Thursday, December 18, 2008

The following are excerpts from an interview Wednesday with Vice President Dick Cheney:

On similarities between the Ford and Bush administrations:

I think there is a parallel in a sense with my experience during the Ford years. President Nixon. He suffered - he dropped 30 points in the polls in one week as I recall.

By the time of his passing a couple of years ago, opinion had totally turned on that. In fact, most people by then, even many who had been very critical 30 years before, were in agreement that in fact it was a good decision, it was the right thing to do from the standpoint of the country. …

I’m personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road in light of what we’ve been able to accomplish with respect to the global war on terror.

On the power of the vice president’s office:

In terms of whether or not [I was] the most powerful and influential [vice president], I’ll let somebody else make those judgments. I think, um, 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’s the one who asked me to take the job, he’s also the one who decided during the course of the process eight years ago that he 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.

On charges that terrorism suspects have been tortured:

Before I respond to that, let me state a proposition. It’s very important to discriminate between different elements of, or issues that are often times conflated or all joined together. People take Abu Ghraib and interrogation of high-value detainees and sort of throw that all together and say, you know, characterize it as torture policy.

You’ve got to, I think, back off and recognize that something like Abu Ghraib was not policy. It was in fact uncovered and exposed by the military. There were people involved in that activity who were not conducting themselves in accordance with the standards that we would have expected and they paid the price for it.

Guantanamo, I believe, has been a first-rate facility. It’s one we absolutely needed and found essential. It’s been primarily a military facility. If you’re going to evaluate how it’s functioned, the policy that we adhere to at Guantanamo basically is the U.S. Army Field Manual.

With respect to high-value detainees and enhanced interrogation techniques, [that is a] totally separate proposition under the jurisdiction of the al Qaeda, about their future plans, about how they were organized and trained and equipped, where they operated.

After 9/11, we badly needed to acquire good intelligence on the enemy, that’s an important part of fighting a war. What we did with respect to al Qaeda high-value detainees, if I can put it in those terms, I think there were a total of about 33 who were subjected to enhanced interrogation. Only three of those who were subjected to waterboarding: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and a third, al-Nashiri.

Um, that’s it. Those three guys. Was it torture? I don’t believe it was torture. We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the office of legal counsel, which is where you go for those kinds of opinions, from the Department of Justice, as to what the red lines were out there, in terms of, this you can do, this you can’t do. …

You come to the question of morality and ethics. 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 Jan. 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done.

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. We made the judgment - the president and I and others - that wasn’t going to happen again on our watch. 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.

On the growth of government under the Bush administration:

Given your druthers, you’d rather not have a bigger government in terms of spending and authority over the economy, but there are exceptions. There have been wars - since 9/11 we have been faced with defending the nation against attacks by al Qaeda, which has been a preeminent concern.

When you talk about the cost of wars, those have all added to the burden. It’s better to have done that than to have ignored those needs and requirements. We did not want to be seen as not responding to those things which the president and I knew we needed to respond to. …

I fully support the spending we did because I see it as essential and it, as a byproduct, has increased the deficit and size of government but I think this was one of those occasions like World War II.

On the international perception of the United States:

I think some of the things we had to do after 9/11 to respond to it - to protect the nation against further attack - generated controversy in certain quarters, but what a lot of our friends overseas misunderstood, at least initially, was that 9/11 fundamentally changed the way we look at terror attacks.

Prior to 9/11, we looked at terrorist incidents as a law enforcement problem. You go out and find the bad guy, try him and put him jail. That’s the way we handled the Pearl Harbor - this was a strategic threat to the U.S.

When you view it in those terms, then we believed we were fully justified, and indeed, obligated, to use all the resources at our command to defeat that enemy, so they couldn’t do it again. That means you are going to use your military force, your intelligence assets, and go after those states that harbor terror and finance terror. That’s what we did.

On Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin implying that the global recession is the Bush administration’s fault:

He’s wrong. The question is whether he knows he’s wrong.

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