Cheney on interrogation: Obama should've asked for pointers

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The Bush-era policy that resulted in one key terrorist being waterboarded 183 times worked “very, very well” – so well, in fact, that President Obama’s administration shouldn’t be investigating it, but rather copying it, said former Vice President Dick Cheney Sunday.

“We had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from Al Qaeda,” he told Fox News Sunday. “The approach of the Obama administration should be to come to those people who were involved in that policy and say, how did you do it? What were the keys to keeping this country safe over that period of time?”

For some time now, Mr. Cheney has been Mr. Obama’s chief critic on matters of security policy – a role that perhaps no vice president in history has taken on before.

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What was apparent in a genial interview filled with softballs Sunday, however, was not so much that Cheney bears a striking semblance to a Darth Vader of the Grand Tetons. (Cheney is from Wyoming, not the Outer Rim Territories.) Instead, he is a Washington policy wonk of the highest order, frustrated as he watches Obama unravel his legacy.

Interrogation techniques 'absolutely essential'

On Sunday, Mr. Cheney repeated his firmly held conviction that so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques such as waterboarding “were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives.”

Waterboarding is considered by human-rights advocates to be torture because it creates the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whom Cheney called the mastermind of 9/11, “is what really persuaded him” to provide information about Al Qaeda, Cheney suggested.

Last week, however, US Attorney General Eric Holder cast doubt on whether this administration thinks enhanced interrogation techniques are legal. He announced that his office would review whether US officials broke the law by using these interrogation methods against detainees.

Cheney called this “an outrageous political act” Sunday.

A chill on the CIA?

The new review is based upon a 2004 report by the CIA Inspector General. The Department of Justice under President Bush took no action after reading the report.

The fact that Mr. Holder is taking action now means CIA personnel will be less likely to volunteer for the most sensitive – and perhaps important – jobs, he added. They will fear that they could be prosecuted when the political winds change.

The debate boils down to old fault lines, in some respects: Human-right advocates against hawks who believe terrorism has changes the rules of the game.

Cheney hinted at this Sunday, saying that Obama’s policy on interrogations “moves very much in the direction of going back to the old way of looking at these terrorist attacks – that these are law enforcement problems, that this isn't a strategic threat to the United States.”

Cheney even said he was OK with “cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization.”

Confessions of a political 'junkie'

They are calls and questions of the sort that Cheney, now retired form politics, says he misses wrestling with.

“I enjoyed having the CIA show up on my doorstep every morning, six days a week, with the latest intelligence,” he said. “I'm a junkie from a public policy standpoint.”

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