Dick Cheney Defends CIA Enhanced Interrogation Techniques

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," May 12, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Well, just call him this administration's ball and Cheney. He won't go. He won't stop, and, today, you will see for yourself Dick Cheney is just warming up.

Welcome, everybody. I'm Neil Cavuto.

And he is the former vice president of these United States. His old boss is quiet. He is not. And when it comes to an administration prepared to release a lot of photos of interrogated detainees, he is now officially livid, and, with me only moments ago, not exactly holding back.


CAVUTO: All right, Mr. Vice President, welcome. Always good having you.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY: It's good to see you again, Neil.

CAVUTO: We're getting word that, by May 28, up to potentially 2,000 pictures are going to be released by the White House showing various interrogation methods, up to 2,000.

What do you think of that?

CHENEY: Well, I guess what I think is important is that there be some balance to what is being released. The fact of the matter is, the administration appears to be committed to putting out information that sort of favors their point of view, in terms of being opposed to, for example, enhanced interrogation techniques.

But, so far, they have refused to put out memos that were done by the CIA that I requested be declassified that show the positive results of the detainee program, and all of the information and the intelligence we were able to garner from these high-value detainees.

• Video: Watch Part 1 of Cavuto's interview | Part 2

CAVUTO: And you say there are at least two such CIA memos that point to...

CHENEY: Well, there are two specifically that I requested.

CAVUTO: ... to the enhanced interrogation, and that it did yield results.

CHENEY: Yes, well, that specifically talked about detainees, about the contributions that we got to our overall intelligence picture. Publicly General Hayden, who used to be director of the CIA, said as late as 2006 a majority of the intelligence we had gotten about Al Qaeda came from detainees — high-value targets like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, like Abu Zubaydah, people that we captured during the course of — of our campaign against Al Qaeda.

And they, of course, were obviously also the people that the debate has focused on in respect to enhanced interrogation techniques.

So, I...


CAVUTO: Have you spoken to anyone in the White House lately about this? And did they give you a heads-up, we're going to release all of these interrogation pictures?

CHENEY: What I did was make a formal request for declassification through the National Archives, which is the way you do it, and then it goes out to the agency responsible, in this case, the CIA.

And I'm still awaiting a formal answer from them.

CAVUTO: Your daughter, Liz, was on a rival news network this morning.

CHENEY: She was.

CAVUTO: And she made the comment that, the White House should have called my dad — I'm paraphrasing here, Mr. Vice President — but it was clearly, the inference was that that did not happen.

What happened? When this whole dust-up started happening on interrogation, and then eliminating water-boarding, did anyone from the White House give you or President Bush a heads-up that this policy was about to be reversed?

CHENEY: Well, I — I didn't discuss it with anybody in the administration, but I'm not offended by that. They campaigned all across the country, from — from one end of the country to the other — against enhanced interrogation techniques, and made it very clear they were opposed to that. They called it torture. I don't believe it was torture. We had attorneys who gave us clear guidance as to what was appropriate and what wasn't.

The reason we have gotten into this debate at all is because the administration saw fit to go back and release OLC opinions — opinions out of the Office of Legal Counsel, and the Justice Department dealing with its classified program. Now, that's a very rare occurrence. You don't ordinarily release those opinions, especially when it deals with a classified program.

They did it in a way that — that sort of has blocked so far any real discussion of the results of the program and instead focused upon the techniques themselves.

And they really began the debate, then, with the suggestions that perhaps people should be prosecuted for having participated in the program or the lawyers who gave us these opinions should be disbarred. I think it's an outrage.

I think the proposition that a new administration can come in and — and, in effect, launch an attack on their predecessor because they disagreed with the legal advice that was given by the Justice Department or because they find that they don't like the policies that were pursued by the prior administration — it's one thing to come in and change the policy. It's an entirely different proposition to come in and say that you're somehow going to go after the lawyers in the Justice Department or the agents who carried out that policy.

I just — I — I think that's outrageous. And that's why I have spoken out as I have to defend the policy and...


CAVUTO: But you have, but President Bush has not. And — and that, to your critics, is a sign of his statesmanship and your lack of it.

What do you make of that?

CHENEY: Well, I — I don't pay a lot of attention to what the critics say, obviously.

From my standpoint, the notion that I should remain silent, while they go public, that I shouldn't say anything, while they threaten to disbar the lawyers who gave us the advice that was crucial in terms of this program, that I shouldn't say anything when they go out and release information that they believe is critical of the program and critical of our policies, but refuse to put out information that shows the results that we were able to achieve.

The bottom line is: We successfully defended the nation for seven-and-a-half years against a follow-on attack to 9/11. That was a remarkable achievement. Nobody would have thought that was possible, but it was. I believe it was possible because of the policies we had in place, which they're now dismantling.

I think it's...

CAVUTO: So, by that definition, are we more likely to be attacked now? Is that what you're saying?

CHENEY: I think that we are stripping ourselves of some of the capabilities that we used in order to block, if you will, or disrupt activities by Al Qaeda that would have led to additional attacks.

I think that's an important debate to have. I don't think we should just roll over when the new administration says — accuses of us committing torture — which we did not — or somehow violating the law, which we did not. I think you need to stand up and respond to that, and that's what I have done.

CAVUTO: Have you raised this with President Bush? Have you talked with him and said, "Look, I'm going to go out, and I'm going to be talking to FOX. I'm going to be talking, and I'm going to let the world know how I feel"?

CHENEY: You know, I have had a number of conversations on the telephone since January 20.

CAVUTO: Any recently?

CHENEY: Those are — oh, it's been a couple of weeks. But we're...


CAVUTO: How were those conversations? What do you talk about?

CHENEY: Well, those are — those were private when we were in the White House and they remain so today.

CAVUTO: So, you're not going to tell me?



All right. We're getting word out of The Jerusalem Post, Mr. Vice President, that Iran has deployed mobile ground-to-air and ground-to-sea missiles along the Strait of Hormuz and perhaps beyond in the Persian Gulf.

How bad is this getting?

CHENEY: Well, I haven't seen the reports.

I think it's important to — to be aware of or recognize that the Straits of Hormuz, obviously, are a key waterway, not just from the standpoint of the United States, but that about — these numbers are rough, but about 20 percent of the world's oil supply passes through those straits every day.

There's something close to 18, 19 million barrels that come out of the Gulf, come out of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and so forth. That's the major export route, if you will. And, so, anything that potentially threatens the free flow of that traffic, obviously, would be of concern.

CAVUTO: Well, what they're obviously doing, though, is saying, you attack us, I mean, we respond in spades. And then the whole world is dealing with $100, $200-a-barrel oil, right?

CHENEY: Well, I don't know what they're doing, obviously. I can't speak for what the Iranians are up to.

They — they're difficult enough to follow when you're talking to them, and we're not talking to them and haven't for a long time. But I do think...

CAVUTO: Well, we are making overtures to them, right, to Ahmadinejad?


CAVUTO: This president is trying, and the — that the time for that type of behavior, as well as opening up more to folks like Hugo Chavez and all, the time is now for that, because we got nowhere, this administration says, doing what you did, which was effectively to isolate these guys.

What do you make of that?

CHENEY: The Iranians have a track record. We tried to resolve the issue diplomatically. We worked with our European friends and allies. We tried to persuade them that they did not need to enrich uranium to weapons-grade, that the Russians, for example, were prepared to sell them fuel for their reactor and then take the spent fuel back after the fuel had been used — a lot of ways for them to acquire nuclear-power-generating capabilities without producing weapons.

They clearly seem to be in the business of wanting to produce weapons. We were unable to talk them out of it previously. And — and there was a very serious effort, diplomatically, working through the United Nations and with the EU3 — the way we refer to the British and the Germans and the French.

The fact is that, as far as we know, they're still in the business of trying to produce that — that capability. And that would be a fundamental threat, not only to the folks in the immediate region, but potentially others around the world, including the United States.

They're working on missile technology. And if they can marry up a weapon with the missile, then they become a formidable power.

CAVUTO: President Obama is going to be in Egypt next month, part of a Middle East tour, in which he will use that nation as an address to the Muslim world.

He is not stopping by Israel when he is in the neighborhood, so to speak. What do you make of that?

CHENEY: I — I don't know that it has any significance. But, obviously, I haven't been part of scheduling for the new administration, so I don't know what considerations go into that. But I — I don't think I can attribute motives one way or the other.

CAVUTO: So, to Israelis who are concerned that maybe this administration, again, with the best of interests for the whole region at heart, is — is more inclined to engage Muslim nations, maybe even some radical nations, it's — it's giving some Israelis pause.

Should it?

CHENEY: Well, I think it's — it's giving not only Israelis pause. It's also creating concerns on the part of nearly everybody in the region.

And I would put in that category, although I haven't talked to them recently, the Saudis, the Gulf states, the Emirates and so forth, because they have been more concerned in recent years about developments in Iran than anything else, than any other issue in the area or the region.

And that's because they believe, if you — if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will fundamentally change the dynamic in that part of the world.

CAVUTO: How close are they, by the way, do you think?

CHENEY: Well, you can get all kinds of estimates. They — they clearly have installed thousands of centrifuges. That's their claim.

But there have been inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency that can give us fairly precise information on how many centrifuges are installed and so forth.

In terms of how close they are, I — you know, there are estimates, but I can't — can't give you a precise recent take on how much it is.

CAVUTO: Well, what would U.S. policy be, Mr. Vice President, if were to see Benjamin Netanyahu act alone, unilaterally, to take out those centrifuges?

CHENEY: Well, I can't speak for the administration, obviously. And that's — that's where you need to go to — to find out.

CAVUTO: What would you think?

CHENEY: I would find it, that it would be a reflection of the fact that the Israelis believe this is an existential threat to the state of Israel. That Iran has taken a position, and supported it over the years, that — that Israel should cease to exist, should go out of business. And Iran remains one of the prime sponsors of terror in the world, especially Hezbollah, and that, all things considered, I think the Israelis look at developments in Iran, and they have stated publicly that they believe a nuclear-armed Iran is something that fundamentally threatens their existence.

So, I would expect them to try to do something about it.


CHENEY: I can't predict that. I don't — I obviously don't know, and — and can't predict what they will do or when they will do it.

CAVUTO: Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired General David McKiernan in Afghanistan, said that, whatever we were doing — and I'm paraphrasing here, sir — wasn't working, and — and that we need more of a Special- Operations guy, who we supposedly have now, and saying that the battle game and plan for Afghanistan has changed.

Has it?

CHENEY: I — I think there's been a — a significant increase, obviously, in the focus on Afghanistan, which I think is good.

We had completed a review of our policy in Afghanistan shortly before we left office, and then decided that we would not put it out at that point, that that would feed into whatever the Obama administration wanted to do, and might help them form a — a sounder policy.

One of the things they have done that I think makes good sense is send more troops. I also believe the decision yesterday to send Stan McChrystal, lieutenant general, to take over in Afghanistan is a very good one.

Stan is an absolutely outstanding officer. I'm not saying anything critical of General McKiernan, who's leaving, but Stan McChrystal was head of the Joint Special Operations Command. He's been a superb officer...


CAVUTO: So, you support that choice, at least?

CHENEY: I think the choice is excellent.

CAVUTO: I see.

CHENEY: And I think you would be hard-put to find anybody better than Stan McChrystal to take on that assignment.

CAVUTO: If you don't mind, sir, I would like to go back to terror for a second.

Nancy Pelosi has been caught up in — in — in when did she know and how much did she know as far as the waterboarding issue, elevated interrogation techniques, and — and says she was aware of a 2003 meeting. But the — the way it's been characterized, that she was aware of all the details, is wrong, and that — that painting her any other way is — is wrong.

What do you make of that?

CHENEY: I don't know the specifics of what sessions she was in.

I know she was listed in a memorandum I have seen, a timeline that talks about when various members were briefed that the agencies produced in the last few days — public documents.

CAVUTO: When you say "briefed," briefed on specifically waterboarding?

CHENEY: Briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques.

CAVUTO: That included waterboarding?

CHENEY: I don't know. I wasn't in the meetings, and I can't speak to the — the content of the meetings. I know what the intention was.

I know that the CIA basically took the responsibility of briefing members of Congress, few in number, chairman and ranking member of the intelligence committees, about the program.

CAVUTO: Congresswoman Jane Harman was among those who did raise a letter of protest.


CHENEY: I don't know about that, but I...

CAVUTO: Now, she passed along her concern to Nancy Pelosi, who I guess went through the legislative channels, who didn't want to disrupt the legislative channels, to let her do the speaking, if I'm interpreting it correctly.

But what...

CHENEY: I — you — you're — you're down in the weeds now.

CAVUTO: I guess I am.

CHENEY: I'm generally, obviously, aware of the program. I'm aware of the fact...


CAVUTO: But you're saying people knew than are saying so about these interrogation techniques?

CHENEY: I think it paralleled the surveillance program, for example, the — the terrorist surveillance program that we ran, where I ran the briefings.

And we briefed every — every few months the chairman and ranking member, and at one point, the "Big Nine," the speaker and — and majority, minority leaders of the House and Senate, on the substance of the program, on what we were doing, on how we were doing it, sought their advice and guidance on whether we should continue it.

CAVUTO: Well, do you remember any of them, Mr. Vice President, saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, this is a little too far for our tastes; we don't want this?

CHENEY: No. On the terrorist surveillance program, after we'd given them the brief in the Situation Room in the basement — I presided over it — I went around the table and asked if they thought we should continue the program. They were unanimous.

Then, I asked if they thought we should...

CAVUTO: Who — who was unanimous?

CHENEY: The speaker, the majority and minority leader of the House and Senate, as well as the chairman and ranking member of the Intelligence Committees.

CAVUTO: On everything that had been stipulated, including these interrogations?

CHENEY: On — on — no, on the terrorist surveillance program.

CAVUTO: Gotcha.

CHENEY: I'm just giving you an example.

And then I asked if they thought we should go back and get additional congressional authority, and they said absolutely not. That would reveal the existence of the program.

And I think what happened with respect to enhanced interrogation techniques is, the CIA did go up. They did brief the relevant people. And I think what often happens in these circumstances is, once a controversy develops, then some of the people that were briefed get forgetful.

CAVUTO: Let me just, on one last foreign policy issue, before we hit on some economics — I know your time is tight — on Gitmo.

The administration's intelligence director had said that detainees who are just misplaced and are here have a right to, among other things, and could get welfare, for example.

How do you feel about that?

CHENEY: I think it's a terrible idea.

While we were running things at Guantanamo, there were several hundred people that processed through there that were held there for a period of time and were ultimately sent back to their home countries.

The ones that are remaining, about 245, are the hard-core, the worst of the worst. Their cases have been reviewed. They were given an annual review down at Guantanamo. And they were kept in custody, because we believed they constituted a threat to the United States or they had some continuing value.

Of those that were released, we had about a 12 percent recidivism rate, 12 percent that went back into the terrorism business.

CAVUTO: Right.

CHENEY: I think the recidivism on the ones that are still there would be far higher. It includes people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.

Now, I think they're having a very hard time finding anybody around the world who wants to take these folks. I know, when we tried to place a few Uighurs, Chinese terrorists...

CAVUTO: Right, right.

CHENEY: ... while we were still in office, ultimately, the only country that would take them was Albania. Everybody else rejected them.


CAVUTO: Where do you think they're going to end up?

CHENEY: Well, I — I think they need to keep Guantanamo open. I think it's a mistake to try to close it.

I think, if you didn't have it, you would have to invent it. If you bring those people to the United States, I don't know a single congressman who is going to stand up and say, gee, send me some terrorists. I would like to have some Al Qaeda-types living in my district. It's not going to happen. So, I think they're going to have great difficulty trying to find someplace where they can locate these folks.

Guantanamo is a great facility. It's very well-run. These people are very well-treated. It's open to inspection by the International Red Cross and the press and so forth. It's — it's a good facility. It's an important program, and we ought to continue it.


CAVUTO: Well, now you know why the White House finds Dick Cheney so taxing. Wait until you hear what he has to say about taxes.

And get ready. This guy is just warming up. And, by the way, Joe Biden, are you listening? He doesn't spare you either.

Dick Cheney unvarnished — more after this.


CAVUTO: All righty, well, say it ain't so, Joe — Joe Biden, that is. The current vice president managing to tick off the former vice president today, big-time.

Here's part two of my sit-down with Dick Cheney:


CAVUTO: Senator Biden was making news, today, speaking to a union group, saying, we have to rebuild the middle class, and the way to do that is to help labor unions grow.

What did you make of that?

CHENEY: Well, I'm not anti-labor union.

I carried a ticket for six years in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in my youth. I built power line transmission lines all over Wyoming, Utah, Colorado. That's how I paid for my education. So, I'm not anti-union.

I do think the legislation that the administration is supporting and that the unions are pushing hard, the so-called card check law...

CAVUTO: Right.

CHENEY: ... would — would do away with a secret ballot in terms of the question of organizing unions. I think it would be a huge mistake.

I don't think we want to get into the business where we make it easier for there to be the kind of intimidation that we have sometimes seen in these operations in the past and where people wouldn't be able to cast a secret ballot, in terms of whether or not they want to join a union.

CAVUTO: Jack Welch said they would be deleterious to our economic recovery. Do you agree?

CHENEY: Well, I always felt that what Ronald Reagan did back in 1981, in the — in the early part of his administration, when he was very tough with the air traffic controllers, was — was a good, sound, solid move.

I think that, as I say, that, if people want to join a union, fine. That's — that's their business. There are provisions for that that allow — allow unions to be represented.

But I think what the unions are trying to do here is dramatically expand the base, in terms of membership. And they will, in turn, generate vast sums of money, in terms of dues and political contributions. And I think it does have wide-ranging ramifications and that the current system, where we have secret ballots for people to decide whether or not they want to be represented by unions, a good way to go, and we ought to preserve it.

CAVUTO: You mentioned Ronald Reagan, sir. And Jeb Bush made some news recently made some news recently, saying that the party — and I will paraphrase here — obsesses a bit too much about Ronald Reagan, and has got to move on and move forward.

What do make of that?

CHENEY: Well, I like Jeb. I think he's a good man. I would like to see him continue to stay involved politically.

CAVUTO: For president?


CHENEY: I would — I would probably support him for president.

CAVUTO: Would you really?


CHENEY: He's a good man.

CAVUTO: Over Mitt Romney?

CHENEY: I'm not — I'm not endorsing anybody today. I'm not...

CAVUTO: Any candidate you like?

CHENEY: I'm not in the business of endorsing anybody at this point, Neil.


CHENEY: But I'm — I'm a big fan of Jeb's.

I think, in terms of the Reagan legacy, I think it's important to the party. I think it was a period of time when we had a — an administration that understood that the engine that drives the American economy is the private sector, that one of the things that was most important from the standpoint of government was to get out of the way of the private sector and let small businesses grow and develop and create jobs and create wealth.

You had to reduce the tax burden to the maximum extent possible, exactly the opposite of the kind of policies we see coming out of the administration today, when we're experiencing a vast — a proposal for a vast increase in the power of the government over the private sector.

CAVUTO: But without, you know, any regard for party, it started with your administration, right? I mean, the bailout, the financial bailouts of the banks, and looking to help the auto companies, in very dire economic moments, certainly, was started by you and President Bush.

CHENEY: Well...

CAVUTO: Do you regret any of that?

CHENEY: I disagreed with bailing out the automobile companies. I would have — would have encouraged the process to go forward for a Chapter 11. I thought that was the right way to go.

CAVUTO: What about the banks?

CHENEY: The banks are different.

And the reason the banks are different is because they are part of the financial system that is the heart and soul of our economy. And the federal government has major responsibilities for the health of our financial institutions. You've got the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, the FDIC, SEC, et cetera. And — and, when the markets began to seize up, when people couldn't get credit any more, when the — the collapse, for example, in the subprime mortgage market and so forth, put at risk the basic fundamental health of our economy because it threatened that — that core of — of our financial system, and there isn't anybody other than the federal government that can fix it.

