Former vice president Dick Cheney said Monday that the interrogators who tortured inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison were correct in using “more robust techniques” and should have been decorated for their work.
Cheney and his daughter, Liz, spoke Monday at Chicago’s Union League Club about their book, “In My Time” before an admiring crowd of more than 400 people. The audience broke into thunderous applause when Liz Cheney said the indictment of former White House adviser Scooter Libby was “a travesty.”
Cheney said that following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States gained essential and valuable information by torturing inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison. “To get [inmates] to cooperate, sometimes we needed more robust techniques than just reading them their Miranda Rights,” Cheney said.
The former vice president said he most objected to the criminal investigations against those who worked in the prison and administered torture, saying that they “hadn’t done anything improper or inappropriate” and “should have been decorated.” He also said that if given the option, he would “do it all again.”
Cheney said that following the terrorist attacks, the most important task facing the Bush administration was to prevent another attack if at all possible. He said government officials “quickly moved” because they thought of the attacks as “an act of war” and that it was necessary to use “all our capabilities and resources.”
Created after the 9/11 attacks, the National Security Agency was a “terrorist surveillance program” used to monitor communications in which at least one of the parties was outside of the United States, Cheney said. In many of these communications, there were reasonable grounds to suspect that at least one party was attached to al Qaeda, he added.
The program drew criticism after media investigations revealed that many of the communications being monitored were domestic. But Cheney said he was “convinced it was one of the greatest success stories in U.S. defense.”
He also said he thought it should have been illegal for the New York Times to publish the program’s findings. “But there was no investigation. They won a Pulitzer Prize,” he said.
During a question-and-answer session, one of the audience members said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office was less than a block away. Fitzgerald directed the prosecution against Libby after CIA agent Valerie Plame’s name was leaked to the media. Cheney was asked what he would say to Fitzgerald if given the opportunity.
“We have some fundamental disagreements, not just him, also with people in our own administration,” he said. “Scooter Libby gave up a very successful private life to serve the nation and for his trouble he ended up the target of an investigation, which I don’t think he deserved.”
Liz Cheney said, “I think it was a travesty. I think Fitzgerald knew it was [deputy secretary of state] Richard Armitage” who leaked the name.
“An innocent man was indicted,” she said. “It was a shameful disgrace.”
The former vice president looked to be in poor health, remarkably paler and thinner than usual. He underwent heart surgery last year and received a partially artificial heart.
Both Cheneys said co-authoring the book had been a lovely experience in which Liz Cheney interviewed her father and heard the stories from his childhood, teen years and young adulthood.
Cheney was introduced by Sam Skinner, former chief of staff to President George W. Bush, who called Cheney “an adult in Washington where people sometimes act like juveniles.”
About his many years in public service, Cheney said, “There’s been lots of variety in my career, lots of luck of the draw and right place, right time.” He accredited most of his good fortune to former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the late former President Gerald Ford, saying that they “fundamentally [changed] my life.”
Cheney said that each of the five White House administrations he worked for were different. Each existed within a different cultural, economic and international scenario and involved different personalities. When asked who was a better president, George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush, he replied, “I’d tell you, but it’s classified.”