EXCLUSIVE: Cheney defends war on terror’s morality

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“And I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing,” Mr. Cheney said.

“Was it torture? I don’t believe it was torture,” the vice president said. “We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the [Justice Department’s] office of legal counsel.

“I thought the legal opinions that were rendered were sound. I thought the techniques were reasonable in terms of what [the CIA was] asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result. I think it’s directly responsible for the fact that we’ve been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for 7 1/2 years.”

He said only 33 high-value detainees in the war on terror were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques to extract information that the government lacked about al Qaeda’s operational capability and future attack plans, and only three were “waterboarded,” a technique that simulates drowning. He identified the three subjected to waterboarding as Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and al Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

“I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11,” Mr. Cheney said.

He also called the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where many of the key al Qaeda suspected were detained, as “a first-rate facility.”

Mr. Cheney said that critics of detainee policy often conflate all controversial issues, instead of taking them one at a time within their contexts, and “characterize it as torture policy.”

“You’ve got to, I think, back off and recognize that something like Abu Ghraib was not policy,” he said, referring to the mistreatment of prisoners at a U.S.-run prison in Iraq that caused an uproar around the world. In fact, Mr. Cheney said, the prisoners at Abu Ghraib did not possess any critical information that warranted aggressive tactics, and that the abuse was the result of wayward individuals who may not have been supervised properly.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with policy, as I understand it,” Mr. Cheney said. “And the people … that were subjected to abusive practices there, I don’t think had any special intelligence understandings, if you will, or special intelligence information that we needed.”

Mr. Cheney said this past spring that the vice president’s role has expanded since the Carter administration in the late 1970s. But on Wednesday he told The Times that he has been a “consequential” vice president, using an adjective that the White House has often applied.

“Everybody’s familiar with the history that it has not been a consequential office in the past,” said Mr. Cheney, adding that during previous stints at the White House and in Congress over the past four decades, he had observed the job as “terribly frustrating” to other vice presidents.

Mr. Bush, he said, “wanted somebody who would be another member of the team, who had a certain set of experiences and so forth, who could be an active participant in the process.”

“He’s been true to his word for eight years.”

As for the president’s legacy, Mr. Cheney compared Mr. Bush to Mr. Ford, whose decision to pardon former President Richard M. Nixon after his resignation during the Watergate scandal caused an uproar.

“President Ford made a decision that was extraordinarily unpopular at the time,” said Mr. Cheney, who served as Mr. Ford’s chief of staff.

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