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Once Behind-the-Scenes, Cheney Grabs Public Spotlight to Defend Torture Under His Watch

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Known for his rare public appearances while in office, former Vice President Dick Cheney has taken to the airwaves in recent months to defend the Bush administration’s torture of foreign prisoners. Earlier this week, Cheney denied that the enhanced interrogation techniques amounted to torture and insisted that they produced actionable intelligence. He also suggested that he could be willing to testify under oath in Congress. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Vice President Dick Cheney was on CBS’s Face the Nation Sunday justifying the Bush administration’s use of techniques like waterboarding. Cheney denies that enhanced interrogation techniques amount to torture, insists they produce actionable intelligence. He called on the Obama administration to release all the memos and said stopping these techniques has only made the United States more vulnerable to attack. He also suggested he could be willing to testify under oath in Congress. This is an excerpt.

    DICK CHENEY: We put in place some very good policies, and they worked, for eight years. Now we have an administration that’s come to power that’s been critical of the programs. But not only that, there’s been talk about prosecuting the lawyers in the Justice Department who gave us the opinions that we operated in accordance with, or referring them to the Bar Association for disbarment or sanctions of some kind, or possibly cooperating with foreign governments that are interested in trying to prosecute American officials, those same officials who were responsible for defending this nation for the last eight years.

    Now, that whole complex of things is what I find deeply disturbing. And I think, to the extent that those policies were responsible for saving lives, that the administration is now trying to cancel those policies or end them, terminate them, then I think it’s fair to argue, and I do argue, that that means in the future we’re not going to have the same safeguards we’ve had for the last eight years.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, but why does that make the country less safe? You’re talking about — you say you don’t think we ought to be going back and questioning those people, looking into some of these things. Alright, I’ll take your point on that. But how is that making the country less safe? How does that make the country more vulnerable to an attack in the future?

    DICK CHENEY: Well, at the heart of what we did with the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the enhanced interrogation techniques for al-Qaeda terrorists, and so forth, was collect information. It was about intelligence. It was about finding out what al-Qaeda was going to do, what their capabilities and plans were. It was discovering all those things we needed in order to be able to go defeat al-Qaeda.

    And in effect, what’s happening here, when you get rid of enhanced interrogation techniques, for example, or the Terrorist Surveillance Program, you reduce the intelligence flow to the intelligence community, upon which we base those policies that were so successful.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: How much did President Bush know specifically about the methods that were being used? We know that you — and you have said that you approved this —-

    DICK CHENEY: Right.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: —- somewhere down the line. Did President Bush know everything you knew?

    DICK CHENEY: I certainly, yeah, have every reason to believe he knew — he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision, and the decision went to the President, and he signed off on it.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was on this broadcast recently, and I said, “Do you intend to ask the former vice president to come up?” And he said, “If he will testify under oath.”

    DICK CHENEY: Mm-hmm.

    BOB SCHIEFFER: Would you be willing to testify under oath?

    DICK CHENEY: Well, I’d have to see what the circumstances are and what kind of precedent we were setting. But certainly, I wouldn’t be out here today if I didn’t feel comfortable talking about what we’re doing publicly.

AMY GOODMAN: The former vice president Dick Cheney being interviewed by Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation. John Sifton, your response?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, Dick Cheney doesn’t seem to really understand intelligence gathering if he thinks that most useful intelligence comes from interrogations. Any skilled professional CIA officer will tell you that if you’re relying on interrogations for intelligence, you’re already on the back foot. You’ve already lost the war, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, really, the CIA should be out there infiltrating and spying and gaining intelligence from surveillance. I can’t talk about his views on surveillance, but I do know that if you’re to the point where you’re just getting interrogation — where you’re getting intelligence out of people you’ve captured, those people’s intelligence grows stale quickly. It’s just not the type of intelligence gathering that the CIA should aim to carry out.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, of course, Vice President Cheney hasn’t just spoken on Face the Nation; he’s speaking everywhere —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- today giving a major address at the American Enterprise Institute. It surprised a lot of people, because he was so behind-the-scenes, in the shadows, for eight years —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- and now suddenly he’s speaking everywhere he can, or at least in audiences or to reporters that he thinks are friendly. This issue of Vice President Cheney now — what should happen, and the whole question of what should happen with all the people involved around the issue of tortures, who authored them, who was involved in the interrogations — what do you think the Obama administration should do?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, one ironic thing about all this is that if you launched a criminal investigation tomorrow, all these people would stop talking. So we should actually count our blessings that everybody is talking. As long as they’re talking, there’s more evidence being produced.

However, at the end of the road, an investigation needs to occur. And I think politically, since President Obama wants to pass healthcare and do all these other things, the best thing for him to do is wash his hands of this by allowing the Department of Justice to take over, either having an independent prosecutor or making it very clear to Attorney General Eric Holder that he should launch an investigation, that investigations should occur, and —-

AMY GOODMAN: But Obama says he just wants to move forward.

JOHN SIFTON: I know. But as long as he continues to do that, this festers. And if he wants to pass healthcare and everything else, he can just wash his hands of it and start this investigation going.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Cheney’s campaign of speaking out has been successful? I mean, it came after these days -—


AMY GOODMAN: — of speaking out that Obama reversed his position on the pictures.

JOHN SIFTON: Yeah, well, I don’t know if it’s successful yet, but I certainly think that his methodology is one in which he thinks he will be covered if there is ever, God forbid, a terrorist attack on US territory again, and then he will be vindicated, in his mind. I hope Americans are intelligent enough to see through that and realize that it’s not that simple.

AMY GOODMAN: Is his statement that Bush knew — well, couched somewhat, but saying Bush knew — significant?

JOHN SIFTON: Absolutely. We’ve always known that Condoleezza Rice, as the National Security Adviser back in 2003, 2004, personally briefed the President on high-value detention operations and that he signed off on them. But it’s good to hear the Vice President, you know, admit as much and say as much, because I don’t think President Bush should be left off the hook as though he was some kind of absentee president. He was there; he knew what was going on. The principals group is implicated, too, including Mr. Cheney himself and Condoleezza Rice, who often — whose name often gets left out of this.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Condoleezza Rice, who’s now teaching at Stanford?

JOHN SIFTON: Well, Condoleezza Rice was the National Security Adviser. She was the direct liaison between the White House and the CIA. It was she who told George Tenet, you know, to proceed with the enhanced interrogation techniques. It was she who signed off on renditions, which we should also not forget about, the fact that the CIA, even before it was torturing people, was flying them to places like Egypt and Syria to have those intelligence agencies torture them, in which we’re complicit.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama hasn’t stopped extraordinary rendition.

JOHN SIFTON: Yes, that’s — it appears to be correct that he has not, although I do not believe he has kept all the same components as before.

The real issue for Obama is to get the CIA out of the paramilitary business. Right now, they still do arrests, kidnappings. They do paramilitary operations. And what would really be good is if we just moved on and let the CIA go back to intelligence gathering, pure and simple.

AMY GOODMAN: John Sifton, I want to thank you for being with us. John Sifton, private investigator, executive director of One World Research, formerly at Human Rights Watch as the senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism. He has a piece in The Daily Beast called “The Bush Administration Homicides.”

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