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Cheney, back at it

From NBC's Abby Livingston

The Dick Cheney post-admin media tour continued this morning on a Fargo radio talk show hosted by local radio personality Scott Hennen. Torture, both in execution and legal theory was a dominant subject throughout the interview, with Cheney again vehemently defending the Bush record.

"There are two documents in particular that I personally have read and know about that are still classified in that National Archives," Cheney said. "But I've asked that they be de-classified; I made that request over a month ago on March 31st. What those documents show is the success, especially of the interrogation program in terms of what it produced by way of intelligence that let us track down members of Al-Qaeda and disrupt their plans and plots to strike the United States. It's all there in black and white…It demonstrates conclusively the worth of those programs. As I say, I've asked the administration to de-classify them and so far they have not."

Hennen reminded Cheney of Obama's recent statements that waterboarding and other practices were unnecessary and "we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are." 

Cheney responded, "Well, I don't believe that's true. That assumes that we didn't try other ways, and in fact we did.  We resorted, for example, to waterboarding, which is the source of much of the controversy…with only three individuals. In those cases, it was only after we'd gone through all the other steps of the process. The way the whole program was set up was very careful, to use other methods and only to resort to something like the enhanced techniques in those special circumstances."

Cheney also aired disturbed feelings about the calls for the prosecutions of Bush administration officials over torture.

"I've never heard of such a thing," he said. "And talk about putting a wet blanket on anybody in government's willingness to be bold in their recommendations and so forth. Just forget that."

He warned that such action would have future consequences.

"Anybody who sees that kind of thing happen is going to pull their head in, and they'll be reluctant to take responsibility for anything," he said, adding, "I hear this talk that there is going to be some kind of foreign prosecution of our guys, I just think that's abhorrent, and I think they ought to do everything they can to fight that."

Hennen then described the Obama administration as "overreaching" and wondered if such action could set off a conservative "renaissance" in reaction. Cheney agreed that there was an overreach in progress and again shifted the conversation to national security, (a topic he called "my first interest") Guantanamo and the treatment of detainees.

"I don't think the vast majority of Americans support what he wants to do," Cheney said. "I think, in fact, most Americans are pleased---when they think about it---that we were able to go nearly eight years without another major attack on the United States."

Cheney added, "They think we handled that pretty well…We were not a perfect administration -- none ever is -- but I think what we did in the counter-terrorist area was extremely effective. I think Obama needs to be careful because he appears to want to cancel out some of those most important policies. Then you get into this whole thing of closing Guantanamo and of course the bottom line there is, 'What are you going to do with all these terrorists that are in Guantanamo?'"

But Cheney did discuss other issues, including the Specter party switch. Hennen asked if Cheney was surprised, but unlike most of Washington, Cheney said, "Not really."

He reminded the audience of 2001, when Sen. Jim Jeffords jumped the Republican ship, therefore throwing not just his seat, but Senate control to the Democratic caucus. He warned that that short-term Democratic gain eventually backfired.

"I always had the feeling though that people looked at that and didn't really like it," Cheney said. "One of the things I thought it did was to build support for the Republican side in the next election in '02, and we had an extraordinary outcome there where the administration actually gained seats in the Senate in an off-year election, which almost never happens."

Cheney also addressed the current fissure in his party. "I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate," he said. Instead, he wants the party to stick to its guns. "When you add all those things up the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy. I, for one, am not prepared to do that, and I think most us aren't." 

He mentioned another time of Republican despair, the post-Watergate era, which he described as "a train wreck." But he sees that point in history as hopeful, saying, "By 1980, Ronald Reagan was president; we'd had a major resurgence in the party, and we'd captured control of the Senate, and obviously embarked upon the Reagan Era in American politics.  So I think periodically, we have to go through one these sessions."  

And he seems prepared to step aside for that effort. "It helps clear away some of the underbrush," he said. "Some of the older folks who've been around a long time, like yours truly, need to move on, and make room for that young talent that's coming along. But I think it's basically healthy. I don't spend a lot of time or lose a lot of sleep over it. I just think now is the time for people who are committed to get out there and find candidates they like and go to work for them."

But Cheney promised that his criticisms will not cease.

"For a while there was this talk out there that we ought to cut these guys some slack and that they shouldn't be criticized in the early days of their administration," he said. "I haven't, obviously, spent a lot of time operating according to that proposition."

His former boss, President George W. Bush, for one, espoused that philosophy.

Cheney pressed on, advocating for accountability from the 44th administration.

"The fact is that I think these are very important issues," he said, "and it's vital they be debated, and I think they need to be held to account just like any other administration."