McCain’s new top lawyer, O’Callaghan, vehemently disagree. In a recent report published by Human Rights First, for example, former terrorism prosecutors who now work at the corporate law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld argue, based on an analysis of every terrorism case prosecuted since 9/11, plus significant cases brought before that, that the federal courts are well-equipped to track down and punish terrorists. There’s no need to create special military commissions that deny them due process rights and sully the United States’ international reputation in the process.

So which is it: McCain’s new lawyer was an admirable prosecutor doing a worthwhile job prosecuting terrorists, or he was wasting his time with needless legal procedures and now can do the important work of shielding the Republican vice-presidential candidate from accountability under the law?