Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says the Obama administration's decision to open a criminal probe of U.S. interrogators in the war on terror is politically motivated and detrimental to America's national security.
In an interview on U.S. television, Cheney was blunt when asked about the Justice Department's decision to investigate Central Intelligence Agency operatives who interrogated terror suspects during the former Bush administration.
"I think it is a terrible decision," he said.
Cheney was speaking on Fox News Sunday, days after Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a probe of CIA officers believed to have exceeded Bush-era directives on acceptable interrogation techniques. The order coincided with the release of a CIA inspector general's report on the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" in the years after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
Cheney, a longtime defender of the Bush administration's efforts to extract information from terror suspects, said taking legal action against those entrusted with protecting America is a grave error.
"We ask those people to do some very difficult things that sometimes put their own lives at risk," he said. "And if they are now going to be subject to being investigated and prosecuted by the next administration, nobody is going to sign up for those kinds of missions. It is a very, very devastating effect that it has on morale inside the intelligence community."
The former vice president accused President Barack Obama of reversing his stated goal of "looking forward, not backward" when it comes to intelligence gathering, and doing so to placate left wing political activists.
White House officials say the decision to launch an investigation was reached independently by Attorney General Holder as a legal matter, not a political one.
Cheney insisted that Bush-era intelligence operations yielded critical information from detainees that prevented another terrorist attack after 9-11.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] were crucial in getting them to cooperate, and that the information they provided did, in fact, save thousands of lives," he said.
President Obama does not dispute that valuable intelligence was gathered during the Bush years. But he has questioned whether the harshest interrogation techniques were necessary.
"Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it does not answer the broader question: are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?" said Mr. Obama.
Attempting to answer those questions is a former Bush administration State Department official, Lawrence Wilkerson, who has emerged as a vocal critic of former President Bush, spoke in a VOA interview:
"There is no evidence that harsh interrogation and torture worked, that is to say that it produced actionable intelligence," said Wilkerson. "And there is every evidence in the IG [CIA inspector general] report that what happened from 2002-2004 really did not uncover any imminent attack on the United States."
On other matters, former Vice President Cheney said he does not believe U.S. diplomatic outreaches to Iran will convince Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. He also said former President Bill Clinton's trip to North Korea to free two American journalists was a propaganda coup for Pyongyang, and reiterated his view that establishing a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq is a mistake that could squander years of American sacrifices to foster democracy in the country.