As rowdy protesters massed outside amid calls for him to be either arrested or – according to one NDP MP – barred from entering Canada, former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney dismissed criticism that he had approved torture against anyone in the U.S. war on terrorism.
“It’s irresponsible the way they throw these words around,” Mr. Cheney told The Globe and Mail in an interview shortly before his sold-out $500-a-plate appearance at a Vancouver book club in connection with last month’s release of his memoirs, In My Time.
Waterboarding is not torture, he insisted, and the grim procedure, which Mr. Cheney calls “an enhanced interrogation technique,” was used on only three individuals, all senior al-Qaeda officials.
He identified them as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks; Abu Zubaydah, a lieutenant of Osama bin Laden; and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who directed the bombing attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.
Mr. Cheney said the methods used were legal, signed-off on by the U.S. Justice Department, and carefully tailored to each of the terrorists.
“Now we have a lot of people running around using language like ‘torture.’ I heard one of your members of Parliament saying we used it on hundreds of people at Guantanamo. Not true,” said Mr. Cheney, who became a lightning rod for critics of the Bush administration, particularly over the war on Iraq, during his eight years as vice-president.
“We did not use torture. … We did what we absolutely needed to do. We had an obligation to gather intelligence to ensure that we didn’t get struck again, and I think it worked,” he said, noting that Mr. Mohammed, in particular, produced a “gold mine” of information “after he’d been through the process.”
Asked about Canada’s decision to end its military commitment to Afghanistan, Mr. Cheney declined to comment specifically on the withdrawal, but warned generally of the dangers of countries turning their back on the situation there.
He recalled that the Taliban eventually came to power after Western forces walked away from Afghanistan, once the mujahedeen, with Western assistance, forced the Soviet Union to withdraw.
“If everyone walks away now, prematurely, we might see a repeat of the same thing. You don’t want Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorists.”
Concerning the war on Iraq, Mr. Cheney repeated his unapologetic defence of the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein that fills numerous pages of his recent book.
Even after no weapons of mass destruction were found in the country, Mr. Cheney insisted that it was right to get rid of the dictator, regardless of the heavy loss of life among U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.
Searchers found that Iraq still possessed the personnel, the technology and basic raw materials needed to launch a renewed program involving weapons of mass destruction, he argued.
“There were no stockpiles, but we believed that Saddam Hussein would have been back in business again, once the outside world looked the other way, and lifted sanctions. He was willing to go, as soon as he had the opportunity,” Mr. Cheney said.
He said Iraq under Saddam Hussein was the next likely gathering place of terrorists, should they be forced out of Afghanistan, the former vice-president said.
“Today, in Iraq, there is a democratically elected government, no Saddam Hussein, no weapons of mass destruction, he hasn’t started any wars in the Gulf, and he hasn’t been slaughtering his own people,” said Mr. Cheney, who was considered one of the chief hawks and cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq in the Bush administration.
“I think the world is a significantly better off than it was, if he [Mr. Hussein]were still there. … I think [the war]was justified, and I still think that … despite the cost.”
He said he wasn’t too perturbed by the protesters who attempted to block him from entering the Vancouver Club where he was scheduled to speak.
“It goes with the turf. I don’t take it too personally. I was a student at the University of Wisconsin in the 1960s. Those were real protests there.”
Nor is he concerned by the low approval rates he had at the time the Bush administration ceded power to Barack Obama, with one poll putting him at just 13 per cent approval.
“I had a job to do, and it wasn’t to win a popularity contest. My job was to everything we could to ensure that something like 9/11 didn’t happen again on our watch, and we succeeded for seven and a half years. I’ve been criticized for some of the policies I advocated, but if I had to do it all over again, I would.”