Cheney Defends Bush Era Interrogations

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Following President Obama's address on national security Thursday, former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the interrogation methods used during the Bush administration.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

The president's entire speech was shown on a giant screen across town at the American Enterprise Institute, that's the conservative think tank where former Vice President Dick Cheney is a trustee and where he delivered his speech today. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly was there.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Just moments after the president finished speaking, a speech that was met with near silence at AEI, the doors to the packed hall swung open and former Vice President Cheney strode in, flanked by half a dozen bodyguards. Mr. Cheney opened with a joke about how long the president had gone on and then he proceeded over the next 36 minutes to lay out a completely different vision of the world. On harsh interrogations...

F: They were legal, essential, justified, successful and the right thing to do.

LOUISE KELLY: On President Obama's decision to close Guantanamo...

BLOCK: This step came with little deliberation and no plan.

LOUISE KELLY: And on whether America lost its way after 9/11...

BLOCK: For all that we've lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings.

LOUISE KELLY: At times, the former vice president's speech had the certain deja vu quality. He mentioned Saddam Hussein and following events from a bunker on 9/11.

BLOCK: I'll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.

LOUISE KELLY: Cheney said no one wishes the new president more success in defending the country than he and his former boss George W. Bush. But at times Cheney sounded scornful. He called Mr. Obama's decision to rule out the future use of interrogation message such as waterboarding, quote, "unwise in the extreme." And Cheney accused the Obama administration of searching for middle ground in its approach to counter-terrorism.

BLOCK: But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half-exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear armed terrorists out of the United States. You must keep every nuclear armed terrorist out of the United States.

LOUISE KELLY: In the end, Cheney argued the Bush administration will stand up well in history, quote, "not despite our actions after 9/11, but because of them."

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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