And, therefore, we felt that we had no choice but to get actively involved.

CAVUTO: But they're still in shaky shape, right? After all the money we have spent, you would think that, maybe had we let...

CHENEY: They're still in shaky shape, but they're — they're in better...

CAVUTO: ... bankruptcy, like you recommended for the auto companies, be applied to the banks...

CHENEY: No, not for the banks.

CAVUTO: Really?

CHENEY: I think that — I really think that would have been a — a serious problem, when you have a...

CAVUTO: Well, what did you see? Can you say now? What did everyone see that was going to be so horrific that — that we...

CHENEY: Well, when we would have the secretary of the Treasury, or the secretary of the Treasury and the chairman of the Federal Reserve come in and say we have got a major crisis on our hands, and, within 48 hours, major financial institutions are going to go down in flames, or that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, that dominated the mortgage market out there were suddenly in trouble financially because of the collapse of the subprime mortgage...


CAVUTO: But you must have seen where that was going, right? What you do for one, all expect it, and then it's an expectations game, right?

CHENEY: Right.

But, again, I think you have got to — and we did — we have got to make a distinction about the financial sector, because it is different than the other parts of the economy.

The other parts of the economy can't function without a strong financial sector, without credit, without sound monetary policy, and — and actions by the government and the Federal Reserve to — to establish and maintain the value of our currency. So...

CAVUTO: But now we have got a president, a government dictating salaries at these institutions rescued, which, I guess, happens if you take taxpayer dollars, and dictating their very business, right? Is that right?

CHENEY: Well, the thing I find objectionable is that people are taking what was done with respect to the financial sector, and, without discriminating, trying to do the same thing for a broader range of sectors. And — and I think that's a mistake.

CAVUTO: Do you think it went too far? Do you think it's gone too far?

CHENEY: I think so. I would have kept it focused on — on the financial institutions.

But I do — I worry that the current situation is a set of circumstances where the administration is using the excuse of the economic difficulties in order to significantly broaden the power and authority of the — of the government over the private sector. And I think that's — that's a huge mistake.

CAVUTO: There's a Wall Street Journal's story that has it that the president's tax hikes actually go in to those earning $235,000, not $250,000.

What do you think of that?

CHENEY: I haven't seen the story.

But I worry. I don't see any way you can do what he's trying to do, in terms of this vast expansion of governmental programs and a huge federal deficit and major tax increases, without the kind of tax increases that are going to hit virtually every American.

CAVUTO: Do you think it stops at 39.6 percent?

CHENEY: I'm afraid it won't, not if you go with a — a government of the size and scale that the administration apparently envisions.

CAVUTO: What do you envision that we will ultimately get to?

CHENEY: Well, I would — I would much prefer a situation in which we did not embark upon a course of the vast expansion of the authority of the federal government over the private sector.

I would be much more focused on tax cuts and reducing the economic burden on the private sector that the federal government represents as the best way to get the economy up and running again.

I think you need to create jobs, you need to support small business, you need to encourage people to go out and save and invest and to create the kind of entrepreneurial activity that really has given us the greatness that is the American economy, not expand the size of the federal government.

CAVUTO: Finally, Mr. Vice President, many have urged the Republican Party to moderate, to get more mainstream, to do what Democrats did at the time, with Bill Clinton in the late '80s into '92 — become more palatable to a wider section of the population.

What do you say?

CHENEY: I think we need to run a party that is broadly-based, where people of a wide variety of viewpoints are — are welcome.

I don't think we ought to change the basic, fundamental philosophy of the Republican Party. I personally am a conservative Republican. I obviously believe in — in my philosophy. And I think that's the basis upon which we have to build any resurgence of — of our party.

I think we will, but I think we will do it by being true to our principles, not becoming more like the Democrats.

CAVUTO: So, you don't think you would isolate the Republicans going your route?


CAVUTO: Mr. Vice President, thank you very, very much.

CHENEY: Pleasure, as always, Neil.

CAVUTO: Thank you very much.

CHENEY: Good to see you.


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