EXCLUSIVE: Cheney defends war on terror’s morality

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EXCLUSIVE:

Vice President Dick Cheney offered a sweeping defense Wednesday of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and its use of aggressive interrogation techniques, declaring “it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation.”

In an interview with The Washington Times inside his West Wing office, Mr. Cheney also acknowledged the unusually powerful role he has played as vice president on everything from the war in Iraq to helping approve interrogation methods — that some regarded as torture and that ultimately would be used for 33 high-value detainees.

“I do believe that the vice presidency has been a consequential office, if I can put it in those terms, in this administration. But that’s first and foremost because that’s what the president wanted,” he said.

During a wide-ranging, 38-minute conversation — his first with print reporters since September — the vice president suggested that President Bush’s popularity and place in history likely would grow during the next 20 to 30 years, much like that of one of Mr. Cheney’s earlier bosses, Gerald R. Ford.

And on a day when Chrysler Corp. dramatically shuttered its plants for a month to stave off bankruptcy, Mr. Cheney cautioned against the government becoming too involved in solving automakers’ problems, even if the administration provides some short-term loans to keep them financially afloat.

“There may well be some steps that need to be taken with respect to improving the industry, but at the same time that I look at that, I’m reluctant to see. Well, let me restate that, I’m cautious about suggesting that government somehow has all the answers here,” he said.

“In the end, it really depends upon the board of directors and the management of the company. They’re really the only ones who can guarantee long-term viability.”

The often-reserved Mr. Cheney, who will end four decades of public service in Washington when he leaves office Jan. 20, appeared relaxed as he reflected on his career and offered a few personal insights:

• He acknowledged his relationship with the news media “didn’t flourish” over the past eight years but said it was because his job was to provide private advice to the president and that as a result he was unable to discuss most of what he did. “It’s not out of any lack of respect” for journalists, he said.

• Though leaving government for the fourth time in his career, Mr. Cheney, 67, said, “I’m not at the stage, of a mind, to retire,” but added that he hadn’t decided what to do next.

• He identified James Madison as his favorite Founding Father, and noted that his wife, Lynne, had just signed a contract to write a biography about the fourth president. “I think Madison’s an intriguing figure who had an enormous impact and doesn’t get the kind of attention that some of the others do,” said the vice president, who has a reputation of wielding power behind the scenes without calling attention to himself. “Not a very flashy guy — small man, but huge impact.”

On one of the most controversial issues of the Bush presidency, Mr. Cheney squarely addressed the question of whether morality, and not simply pragmatism, was considered when deciding how far to go in pressuring suspected terrorists to divulge coveted intelligence.

“In my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done,” he said.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people in New York, suburban Washington and Pennsylvania, Mr. Cheney said that he, the president and others “made the judgment … that wasn’t going to happen again on our watch.”

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