US Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday defended controversial interrogation methods in the US “war on terror,” while acknowledging he was not sure if al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was still alive.
In an interview one month before his eight-year term in office ends, Cheney rejected accusations that the treatment of terror suspects amounted to torture and violated US law, saying the administration’s policies helped prevent another terrorist strike on the country.
“Given the kind of conflict we’re faced with today, we find ourselves in a situation where I believe you need strong executive leadership. What we did in this administration is to exert that kind of authority,” Cheney told Fox News.
Cheney said the administration of US President George W. Bush had acted appropriately in its “war on terror” after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had followed legal precedent, citing previous presidents, including Abraham Lincoln during the US civil war and Franklin Roosevelt during World War II.
“There’s ample precedent for it,” he said, saying Bush had not gone as far as Lincoln and Roosevelt in using his wartime authority.
At a time of war, he said the president’s responsibilities include collecting intelligence, “and therefore I think you’re fully justified in setting up a terror surveillance program to be able to intercept the communications of people who are communicating with terrorists outside the United States.”
“I think you can have a robust interrogation program with respect to high value detainees,” Cheney said.
“Now, those are all steps we took that I believe the president was fully authorized in taking, and provided invaluable intelligence, which has been the key to our ability to defeat al-Qaeda over these last seven years,” he said.
The administration has been sharply criticized at home and abroad over its treatment of terror suspects, including the use of harsh interrogation techniques widely condemned as torture, detaining suspects without charge at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and running an unwarranted domestic surveillance programs.
Cheney also said he was unsure if bin Laden was still living.
“I don’t know and I’m guessing he is,” Cheney said when asked if the world’s most wanted man was alive.
“We’ve had certain pieces of evidence become available from time to time, there’ll be a photograph released or something that allows the intelligence community to judge that he is still alive,” he said.
Cheney said the administration had dealt major setbacks to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network and still hoped to capture him.
“He’s been holed up in a way where he’s not even been communicating. There are questions about whether he’s even running the operation. But we have had major success against the organization,” Cheney said. “Capturing Osama bin Laden is something clearly we’d love to do. There are 30 days left.”
Despite a massive manhunt and a US$25 million bounty on his head, bin Laden has evaded capture.