In the greatest political title match since Barack Obama knocked out John McCain in November to become leader of the free world, Dick Cheney delivered a major speech on national security on the same day as the president. The Daily Beast goes to the scorecards to assess the two political pugilists on torture, detainee photos, and whether or not we should close Guantánamo.
ON TORTURE: Squaring off the morality of enhanced interrogations.
OBAMA: "I know some have argued that brutal methods like waterboarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. … [T]hey 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. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counterterrorism efforts—they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all."
CHENEY: "I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations… 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 death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. "
THE FACE OF GUANTANAMO: Should we close it?
OBAMA: "[I]nstead of serving as a tool to counterterrorism, Guantánamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantánamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained."
CHENEY: "This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the president himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It’s another version of that same old refrain from the left: 'We brought it on ourselves.' "
ON FEAR-MONGERING AND INDIGNATION: Guess who’s against which?
OBAMA: "And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. 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."
CHENEY: "Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists."
DOES BUSH DESERVE BLAME?: The battle over the last administration.
OBAMA: "I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future."
CHENEY: "...When [Obama] faults or mischaracterizes the national-security decisions we made in the Bush years, he deserves an answer. The point is not to look backward. Now and for years to come, a lot rides on our president’s understanding of the security policies that preceded him. And whatever choices he makes concerning the defense of this country, those choices should not be based on slogans and campaign rhetoric, but on a truthful telling of history."
WHO YOU CALLING ‘AD HOC?’ Debating legal tradition.
OBAMA: "For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable—a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions; that failed to use our values as a compass."
CHENEY: "9/11 caused everyone to take a serious second look at threats that had been gathering for a while, and enemies whose plans were getting bolder and more sophisticated. Throughout the '90s, America had responded to these attacks, if at all, on an ad hoc basis. The first attack on the World Trade Center was treated as a law-enforcement problem, with everything handled after the fact—crime scene, arrests, indictments, convictions, prison sentences, case closed."
BRINGING TERRORISTS TO AMERICAN SOIL: Not in my backyard!
OBAMA: "As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: Nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal ‘SuperMax’ prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Sen. Lindsey Graham said: 'The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.'"
CHENEY: "You don’t want to call them enemy combatants? Fine. Call them what you want—just don’t bring them into the United States."
SHOULD TERRORISTS GO TO COURT? It worked with the first WTC attack—or did it?
OBAMA: "Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and juries of our citizens are tough enough to convict terrorists, and the record makes that clear. Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Center—he was convicted in our courts, and is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison. Zaccarias Moussaoui has been identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker—he was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life sentence in prison. If we can try those terrorists in our courts and hold them in our prisons, then we can do the same with detainees from Guantánamo."
CHENEY: "Maybe you’ve heard that when we captured KSM, he said he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyer. But like many critics of interrogations, he clearly misunderstood the business at hand. American personnel were not there to commence an elaborate legal proceeding, but to extract information from him before al Qaeda could strike again and kill more of our people."
RELEASING THE TORTURE MEMOS: Did Obama give away too much or not enough?
OBAMA: "Several weeks ago, as part of an ongoing court case, I released memos issued by the previous administration's Office of Legal Counsel. … 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 is unfounded—we will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach, because that approach is now prohibited."
CHENEY: "[Releasing the memos] is held up as a bold exercise in open government, honoring the public’s right to know. We’re informed, as well, that there was much agonizing over this decision. Yet somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers."
RELEASING THE DETAINEE PHOTOS: Cheney salutes the commander in chief.
OBAMA: "[I]t was my judgment—informed by my national-security team—that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion, and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning and inaccurate brush, endangering them in theaters of war."
CHENEY: "When President Obama makes wise decisions, as I believe he has done in some respects on Afghanistan, and in reversing his plan to release incendiary photos, he deserves our support."
SHOULD WE HAVE A TRUTH COMISSION? A rare point of agreement.
OBAMA: "I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws."
CHENEY: "Over on the left wing of the president’s party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists. The kind of answers they’re after would be heard before a so-called Truth Commission. Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense, and political opponents as criminals. It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent, filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse, than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessors."
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.