Former Vice President Dick Cheney used his first TV interview since leaving office to accuse the Obama administration of making us less safe from terrorists.
While Cheney came across on CNN as embittered, trying to rewrite history despite his role as a co-president who believed the world was ready to change according to his specifications, the question is valid.
Are we less safe?
According to "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," by Barton Gellman, whose reporting won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize, Cheney spent eight years working behind the scenes to increase the power of the president. He is clearly angry that President Obama is trying, he thinks, to expand the power of the federal government instead.
Former President Bush and Cheney throughout 2001 had warning that a terrorist attack was imminent. They didn’t pay attention because they were focused on consolidating power, getting a trillion-dollar tax cut through Congress, opening up wilderness to oil and gas development and undoing liberal legacies of the Clinton presidency.
After 9/11, instead of pursuing al Qaeda through Afghanistan into Pakistan, missing opportunities to capture Osama bin Laden, Bush — with Cheney’s daily urging — plunged into Iraq and mired us in war that has taken a thousand more American lives than 9/11 and maimed thousands more. Now we are sending more troops to Afghanistan trying to contain a disaster. Meanwhile, Cheney was also ready to fight Iran and ratchet up confrontation with North Korea.
It was Cheney who urged setting up and keeping open the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even after Bush said he’d like it closed. It was Cheney who urged that civil liberties be curtailed in the interest of national security. It was Cheney who paved the way for the federal government to engage in domestic spying without warrants. It was Cheney who pushed the doctrine of preemptive war.
It was the Bush administration that oversaw the creation of the biggest bureaucracy in history –the enormously addlepated, hugely unworkable Department of Homeland Security.
Such initiatives angered the rest of the world and cost us the sympathy that poured forth after 9/11, including that from Arab and Muslim nations.
So, what changes has Obama made that Cheney thinks make us less safe?
Obama listened to lawyers in the Pentagon, unlike Bush and Cheney, and suspended military trials for suspected terrorists. Unlike the Bush administration, Obama paid attention to decisions made by the Supreme Court on Guantanamo. In other words, the United States would live up to constitutional guarantees of due process and swift justice.
Obama has announced he will close the Guantanamo prison, where prisoners have been held for years without being charged with any crimes. Obama also is shutting down sites overseas where the CIA holds some detainees, allegedly torturing them.
Speaking of torture, Obama has instructed CIA interrogators to adhere to regulations in the U.S. Army Field Manual on treatment of detainees. Thus, if American soldiers are captured their captors can no longer argue we sanction torture. Waterboarding, the process of nearly drowning prisoners approved by the Bush administration, will no longer be condoned.
None of these practices would have prevented 9/11. Not one of them can be proven to have prevented an attack. As far as we know, the attacks that have been prevented were thwarted by suspicious behavior, good police work, missteps by terrorists and informers. But meanwhile, the lives of thousands of innocent people, especially Muslim American citizens, have been disrupted by overzealousness and disregard of civil rights by the Bush administration.
Cheney and his boss bequeathed the nation a trillion-dollar deficit, six years of war over non-existent weapons of mass destruction, a cutback of financial regulations that helped lead to the global economic meltdown and a tremendous decrease in U.S. prestige.
Somehow the issues of forbidding government-sanctioned torture and mandating fair trials for prisoners, even really bad guys, seem to pale in comparison. If we’re less safe, it’s for other reasons.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)nationalpress.com.)