Dick Cheney on "Fox News Sunday"

Dick Cheney on "Fox News Sunday"

By Fox News Sunday - August 30, 2009

WALLACE: Dick Cheney as you have never seen him before, exclusively on "FOX News Sunday."

Then, we'll bring you the latest on that explosive story we reported last week. Is the Obama administration pushing a "death book" on our veterans?

And how will history judge Ted Kennedy's life and career? We'll hear from our Sunday panel -- Sammon, Liasson, Kristol and Williams, all right now on "FOX News Sunday."

And hello again from Fox News in Washington. The Obama Justice Department made big news this week launching a review that could lead to prosecution of CIA officers.

Now, you'll hear from former vice president Dick Cheney , Barack Obama 's leading critic when it comes to the war on terror. On Friday, we traveled to Cheney's vacation home just outside Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He told us he feels liberated now that he's left office.

And as you'll see, Cheney was surprisingly candid, not only about this president, but also about areas where he disagreed with President Bush.


WALLACE: Mr. Vice President, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

CHENEY: It's good to be back, Chris.

WALLACE: This is your first interview since Attorney General Holder named a prosecutor to investigate possible CIA abuses of terror detainees. What do you think of that decision?

CHENEY: I think it's a terrible decision. President Obama made the announcement some weeks ago that this would not happen, that his administration would not go back and look at or try to prosecute CIA personnel.

And the effort now is based upon the inspector general's report that was sent to the Justice Department five years ago, was completely reviewed by the Justice Department in years past.

They made decisions about whether or not there was any prosecutable offense there. They found one. It did not involve CIA personnel. It involved contract personnel. That individual was sentenced and is doing time. The matter's been dealt with the way you would expect it to be dealt with by professionals.

Now we've got a political appointee coming back and, supposedly without the approval of the president, going to do a complete review or another complete investigation, possible prosecution of CIA personnel.

We could talk the whole program about the negative consequences of that, about the terrible precedent it sets to have agents involved, CIA personnel involved, in a difficult program that's approved by the Justice Department, approved by the National Security Council and the Bush administration, and then when a new administration comes in it becomes political.

They may find themselves dragged up before a grand jury, have to hire attorneys on their own because the Justice Department won't provide them with counsel. It's a terrible, terrible precedent.

WALLACE: There are a lot of aspects you just raised. Let me review some of them. Why are you so concerned about the idea of one administration reviewing, investigating, the actions of another one?

CHENEY: Well, you think, for example, in the intelligence arena, we ask those people to do some very difficult things, sometimes that put their own lives at risk. They do so at the direction of the president. They do so with the -- in this case, we had specific legal authority from the Justice Department.

And if they're now going to be subject to being investigated and prosecuted by the next administration, nobody's going to sign up for those kinds of missions. It's a very, very devastating, I think, effect that it has on morale inside the intelligence community.

If they assume that they're going to have to be dealing with the political consequences -- and it's clearly a political move; I mean, there's no other rationale for why they're doing this -- then they'll be very reluctant to...


WALLACE: You think this is a political move, not a law enforcement move.

CHENEY: Absolutely. I think the fact is the Justice Department has already reviewed the inspector general's report five years ago, and now they're dragging it back up again, and Holder is going to go back and review it again, supposedly to try to find some evidence of wrongdoing by CIA personnel.


CHENEY: In other words, a -- you know, a review is never going to be final anymore now. We can have somebody, some future administration, come along 10 years from now, 15 years from now, and go back and rehash all of these decisions by an earlier administration.

WALLACE: Let me follow up on that. The attorney general says this is a preliminary review, not a criminal investigation. It is just about CIA officers who went beyond their legal authorization. Why don't you think it's going to stop there?

CHENEY: I don't believe it. We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn't be any investigation like this, that there would not be any look-back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration. Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party and they're reversing course on that.

The president is the chief law enforcement officer in the administration. He's now saying well, this isn't anything that he's got anything to do with. He's up on vacation at Martha's Vineyard, and his attorney general is going back and doing something that the president said some months ago they wouldn't do.

WALLACE: But when you say it's not going to stop there, you don't believe it's going to stop there, do you think this will become an investigation into the Bush lawyers who authorized the activity, into the top policymakers who were involved in the decision to have an enhanced interrogation program?

