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Biden vs. Cheney: three points of dispute

Vice President Joe Biden and former Vice President Dick Cheney dueled Sunday over the terrorist threat and the appropriate US response. They are at odds over the Iraq war, the Christmas Day bomber, and the nature of the terrorist threat confronting America.

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Cheney, though, sees a darker terrorist intent – and on "This Week" he again expressed his worry that the Obama administration does not have the right "mindset" to confront such a threat. "[T]o say that, you know, that was a big attack we had on 9/11, but it's not likely again, I just think that's dead wrong. I think the biggest strategic threat the United States faces today is the possibility of another 9/11 with a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind, and I think Al Qaeda is out there even as we meet trying to figure out how to do that."

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The Christmas Day bombing suspect. The Obama administration has come under heavy criticism from Republicans – and even some moderate Democrats – for treating suspect Umar Abdulmutallab as a criminal to be prosecuted through the justice system rather than as an enemy combatant whose detention and interrogation would be subject to less strict rules.

It's no surprise, perhaps, that Cheney would have sought to deal with Mr. Addulmutallab differently. During the Bush administration, he revealed Sunday, he was on the side of those arguing for enemy combatant status for suspects whose cases ultimately proceeded in federal court.

"The proper way to ... deal with it would have been to treat him as an enemy combatant," Cheney asserted of Abdulmutallab. But his zinger was what came next: "The thing I learned from watching that process unfold, though, was that the [Obama] administration really wasn't equipped to deal with the aftermath of an attempted attack against the United States in the sense that they didn't know what to do with the guy."

He subsequently acknowledged that developing a process for handling such suspects is "hard" – and that the Bush administration itself struggled to find the balance that would satisfy the US Supreme Court and the Congress.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, is pushing back forcefully in defense of its decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights soon after his arrest and to charge him in federal criminal court. Attorney General Eric Holder sent Congress a letter earlier this month to defend his decision, and on Saturday, it won backing for its approach from two key senators, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the intelligence committee, both Democrats.

Biden, too, addressed the issue, using the now-familar we're-doing-what-you-did defense.

"The Christmas Day bomber was treated the exact way that [Cheney] suggested that the shoe bomber was treated, absolutely the same way," Biden said on "Meet the Press." "There were 300 trials of so-called terrorists and those who had engaged in terror against the United States of America who are in federal prison and have not seen the light of day, prosecuted under the last administration."

For the Obama administration's purposes of political argument, it's convenient that Cheney's view on how to treat terrorist suspects arrested on US soil was not, by and large, the prevailing one.

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