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Former U.S. Vice President Defends Bush Terror Policies

Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said the Bush administration will be remembered for its response to 9/11.
WASHINGTON -- Americans usually don't hear much from former vice presidents, but that hasn't been true with Dick Cheney.

In the past few months, he's been making statements -- in printed commentary and on politically oriented radio and television programs -- on his differences with the current president, Barack Obama, on national security.

On May 21 he made his point in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy-research center in Washington, where his wife, Lynne, is a senior fellow, and Cheney himself serves on the board of trustees.

Cheney brought his audience back nearly eight years ago to the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. It was then, he said, that the Bush administration began devising a plan to defeat an elusive enemy through superior intelligence.

"The key to any strategy is accurate intelligence, and skilled professionals to get that information in time to use it. In seeking to guard this nation against the threat of catastrophic violence, our administration gave intelligence officers the tools and lawful authority they needed to gain vital information," Cheney said.

"We didn’t invent that authority. It is drawn from Article 2 of the constitution. And it was given specificity by the Congress after 9/11, in a joint resolution authorizing 'all necessary and appropriate force' to protect the American people."

'Enhanced Interrogation'

Cheney noted that no further attacks have followed. But as the memory of the horror of 9/11 faded, and word began to emerge of the CIA's use of harsh questioning on suspected terrorists, he said, some began to question the government's behavior.

Cheney said only three suspects -- men he called "of the highest intelligence value" -- were subjected to waterboarding, and that they provided valuable information.

The technique is considered by many to be torture, but the vice president said it was "justified" under the circumstances.

"I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts had failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do," Cheney said.

"The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work, proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people."

Cheney also questioned why Obama and members of the Democratic Party object to torture. He said the CIA briefed leaders of Congress, including Democrats, on the interrogation techniques they were using.

'Feigned Outrage'

Yet now, Cheney said, these same Democrats are reacting to the use of such questioning with what he called "feigned outrage based on a false narrative."

Cheney decided to delay the start of his speech until Obama's own address was over. Obama spoke at the National Archives to address concerns that he intends to close the Guantanamo detention facility. There has been concern about his plan to move its remaining inmates to U.S. prisons.

In his own speech, Cheney criticized Obama for releasing the so-called torture memos, documents from the Bush era that explore whether waterboarding and similar techniques were legally permissible in the search for intelligence on further terrorist acts.

But now that they've been made public, Cheney said, they should made be available in their un-redacted form so that Americans can know the value of the information extracted from the suspects under harsh questioning -- and show the Bush administration in a better light.

"It'll do more than clarify the urgency and the rightness of enhanced interrogation in the years after 9/11. It may help us to stay focused on dangers that have not gone away. Instead of idly debating which political opponents to prosecute and punish, our attention will return to where it belongs: on the continuing threat of terrorist violence and on stopping the men who are planning it," Cheney said.

"For all the partisan anger that still lingers, our administration will stand up well in history -- not despite our actions after 9/11, but because of them."