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Cheney Re-Emerges in National Debate Over Torture

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has found himself in an unusual position in recent weeks-at the center of a media debate over interrogation tactics used during the Bush administration. In the process, Mr. Cheney has emerged as one of President Barack Obama's main critics on national security policy.

"If I don't speak out then where do we find ourselves? Then the critics have free run and there isn't anybody there on the other side to tell the truth," he said.

Mr. Cheney used his appearance on the CBS program 'Face the Nation' and other news shows to defend the enhanced interrogation techniques employed by the Bush administration, techniques that critics call torture.

Mr. Cheney argues the techniques, including the simulated drowning procedure known as waterboarding, produced valuable intelligence about terrorist plots and saved American lives.

Mr. Cheney also contends that President Obama's decisions to stop the enhanced interrogation techniques and close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have made the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Obama administration officials and Democrats strongly take issue with that, including Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware, a guest on VOA's 'Press Conference USA' program.

"The kind of interrogation techniques we were using were counterproductive. There may have been some successes, but the vast majority of people who were interrogated told us something in order to stop the pain of what they were going through," said Kaufman.

Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak says many Republicans admire Mr. Cheney for defending the Bush administration's record in fighting terrorism.

"He strongly believes that the decisions that the previous administration made were the right ones and that the current administration is sort of methodically going through and reversing a lot of the most important decisions and most important policies that they put in place," he said.

But Mackowiak is quick to acknowledge that Mr. Cheney's low standing in public opinion polls presents party loyalists with a dilemma.

"Republicans are really pleased that the arguments are being made. They just wish there was a different messenger to do it because Vice President Cheney is both unpopular and ties Republicans to a previous administration that I think Republicans really want to get past," he added.

Author Scot Faulkner worked for former President Ronald Reagan and for Republicans when they controlled the House of Representatives. Faulkner says he is not surprised by Dick Cheney's re-entry into the national spotlight.

"Vice President Cheney's re-emergence is primarily driven by him wanting to control how history is written about his own role in the last eight years and the Bush administration's position in history," he said.

Faulkner is a critic of the Bush years and says Dick Cheney's emerging role as a leading critic of President Obama is part of a larger debate about the future of the Republican Party.

"And as long as Cheney is in the spotlight that debate cannot happen in an open and free format because there are still many people who either have residual loyalty to Cheney or who are afraid of Cheney and the Bush supporters in terms of their future in the party. So, it has a stifling effect on what otherwise should be a productive internal debate on the future of the Republican Party," he said.

Mr. Cheney has eagerly engaged in that broader debate as well. The former vice president says he welcomes moderates into the Republican Party as long as they don't insist on trying to move the party too far left. We are Republicans, he says, and we have certain things we believe in.