CHENEY: Well, I have no idea whether it will or not. But it shouldn't. The fact of the matter is the lawyers in the Justice Department who gave us those opinions had every right to give us the opinions they did.

Now you get a new administration. They say, "Well, we didn't like those opinions. We're going to go investigate those lawyers and perhaps have them disbarred." I just think it's an outrageous precedent to set, to have this kind of, I think, intensely partisan, politicized look-back at the prior administration.

I guess the other thing that offends the hell out of me, frankly, Chris, is we had a track record now of eight years of defending the nation against any further mass casualty attacks from Al Qaida.

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?"

Instead, they're out there now threatening to disbar the lawyers who gave us the legal opinions, threatening -- contrary to what the president originally said, they're going to go out and investigate the CIA personnel who carried out those investigations.

I just -- I think it's an outrageous political act that will do great damage long term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions without having to worry about what the next administration's going to say about it.

WALLACE: If the prosecutor asks to speak to you, will you speak to him?

CHENEY: It will depend on the circumstances and what I think their activities are really involved in. I've been very outspoken in my views on this matter. I've been very forthright publicly in talking about my involvement in these policies.

I'm very proud of what we did in terms of defending the nation for the last eight years successfully. And you know, it won't take a prosecutor to find out what I think. I've already expressed those views...

WALLACE: Let me ask you -- you say you're proud...

CHENEY: ... rather forthrightly.

WALLACE: ... of what we did. The inspector general's report, which was just released, from 2004 details some specific interrogations -- mock executions, one of the detainees threatened with a handgun and with an electric drill, waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times.

First of all, did you know that was going on?

CHENEY: I knew about the waterboarding, not specifically in any one particular case but as a general policy that we had approved.

The fact of the matter is the Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years ago. They looked at this question of whether or not somebody had an electric drill in an interrogation session. It was never used on the individual -- or that they had brought in a weapon, never used on the individual.

The judgment was made then that there wasn't anything there that was improper or illegal with respect to...


WALLACE: Do you think what they did -- now that you've heard about it, do you think what they did was wrong?

CHENEY: Chris, my sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives, in preventing further attacks against the United States, in giving us the intelligence we needed to go find Al Qaida, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed.

The -- those interrogations were involved in the arrest of nearly all of the Al Qaida members that we were able to bring to justice. I think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.

It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well...


WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you're OK with it.


WALLACE: One specific question about Holder. The Obama administration -- you put out the statement saying that you were upset that President Obama allowed the attorney general to bring these cases.

A top Obama official says, "Hey, maybe in the Bush White House they told the attorney general what to do, but Eric Holder makes independent decisions."

CHENEY: Well, I think if you look at the Constitution, the president of the United States is the chief law enforcement officer in the land. The attorney general's a statutory officer. He's a member of the cabinet.

The president's the one who bears this responsibility, and for him to say, "Gee, I didn't have anything to do with it," especially after he sat in the Oval Office and said this wouldn't happen, then Holder decides he's going to do it, so now he's backed off and is claiming he's not responsible, I just -- I think he's trying to duck the responsibility for what's going on here, and I think it's -- I think it's wrong.

WALLACE: President Obama has also decided to move interrogations from the CIA to the FBI, that -- under the supervision of the National Security Council, and the FBI will have to act within the boundaries of the Army Field Manual.

What do you think that does for the nation's security? And will we now have the tools if we catch another high-value target?

CHENEY: I think the move to set up this -- what is it called, the HIG Group?


CHENEY: It's not even clear who's responsible. The Justice Department is. Then they claim they aren't. FBI's responsible. They claim they aren't. It's some kind of inter-agency process by which they're going to be responsible for interrogating high-value detainees. If we had tried to do that back in the aftermath of 9/11 when we captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, we'd have gotten noplace. I think it 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.

I think it's a direct slap at the CIA. I don't think it will work. I think that if they were faced with the kind of situation we were faced with in the aftermath of 9/11, suddenly capturing people that may have knowledge about imminent attacks, and they're going to have to have meetings and decide who gets to ask what question and who's going to Mirandize the witness -- I just -- I think it's -- it's silly. It makes no sense. It's not -- doesn't appear to be a serious move in terms of being able to deal with the nation's security.

