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(photo credit: AP)
Former US vice president Dick Cheney on Thursday defended the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation methods and said the questioning led to information that deterred terrorist attacks.
In a speech delivered immediately after US President Barack Obama's defense of his moves to end the severe techniques, close the Guantanamo jail and release secret documents, Cheney said the national security decisions made by former US president George W. Bush kept America safe.
Cheney said the Bush-era stance was rooted in a determination to ensure the September 11, 2001 attacks against the US did not become "a prelude to something worse."
Cheney claimed that tough interrogations "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people." Cheney challenged Obama to release secret documents that he contends would prove this case.
Cheney said that al-Qaida's failure to pull off another attack inside the United States over the past 7Â½ years proves that the Bush strategy worked and should continue.
Bush-era policies ranging from harsh interrogation tactics to widened surveillance, Cheney said, were intended to prevent attacks similar in scale to the plane hijackings of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
"To the very end of our administration, we kept al-Qaida terrorists busy with other problems. We focused on getting their secrets, instead of sharing ours with them. And on our watch, they never hit this country again," Cheney said.
Cheney claimed that the administration's secret wiretapping program saved lives, but offered no examples. He contended that The New York Times' revelation of the program in 2005 endangered the safety of the American people.
The US government has long had the authority to wiretap US phone and computer lines in pursuit of foreign threats but must get a judges permission to do so. The Bush program placed wiretaps without the knowledge or approval of the secret court created 30 years ago to oversee such activity.
But despite his own criticisms, Cheney said that the public debate about interrogation practices and the Obama administration's legal framework for prosecuting terrorists is dangerous because he said it encourages terrorists to attack the United States.
"They see weakness and opportunity," Cheney said. "The terrorists see just what they were hoping for - our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted."
Alluding to media speculation that he had changed in office, Cheney said he was the same man, but acknowledged that the Sept. 11 attacks and that day's tense moments inside a White House bunker had shaken him and strengthened his resolve not to allow new assaults during the Bush era.
The former vice president bristled over the complaints about interrogation from lawmakers, pointing out that leading members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, were briefed on the programs and methods.
"Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative," Cheney said. "In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists."
Speaking to an audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Cheney said, "only detainees of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation. You've heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists."
Pelosi has said the CIA misled her in 2002 about whether waterboarding, which simulates drowning, had been used.
Cheney delayed the start of his address until after Obama finished his speech defending his plan to close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for suspected terrorists and transfer some detainees to US facilities.
Cheney criticized that move as one made with "little deliberation and no plan."
In the fight against terrorism, Cheney said, there is no middle ground. "Half measures keep you half exposed," he said.