Cheney Fires Latest Salvo in Debate Over Obama's National Security Policies

Former Vice President Dick Cheney ratcheted up his attacks on the Obama administration Thursday, saying the anti-terror policies of the Bush administration kept America safe and that President Obama's apparent pride in seeking a middle ground is compromising America's safety.

Cheney also defended the enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that were used on captured terrorists, saying those techniques saved possibly hundreds of thousands of American lives.

"I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed," Cheney said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

 "They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people."

The former vice president said that despite severe and ongoing criticism of the Bush administration's policies by both media and Democrats, "ruthless enemies" were stopped in their tracks, and he accused the new administration of weakening the country's ability to combat terrorists.

"... in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed," Cheney said. "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."

"There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance," he added.

Cheney made his remarks minutes after President Obama delivered a 35-minute speech defending his ban of enhanced interrogation techniques and trying to rally support for his plan to the close the Guantanamo Bay prison, which still holds 241 suspected terrorists. Senate Democrats  this week cut $80 million out of a war spending bill to fund the closing because they want a detailed plan from the administration on what will happen to the detainees.

Obama said he banned enhanced interrogation techniques because they "did not advance our war and counterterrorism efforts -- they undermined them."

Obama also said the Guantanamo prison "sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it."

Cheney did not plan his speech as a rebuttal to Obama's remarks -- his appearance was scheduled far in advance of Obama's speech -- but he delayed the start in deference to the president, ensuring that AEI had monitors so the audience could watch Obama's speech and waiting for it to end before he made his remarks.

Despite being the target of criticism and mockery for his outspoken criticism of Obama's national security policies, Cheney's popularity is on the rise, according to a CNN poll released Wednesday morning.

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The poll found most Americans -- 55 percent -- still have an unfavorable opinion of Cheney, but 37 percent now say they have a favorable opinion, up 8 points from January when he left office.

In his speech, Cheney rejected the notion held by Obama and other critics that Bush's anti-terror policies were inconsistent with American values.

"... no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things," Cheney said. "And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them."

Cheney repeated his call for Obama to release memos that he claims will show the effectiveness of the Bush-era interrogation methods.

"If Americans do get the chance to learn what our country was spared, it'll do more than clarify the urgency and the rightness of enhanced interrogations in the years after 9/11," he said. "It may help us to stay focused on dangers that have not gone away. Instead of idly debating which political opponents to prosecute and punish, our attention will return to where it belongs -- on the continuing threat of terrorist violence, and on stopping the men who are planning it."

Cheney also took a swipe at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is under fire for accusing the CIA of lying to Congress about the interrogation techniques.

"Some members of Congress are notorious for demanding they be briefed into the most sensitive intelligence programs," he said. "They support them in private, and then head for the hills at the first sign of controversy."

FOX News Jim Angle contributed to this report.