WALLACE: On another issue, the CIA has stopped a program to kill or capture top Al Qaida leaders, top Al Qaida terrorists, and CIA director Panetta told lawmakers that you told the CIA not to inform Congress. Is that true?

CHENEY: As I recall -- and I -- frankly, this is many years ago, but my recollection of it is, and the reporting I've seen is, that the direction was for them not to tell Congress until certain lines were passed, until the program became operational, and that it was handled appropriately.

And other directors of the CIA, including people like Mike Hayden, who was Leon Panetta's immediate predecessor, has talked about it and said it's all a -- you know, a very shaky proposition that was well-handled, that he was not directed not to deal with the Congress on this issue, that it's just not true.

WALLACE: The CIA released two other documents this week, "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Preeminent Source in Al Qaida"...

CHENEY: Right.

WALLACE: ... "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al Qaida." While they say that the overall program got absolutely crucial information, they do not conclude whether the enhanced interrogation programs worked. They just are kind of agnostic on the issue.

And then there's what President Obama calls the core issue.


OBAMA: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?


CHENEY: Well, these two reports are versions of the ones I asked for previously. There's actually one, the detainee reporting pivotal for the war against Al Qaida -- there's another version of this that's more detailed that's not been released.

But the interesting thing about these is it shows that Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah provided the overwhelming majority of reports on Al Qaida, that they were, as it says, pivotal in the war against Al Qaida, that both of them were uncooperative at first, that the application of enhanced interrogation techniques, specifically waterboarding, especially in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is what really persuaded him he needed to cooperate.

I think the evidence is overwhelming that the EITs were crucial in getting them to cooperate and that the information they provided did, in fact, save thousands of lives and let us defeat all further attacks against the United States.

The thing I keep coming back to time and time again, Chris, is the fact that we've gone for eight years without another attack. Now, how do you explain that? The critics don't have any solution for that.

They can criticize our policies, our way of doing business, but the results speak for themselves, and as well as the efforts that we went to, the Justice Department, so forth, to make certain what we were doing was legal, was consistent with our international treaty obligations.


WALLACE: At one point the vice president showed us the view of majestic mountains from his backyard. I asked about the Democrats' running battle with the CIA, including Nancy Pelosi 's charge the agency once lied to her.


WALLACE: Republicans have made the charge before. Do you think the Democrats are soft on national security?

CHENEY: I do. I've always had the view that -- in recent years anyway, that they didn't have strong advocates on national defense or national security as they used to have. And I worry about it.

I think that things have gotten so partisan that the -- sort of the pro-defense hawkish wing of the Democratic Party has faded and isn't as strong as it once was.

WALLACE: Now that he's been in office for seven months, what do you think of Barack Obama ?

CHENEY: Well, I wasn't a fan of his when he got elected, and my views haven't changed any. I have serious doubts about his policies, serious doubts especially about the extent to which he understands and is prepared to do what needs to be done to defend the nation.

WALLACE: Now, he has stepped up the use of the Predator drones against Al Qaida. He has continued rendition.

CHENEY: Right.

WALLACE: Aren't there some things you support that he's done?

CHENEY: Sure, some of those things have been -- the use of the Predator drone, something we started very aggressively in the Bush administration.

Marrying up the intelligence platform with weapons is something we started in August of 2001. It's been enormously successful. And they were successful the other day in killing Baitullah Mehsud, which -- I think all of those are pluses.

But my concern is that the damage that will be done by the president of the United States going back on his word, his promise, about investigations of CIA personnel who have carried out those policies is seriously going to undermine the morale, if you will, of our folks out at the agency.

Just today, for example, the courts in Pakistan have ruled that A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistan nuclear weapon, man who provided assistance to the Iranians, the North Koreans, the Libyans, has now been released from custody.

It's very, very important we find out and know long-term what he's up to. He's so far the worst proliferator of nuclear technology in recent history.

Now, we've got agents and people out at the agency who ought to be on that case and worried about it, but they're going to have to spend time hiring lawyers at their own expense in order to defend themselves against...


WALLACE: Actually, the CIA has now said they're going to pay for the lawyers.

CHENEY: Well, that will be a new proposition. Always before when we've had these criminal investigations, the fact is that the employees themselves have to pay for it.

WALLACE: What do you think of the debate over health care reform and these raucous town halls?

CHENEY: I think it's basically healthy.

WALLACE: And what do you think of health care reform issue?

CHENEY: I don't -- well, it's an important issue, but I think the proposals the administration's made are -- don't deserve to be passed.

I think the fact that there's a lot of unrest out there in the country that gets expressed in these town hall meetings, with folks coming and speaking out very loudly about their concerns, indicates that there are major, major problems what the administration's proposing.

WALLACE: There was a story in the Washington Post a couple of weeks ago that in the process of writing your memoir, you have told colleagues about your frustration with President Bush, especially in his second -- your second term. Is that true?


WALLACE: That story was wrong.

CHENEY: Right.

WALLACE: The report says that you disagreed with the president's decision to halt waterboarding, you agreed (sic) with his decision to close the secret prisons, you disagreed with his decision to reach out to Iran and North Korea. Is that true?

CHENEY: Well, we had policy differences, no question about that. But to say that I was disappointed with the president isn't the way it ought to be phrased.

The fact of the matter is he encouraged me to give him my view on a whole range of issues. I did. Sometimes he agreed. Sometimes he didn't. That was true from the very beginning of the administration.

WALLACE: Did you feel that he went soft in the second term?

CHENEY: I wouldn't say that. I think you're going to have to wait and read my book, Chris, for the...

WALLACE: It sounds like...

CHENEY: ... definitive view.

WALLACE: It sounds like you're going to say something close to that.

CHENEY: No, I'm not going to speculate on it. I'm going to write a book that lays out my view of what we did. It'll also cover a lot of years before I ever went to work for George Bush.

WALLACE: Will you open up in the book about areas where you disagreed...


WALLACE: ... with the president?


WALLACE: There's a question I've wanted to ask you for some period of time. Why didn't your administration take out the Iranian nuclear program?

Given what a threat I know you believe it was, given the fact that you knew that Barack Obama favored not only diplomatic engagement, but actually sitting down with the Iranians, why would you leave it to him to make this decision?

CHENEY: It wasn't my decision to make.

WALLACE: Would you have favored military action?

CHENEY: I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues.

WALLACE: Do you think that it was a mistake while you were in power, while your administration was in power, not to go after the nuclear infrastructure of Iran?

CHENEY: I can't say that yet. We don't know how it's ultimately going to come out. WALLACE: But you don't...

CHENEY: At the time...

WALLACE: You don't get the choice to make it 20/20 hindsight. In 2007-2008, was it a mistake not to take out their program?

CHENEY: I think it was very important that the military option be on the table. I thought that negotiations couldn't possibly succeed unless the Iranians really believed we were prepared to use military force.

And to date, of course, they're still proceeding with their nuclear program and the matter has not yet been resolved. We can speculate about what might have happened if we'd followed a different course of action.

As I say, I was an advocate of a more robust policy than any of my colleagues. But I didn't make the decision.

WALLACE: Including the president.

CHENEY: The president made the decision, and obviously we pursued the diplomatic avenues.

WALLACE: Do you think it was a mistake to let the opportunity, when you guys were in power, go, knowing that here was Barack Obama and he was going to take a much different...

CHENEY: I'm going to -- if I address that, I'll address it in my book, Chris.

WALLACE: It's going to be a hell of a book.

CHENEY: It's going to be a great book.

WALLACE: Was it a mistake for Bill Clinton, with the blessing of the administration, to go to North Korea to bring back those two reporters?

CHENEY: Well, obviously, you're concerned for the reporters and their circumstances, but I think if we look at it from a policy standpoint, it's a big reward for bad behavior on the part of the North Korean leadership.

They are testing nuclear weapons. They've been major proliferators of nuclear weapons technology. They built a reactor in the Syrian desert very much like their own reactor for producing plutonium for nuclear weapons.

They probably are the worst proliferators of nuclear technology anyplace in the world today, and there ought to be a price for that.

Instead, I think when a former president of the United States goes and meets with the leader and so forth that we're rewarding their bad behavior. And I think it's a mistake. WALLACE: You wouldn't have done it.


