From the Wall Street Journal. In dueling speeches Thursday morning, President Barack Obama sought to reassure lawmakers and the public about his national-security decisions, while former Vice President Dick Cheney defended Bush-era policies. Here is a point-counterpoint, compiled by the Journal’s Jonathan Weisman:
Obama: I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run, we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of out most fundamental values
Cheney: Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things
Obama: Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions … based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions.
Cheney: No decision of national security was ever made lightly, and certainly never made in haste.
Obama: During this season of fear, too many of us – Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens – fell silent. In other words, we went off course.
Cheney: For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings. And when the moral reckoning turns to the men known as high-value terrorists, I can assure you they were neither innocent nor victims.
Obama: I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As commander-in-chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I categorically reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation.
Cheney: The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.
Obama: They undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America.
Cheney: The recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the president himself. And after a fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do.
Obama: The record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. … We are cleaning up something that is, quite simply, a mess, a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my administration is forced to deal with on a constant, almost daily basis.
Cheney: The administration has found that it’s easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo. But it’s tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America’s national security.
Obama: Listening to the recent debate, I’ve heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them, words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country. … Let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: We are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people.
Cheney: On this one, I find myself in complete agreement with many in the President’s own party. Unsure how to explain to their constituents why terrorists might soon be relocating into their states, these Democrats chose instead to strip funding for such a move out of the most recent war supplemental.
Obama: I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush Administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods. The argument that somehow by releasing those memos, we are providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated makes no sense.
Cheney: Releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to the national security interest of the United States. The harm done only begins with top secret information now in the hands of the terrorists, who have just received a lengthy insert for their training manual.
Obama: The American people are not absolutist, and they don’t elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security.
Cheney: The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism. … But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed.