Cheney on hunting, waterboarding and how Baghdad isn't Gettysburg

The vice president says terrorists are "very much aware of our political calendar."

By Tim Grieve

Published October 26, 2006 3:10PM (EDT)

The White House has posted transcripts of Dick Cheney's interviews this week with three conservative radio personalities. There are all sorts of scary bits in there -- and not just the one where the vice president says that he's "going to do a little pheasant hunting this year."

The highlights, such as they are:

WDAY's Scott Hennen: Are the terrorists trying to influence our election in your view?

Cheney: I think they're very much aware of our political calendar here, I really do. And when you see the kinds of things that happened this year, for example, when the Democratic Party in Connecticut purged Joe Lieberman, in effect, drummed him out of the party on the grounds that he had supported the president in the global war on terror, that sends a message to the terrorists overseas that their basic strategy of trying to break the will of the American people may, in fact, work.

Hennen: I have a Pentagon source that tells me there are websites out there that they've just recently translated that actually refer to the election and ask for an up-tick in violence to try and influence the election, is that accurate?

Cheney: I wouldn't be surprised. It sounds right to me.

Hennen: ... And I've had people call and say, please, let the vice president know that if it takes dunking a terrorist in water, we're all for it, if it saves American lives. Again, this debate seems a little silly given the threat we face, would you agree?

Cheney: I do agree. And I think the terrorist threat, for example, with respect to our ability to interrogate high value detainees like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that's been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation ...

Hennen: Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?

Cheney: It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president "for torture." We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in ...

Fox's Sean Hannity: Are you as surprised as I am the country is so divided, and we're even debating the Patriot Act, even debating NSA surveillance, even debating securing the borders, in some respects? Is that somewhat shocking in light of the nature of the threat you're describing?

Cheney: I think it is. Of course, I have my view, and people say, well, that's just Cheney. He's the Darth Vader of the administration, always taking the dark view. I think we have to think about the consequences that could flow from these kinds of events and developments. And I'm sorry that there isn't more unity, if you will, in the nation in terms of how we address these issues. But the threat is very real. It's out there. And we need to do everything we can to make certain that we aren't struck again. And that requires the kind of bold, aggressive leadership the President has provided and the great support we've had in Congress. And unfortunately, at this stage, I think there's some jeopardy, depending on how the election comes out, as to whether or not we'll be able to continue those policies.

NPR's Juan Williams: So what do you do in terms of benchmarks or timetables? What is the consequence, what's the stake at the end in terms of the U.S. putting pressure on  [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's] government?

Cheney: It's got to be conditions-based, in terms of what we do with respect to how long we have to stay ... With respect to the Maliki government, it's very important we make the point to them repeatedly that both politically and from a security standpoint, they've got major responsibilities here. They've got to deal with the political situation themselves. We can't really do that for them. We can help, and we can try to facilitate. They've only been in business six months. That's as long as Maliki's been prime minister. And so I think we have to be a little bit understanding here that these are extraordinary circumstances they're trying to operate under, and they do have a very difficult assignment. But it also -- we have to make it clear to them, just like we do everybody else out there, to the Afghans, as well, too, ultimately you're responsible for your own country ...

Williams: ... In terms of civil war, would you call it that?

Cheney: No, I don't think it's a civil war. You've got a united government, a unity government in place. You've got united military forces in terms of the army, and to some extent the security force. When I think civil war, I think Antietam, Gettysburg. I don't think we're there yet. But there's no question there's a lot of sectarian violence, a lot of Shia on Sunni violence ... We still have a long way to go. Nobody should underestimate how difficult it is, but just because it's difficult doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. We need to do it. We have to do it.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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