Former vice-president Dick Cheney insisted on Sunday that intelligence extracted from tough interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda militants had saved “perhaps hundreds of thousands” of US lives.
“No regrets. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do,” he said on CBS television, arguing that techniques decried by critics as torture were essential to break the resistance of captured extremists.
“I’m convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of lives,” Cheney said, arguing again that al-Qaeda was bent on attacking a US city with a nuclear device.
But at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association late on Saturday, President Barack Obama skewered Cheney’s doomsday view of the world for comic effect.
“Dick Cheney was supposed to be here but he is very busy working on his memoirs, tentatively titled How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People,” he quipped.
In one of his first acts as president, Obama reversed predecessor George Bush’s approval of harsh interrogation methods such as waterboarding, or simulated drowning.
Recently released memorandums detail the reasoning used by Bush administration lawyers to justify waterboarding and other techniques such as sleep deprivation, physical slaps and painful “stress positions”.
Cheney reaffirmed his belief that Obama had made the United States more vulnerable to attack, and condemned calls by Democratic lawmakers for the Bush legal officials to face prosecution.
The former vice-president challenged Obama to declassify two memos that he said showed the Central Intelligence Agency had thwarted acts of terrorism thanks to information gleaned from the interrogations.
“The memos do exist. I have seen them. I had them in my files at one time. Now everything is part of the National Archives. I’m sure the agency (CIA) has copies of those materials,” he said.
“If we’re going to have this debate, it ought to be a complete debate. Those memos ought to be out there for people to look at and journalists like yourself to evaluate in terms of what we were able to accomplish.”
Obama’s national security advisor, General James Jones, dismissed Cheney’s claim that the United States was now less safe from attack.
“Oh, I don’t believe that,” the former supreme commander of Nato told ABC, rebutting Cheney’s arguments for the interrogations and for detaining terror suspects without trial in Guantánamo Bay.
“And I think frankly in the Bush administration, there wasn’t complete agreement with the vice-president on that score,” Jones said.
Obama, he added, was “absolutely committed” to upholding the rule of law while protecting the nation.
While Bush has kept a low profile since leaving office, Cheney has repeatedly gone on the airwaves to defend his own legacy as probably the most powerful US vice-president to date.
“If I don’t speak out, then where do we find ourselves? Then the critics have free run and there isn’t anybody there on the other side to tell the truth,” he said, adding he was prepared to testify in Congress if necessary.
Cheney also heaped scorn on his one-time cabinet rival, former secretary of state Colin Powell, who has been vilified by right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh after endorsing Obama for the presidency.
“If I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I’d go with Rush Limbaugh, I think,” he said. “My take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn’t know he was still a Republican.”
Cheney said there was still “room for moderates in the Republican Party,” but that the party should stay true to its core principles and not “move dramatically to the left”.
The Democratic Party’s national committee responded: “It’s sad that because Republican leaders in Congress are so devoid of ideas and direction that Dick Cheney has emerged as the party’s leading voice.” – AFP