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Cheney defends 'enhanced' interrogation, calls a ban 'reckless'

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Latest update : 2009-05-22

Former US Vice President Dick Cheney (pictured) has lashed out at President Barack Obama's security policies, including a ban on harsh interrogation tactics. Cheney called a ban on "enhanced" interrogations "recklessness".

AFP - Former vice president Dick Cheney Thursday tore into the new US administration warning its security policies risked endangering US lives, as he staunchly defended tough interrogation tactics.

Minutes after President Barack Obama denounced the anti-terror methods of the George W. Bush administration as being based on fear, Cheney derided Obama's ban on rough interrogations as "recklessness cloaked as righteousness."

The former vice president told the rightwing think tank the American Enterprise Institute 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.

Cheney, far from rowing back on policies that were repudiated by the leaders of both parties during the last presidential election, said he would make the same decisions again "without hesitation."

"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.

He rejected Obama's charge that the interrogations had undermined US values and weakened the country's image abroad.

"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.

The former defense secretary and White House chief of staff, 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 reviled 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.

Cheney, long a darling of hardline conservatives and a leading hawk in the Republican Party, wielded considerable behind-the-scenes influence over the Bush administration.

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.

He insisted the Bush's record on keeping the country safe since the 9/11 attacks in which some 3,000 people died should not be sneered at.

"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.

Date created : 2009-05-21