Former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the Bush administration’s national security record Thursday and argued that President Obama is weakening the country’s ability to combat al Qaeda and other extremists.
Cheney argued that the Bush administration “didn’t invent” the authority exercised in the war against al Qaeda and others. He said it was clearly granted by the Constitution and legislation passed by Congress after the September 11 attacks. Cheney made his remarks during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. He said the use of controversial “enhanced interrogation techniques” was a success that saved thousands of lives. Watch Cheney deny torture took place » At the same time, Cheney argued that Obama’s decision to release Bush-era interrogation memos was a reckless and unfair distraction in the fight against terrorists. He noted that Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, opposed the release of the documents. Cheney reiterated his argument that if the public has a right to know about various methods of interrogation, it should also have a right to know what those methods achieved.
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Only detainees of the “highest intelligence value” were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, he said. Only three detainees, he noted, were waterboarded. With thousands of lives potentially in the balance, Cheney argued, it didn’t make sense to let high-value detainees “answer questions in their own good time.” Watch Cheney defend post-September 11 efforts » Cheney conceded that at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, a “few sadistic guards” committed illegal, immoral acts and therefore “deserve Army justice.” But he drew a distinction between the activities at Abu Ghraib and sanctioned interrogation techniques “conducted within the constraints of the law.”
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A total ban on certain interrogation techniques, Cheney said, is “recklessness cloaked in righteousness.” He ripped what he termed a “horrible precedent” to have an incoming administration “criminalize” the policies of its predecessor. Watch Obama describe going “off course” » “I would advise the administration to think carefully about the course ahead,” Cheney warned. Cheney suggested that Obama draws comfort from being criticized from the right and the left, believing that he has found an acceptable middle ground. But, “in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures leave you half-exposed,” Cheney said. “Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy. … There is never a good time to compromise when [the lives of the American people] hang in the balance.” Cheney belittled Obama’s decision to close the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility “with little deliberation and no plan.” Watch Cheney say Obama has no real plan » The former vice president asserted that the Bush administration’s national security policies delivered numerous “blows” to extremists targeting the United States. He said every plot for an attack in the United States since September 11, 2001, had failed.
“When President Obama makes wise decisions … he deserves our support,” Cheney said. “And when he faults or mischaracterizes the national security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer.” Obama delivered his own speech earlier Thursday at the National Archives, touching on virtually every point Cheney would make.