By Andrew Beatty (AFP) – May 21, 2009
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Former vice president Dick Cheney battled to defend and preserve the legacy of his seven-year-long "war on terror" on Thursday, launching a fierce attack on President Barack Obama's security policies.
Cheney tore into the new US administration, warning its anti-terror stance risked endangering US lives, as he staunchly defended tough interrogation tactics backed by the administration of former president George W. Bush.
The one-time defense secretary derided Obama's ban on rough interrogations -- including water boarding, a type of simulated drowning -- as "recklessness cloaked as righteousness."
The pair clashed Thursday in back-to-back speeches in Washington, presenting starkly different visions for national security in the latest installment of a bitter debate over the efficacy of Bush administration's anti-terror strategy.
Minutes after Obama denounced the anti-terror methods of the Bush-era as being based on fear and undermining US values, Cheney hit back, saying he would make the same decisions again "without hesitation."
He told the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, that the use of enhanced interrogation tactics -- denounced as torture by Obama -- had helped save lives in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"Every senior official who has been briefed on these classified matters knows of specific attacks that were in the planning stages and were stopped by the programs we put in place," said Cheney, a principal architect of the war in Iraq.
Since Obama took power in January he has angered security hawks, including Cheney, by disassembling some of the main planks of the Bush administration's anti-terror efforts -- vowing to close Guantanamo prison, end harsh interrogations, and wind down the war in Iraq.
Cheney has emerged as the chief custodian of the Bush administration's legacy, insisting that history will view that government as solid guardians of the country's safety, while urging Obama not to unravel its policies.
"I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed," said Cheney.
"Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values, but no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things," he added.
Cheney, regarded by many as one of the most powerful vice presidents in US history, insisted some terror detainees had been "treated too leniently."
And he warned Obama, who Thursday renewed his vow to close the Guantanamo Bay jail, that bringing some of the inmates onto US soil would be "cause for great danger."
"I think the president will find upon reflection that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come," Cheney said.
Obama insisted Thursday he was right to order the closure of the Guantanamo camp in Cuba within a year, saying it had stained the US image abroad, infringed bedrock US values and was a recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda.
"We are cleaning up something that is quite simply -- a mess -- a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges."
While Cheney bristled at the sitting president's anti-terror policies, his 16-page speech also pointed to the ongoing battle to define the legacy of the Bush administration.
"After the most lethal and devastating terrorist attack ever, seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized," Cheney said.
"To the very end of our administration we kept Al-Qaeda terrorists busy with other problems.
"We focused on getting their secrets instead of sharing ours with them and on our watch they never hit this country again."
Cheney also warned the Obama administration against launching a witchhunt against former Bush aides and CIA investigators.
"It's hard to remember a worse precedent than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessor," he said.
The compelling debate between the two men, speaking in different venues, comes as Obama struggles to overcome skepticism among both Republicans and Democrats over his plans to close the Guantanamo Bay jail, which still holds 240 prisoners.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »