Accusing President Obama of giving Americans “less than half the truth,” former Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday tough interrogation tactics worked, and said the tactics had the approval of members of Congress including current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The former vice president said the president’s attempt to find a middle ground that angers the right and the left is compromising American security: “in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half-exposed.”
Mr. Cheney said tough interrogation tactics “were legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do.”
In the closest thing to a head-to-head debate between the former and current administrations, Mr. Cheney spoke minutes after Mr. Obama, speaking at the National Archives, delivered his own defense of his decisions to try to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; to suspend the use of the Bush administration’s tough interrogation tactics; and to release memos detailing those tactics.
Mr. Cheney, who spoke at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, called on his own experience as a top decision-maker after the Sept. 11 attacks to argue the new administration has lost sight of the terrorist threat and of the reasons for decisions made by Mr. Cheney and President George W. Bush.
The former vice president also tackled the ongoing dispute over who approved the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, arguing it had bipartisan support, including that of Mrs. Pelosi, and saying the questions Congress is raising now will only hurt the CIA.
“On numerous occasions, leading members of Congress, including the current speaker of the House, were briefed on the program and on the methods,” he said, though he provided no details for the assertion.
Without naming names, Mr. Cheney said that “some members of Congress are notorious for demanding they be briefed into the most sensitive intelligence programs. They support them in private, and then head for the hills at the first sign of controversy.”
Mrs. Pelosi, a California Democrat , has maintained that despite CIA records that show otherwise, she was not told about the harsh questioning techniques in a September 2002 briefing, though she acknowledged last week she was told in 2003 by her top intelligence aide. Mrs. Pelosi, who was House minority leader at the time of the briefings, said she didn’t feel there was anything she could do to stop the use of the tactics short of trying to gain control of Congress.
Mr. Cheney repeated his belief that the Constitution and the resolution authorizing use of force against terrorists after Sept. 11 gave the Bush administration the authority to let intelligence officers use “the tools and lawful authority they needed to gain vital information.”
And he accused Mr. Obama of selectively declassifying memos to try to confuse the understanding of those tactics and their successes.
“The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release,” Mr. Cheney said.
He said there has been a serious misunderstanding about the interrogation techniques and “a strange and sometimes willful attempt to conflate what happened at [Iraq’s] Abu Ghraib prison with the top-secret program of enhanced interrogations.”
And Mr. Cheney said that when such tactics as waterboarding, were used, it was because intelligence officers were trying to get specific information to prevent a future attack — not out of vengeance or other motivation.
“Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings,” Mr. Cheney said.
Mr. Cheney called Mr. Obama’s decision to release some of the memos “flatly contrary to the national security interest of the United States.”
In his own remarks just before Mr. Cheney began speaking, Mr. Obama said that, with the interrogation tactics already having been acknowledged in the press and with his own action to ban the use of the techniques, there was no longer any reason to keep the specifics secret.
“I released these memos because there was no overriding reason to protect them,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Obama did not address Mr. Cheney specifically, but seemed to be addressing many of the arguments the former vice president has made.
“Every now and then, there are those who think that Americas safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. We hear such voices today,” Mr. Obama said.
Mr. Cheney accused Mr. Obama of duplicity for claiming to have ended the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, though Mr. Cheney said Mr. Obama has retained the right to authorize the tactics himself in the future.
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