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Obama to Cheney: You Didn't Make Us Safer

Obama talks to Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes. (CBS News via AP)

President Obama last night forcefully rejected former vice president Cheney's argument that rolling back Bush administration anti-terror tactics has made the nation less safe.

In an interview with CBS News's Steve Kroft broadcast on "60 Minutes" last night (here's the full text, and the video, parts one and two), Obama had this to say: "I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney. Not surprisingly. You know, I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests. I think he's drawing the wrong lesson from history.

"The facts don't bear him out. I think he is -- that attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world. I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantanamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against U.S. interests all around the world...

"And, you know, I'm surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let's assume that we didn't change these practices. How long are we gonna go? Are we gonna just keep on going until you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that's really gonna make us safer? I don't know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that that was the right approach."

Bobby Ghosh writes in Time that "the former Vice President's vitriol-spewing turn on CNN last Sunday has left many in Washington wondering if it was about more than just protecting his legacy.

"Several observers think Cheney may be starting to feel the heat from Democrats' efforts to investigate the Bush Administration's counterterrorism policies — policies Cheney advocated, and for which his protégés allegedly provided the legal basis. But if he was trying to deflect attention from Bush-era policies, Cheney's aggression will likely have the opposite effect."

Along those lines, former U.N. ambassador Thomas R. Pickering and William S. Sessions, the former FBI director -- both of whom served during the first Bush presidency -- write in a Washington Post op-ed: "Investigations by Congress and other bodies have shown that, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, government officials have encouraged and acquiesced in prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel, and detainees have been transferred to countries that are known to torture. In many cases, the perpetrators of abuse and torture were given the support and encouragement (tacit or explicit) of their superiors, possibly as high up the chain of command as the president himself.....

"America needs President Obama to name a nonpartisan commission to investigate the post-Sept. 11 policies and actions regarding the detention, treatment and transfer of security detainees. The mandate of this commission would not be to conduct a criminal investigation; that is the job of our criminal justice system. Rather, this commission would serve the vital purpose of presenting a full picture of policies and actions that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks. We must understand how we got where we are today to ensure that we correct our past mistakes and change our policies going forward."

Francis Wilkinson writes for The Week: "In the background, behind all the noise and fury about misspent billions and AIG bonuses, there is the story that won't go away. President Obama and his aides express no interest in it. Major news reports about it are intermittent at best. Yet in twenty, even fifty years, long after the AIG bonuses are forgotten, today’s background story may be as vivid a historical marker as the Palmer raids or the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Slowly, not yet surely, America is moving toward a reckoning with torture.

"Few people, in the press or elsewhere, seem to want it. The big news organizations have mustered an army of reporters to sort through the financial wreckage. But the torture beat has been largely relegated to lefty bloggers, The New Yorker and a few outraged conservatives."

Nevertheless, Wilkinson sees movement ahead: "Inertia seems to be on the side of investigation now. The engine generating this momentum, however, is not the press, mainstream or otherwise. It is the rule, and culture, of the law. The law has been around for some time now, and seems determined to have its say, with or without encouragement from The Washington Post. Torture is illegal in the United States. That fact is a stubborn thing, difficult to steer around no matter how fast the CIA or others spin their wheels."

The New York Times editorial board, meanwhile, expresses its disappointment that Obama hasn't overturned more of Bush's anti-terror policies. "[W]e did not expect that Mr. Obama, who addressed these issues with such clarity during his campaign, would be sending such confused and mixed signals from the White House. Some of what the public has heard from the Obama administration on issues like state secrets and detainees sounds a bit too close for comfort to the Bush team’s benighted ideas....

"Mr. Obama also should stop resisting an investigation of Mr. Bush’s policies on terrorism, state secrets, wiretapping, detention and interrogation. We know he is struggling with many Bush-created disasters — in the economy, in foreign policy and on and on. But understanding all that has gone wrong is the only way to ensure that abuses will truly end. That investigation should be done calmly rather than under the pressure of some new, shocking revelation."

And speaking of shocking revelations, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball write for Newsweek: "Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the 'enhanced' interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against 'high value' Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the memos were 'ugly' and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a 'truth commission' on torture.

"Because of an executive order signed by President Obama on Jan. 22 banning such aggressive tactics, deputies to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. concluded there was no longer any reason to keep the interrogation memos classified. But current and former intel officials pushed back, arguing that any public release might still compromise 'sources and methods.' According to the administration official, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden was 'furious' about the prospect of disclosure and tried to intervene directly with Obama officials. But the White House has sided with Holder. Faced with a court deadline in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding the memos filed by the ACLU, Justice lawyers asked for a two-week extension 'because the memoranda are being reviewed for possible release.'"

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 23, 2009; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  Bush Rollback , Looking Backward  
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"But current and former intel officials pushed back, arguing that any public release might still compromise 'sources and methods.'"

In other words, we mustn't release these memorandums because it might interfere with or render useless any prospective future use of torture by the United States of America? More likely of course the phrase "compromise sources and methods" has been out of these folks mouths anytime and when for any reason the light of day was seen as undesirable.

Compromise away, says I. Compromise away.

Posted by: fzdybel | March 23, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Ooooo, he really told Cheney!! LOL. Obama is a wimp. Worse, he's a corrupt wimp. He'll continue the Bush program. He'll rub our faces in it too. Just to show that he's the Unitary Executive and there is NOTHING we can do about it. This whole damn country needs a high colonic. Starting in the White House.

Posted by: davidbn27 | March 23, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

maybe you should take your own advise. Get over it. The R's lost. But those soon to be released memo's will help you with that.

Posted by: prober | March 23, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

How can Obama criticize Cheney's policies when he is supporting them in Court??? Obama's DOJ has maintained the unConstitutional positions posited by Bush & Cheney in numerous cases involving warrantless wiretapping, torture and extraordinary rendition.

Obama is a hypocrite! Yes, he released 9 memos, but what was not reported was that these memos (and 30+ others) were requested by the ACLU in FOIA litigation.

Obama is not making a clean break from the dismal policies of the past 8 years despite his lofty rhetoric.

Posted by: winoohno | March 23, 2009 3:38 PM | Report abuse

winohoo... where do you come from? The Bush policies that are still in place are currently UNDER REVIEW. Which means he can't just stop everything and leave nothing in its place until he has a chance to weigh the Pros and Cons! Have you ever had to step in for someone else and make any executive decisions?

From your posting, I'd say probably not. I respect the man for at least being diligent and thoughtful about a decision rather than simply "going with his gut" and "seeing through a man's soul". Be glad he doesn't ship you to Guantanamo under the Patriot Act!

Posted by: Just_An_Observer | March 23, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Ooooo, he really told Cheney!! LOL. Obama is a wimp
He DID tell Cheney -- he told him in a very succinct, intelligent manner he, Cheney, is dumber than a box of rocks.

I bet Cheney didn't even understand the abstract of what Obama was saying.

What was Obama supposed to do to impress you, anyway, threaten Cheney with physical harm and financial ruin?

That's Cheney idea of resolving conflicts, ie, girlie-man tactics, the high school queen on steroids and anti-psychotics, the ugly Southern girl Florence King archetype gone to the White House to get back at them all...


Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 23, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm delighted to see that Cheney's self-serving nonsense, served up in a cocktail of abuse and vitriol, is impressing no one. Pretty much everyone is seeing through it. He's simply further reduced the credibility of his cause. No one wants to live in Dick's weird nightmare world but Dick.

I can only hope that we soon come to see Dick's boss in the same light. Of course some of us already do, perhaps even most of us, but a welcome development would be if the same 90% of us that see Dick for what he is, soon come to see Shrub for what he is. Well, was.

And God is it ever refreshing to hear the President of the United States of America speak the truth, call a spade a spade, and stand tall for what our founding fathers stood for.

Posted by: jpk1 | March 23, 2009 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Calling someone a wimp from an undisclosed keyboard is easy. Cheney is one of the best working definitions of full-on chickensh*t we've ever had in America, but at least he still comes out and lies on camera for us. I hope he continues to do it, because there's no noose as tight as the one a man prepares with his own hands.

Posted by: SanDiegoBS | March 23, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

I would question Obama to his face... one on one.. about his attitude towards the United States.

I would love to look him in the eye.. and ask about his being a citizen of the United States.

Bush and Cheney were both crooks that SUCCESSFULLY got around every law on the books..

But they did not change the books to get their agenda moved forward.

The Democrats and the Obama Administration are WRITING the books TO SAY what they want to say.

How can any POTUS JUSTIFY spending our country into bankruptcy. Justify nationalizing companies.. on a whim to protect foreign investors.

I have worked hard all my life.. and not lied on my birth certificate, nor have I re-created Selective Service Documentation to show that I met my obligation as a Citizen of the United States. Nor have I spent 1 Million plus making sure that NO ONE has any written documentation that can prove that I do not meet the Requirements under the Constitution to be POTUS.

You see I am a naturalized citizen.. and I am proud of it.

But I am not proud of the elected officals in Washington that have FAILED to do the jobs they were elected to do for the last 15-20 years.

Posted by: miller51550 | March 24, 2009 12:47 AM | Report abuse

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