WALLACE: How concerned are you about the increase in violence in Iraq since we pulled out of the major population areas? And also, what do you make of the fact that the top Shiite parties have formed an alliance tilting towards Iran and leaving Prime Minister Maliki?

CHENEY: Well, I -- I'm concerned about Iraq, obviously. I have been a strong supporter of our policies there from the very beginning. I think we made major, major efforts to take down Saddam Hussein's regime, establish a viable democracy in the heart of the Middle East.

I think especially going through the surge strategy in ‘07 and ‘08, we achieved very significant results. It's important that we not let that slip away. And we need to be concerned, I think, in these days now, the beginning of the new administration -- I'd like to see them focus just as much on victory as they are focused on getting out.

And I hope that they don't rush to the exit so fast that we end up in a situation where all of those gains that were so hard won are lost.

WALLACE: Given the increase in violence, given some of these new issues in terms of the political lay of the land, given President Obama's plan to pull all combat troops out by a year from now, the summer of 2010, how confident are you that Iraq as a stable, moderate country is going to make it?

CHENEY: I don't know. I don't know that anybody knows. I think it's very important that they have success from a political standpoint. I think the Maliki government's doing better than it was at some points in the past. I hope that we see continued improvement in the Iraqi armed forces, security services.

But I think to have an absolute deadline by which you're going to withdraw, that's totally unconditioned to developments on the ground, I think there's a danger there that you're going to let the drive to get out overwhelm the good sense of staying long enough to make certain the outcome is what we want.

WALLACE: Obviously, this weekend the country is focused on the death of Ted Kennedy. What did you think of him?

CHENEY: Well, I -- personally, I liked him. In terms of policy, there's very little we agreed on. He was a liberal Democrat from Massachusetts. I was a conservative Republican from Wyoming, so there wasn't much that we had to work together on.

On the other hand, I admired the fact that he got into the arena as much as he did for most of his professional life and was obviously a very active participant.

WALLACE: How are you adjusting to life out of power? CHENEY: Well, this is the fourth time I've done it, Chris, so it's not my first rodeo, as we say. I'm enjoying private life. I just -- excuse me -- took my family on an Alaskan cruise for a week with all the kids and the grandkids.

We've gotten to spend a great deal of time in Wyoming which, as you can tell here in Jackson Hole, is one of the world's finer garden spots. So I have, I think, adjusted with a minimal amount of conflict and difficulty. It's been pretty smooth.

WALLACE: What do you miss?

CHENEY: Oh, I -- I'm a junkie, I guess. All those years -- I spent more than 40 years in Washington and enjoyed, obviously, the people I worked with, wrestling with some of the problems we had to wrestle with.

I enjoyed having the CIA show up on my doorstep every morning six days a week with the...

WALLACE: You miss that.

CHENEY: ... latest intelligence. Sure.


CHENEY: Because it was fascinating. It was important stuff. It kept you plugged in with what was going on around the world. And as I say, I'm a junkie from a public policy standpoint.

I went to Washington, stayed 12 months and stayed 41 years. I liked it. I thought it was important. And I will always be pleased that I had the opportunity to serve.

WALLACE: Do you miss having your hands on the levers of power?

CHENEY: Oh, I don't think of it in those terms.

WALLACE: But I mean, being able to effect things. You obviously feel strongly about these issues.

CHENEY: Right.

WALLACE: Do you miss the fact that now you're just another guy watching cable news?

CHENEY: No. And as I say, I've been there before, and I left government after the first Nixon term and went to the private sector, and I left after the Ford administration and ran for Congress, then left after I was secretary of defense and went to the private sector.

So these are -- these are normal kinds of transitions that you've got to make in this business. And what I've always found is that there are compensating factors to living a private life, to having more freedom and time to do what I want and to spend more time with the family, which is very important. Over the years, you know, I've sacrificed a lot in order to be able to do those things I've done in the public sector.

WALLACE: Well, we want to thank you for talking with us and including in your private life putting up with an interview from the likes of me.

CHENEY: It's all right. I enjoy the show, Chris.

WALLACE: Thank you very much, and all the best, sir.

CHENEY: OK. Good luck.

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