- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 December 2008 01.19 GMT
The outgoing US vice-president, Dick Cheney, last night gave an unapologetic assessment of his eight years in office, defending the invasion of Iraq, the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, secret wiretapping and the extreme interrogation method known as waterboarding.
In his first television interview since the presidential election in November, Cheney displayed no regrets and gave no ground to his many critics within America and around the world. He summed up his record by saying: “I think, given the circumstances we’ve had to deal with, we’ve done pretty well.”
He told ABC News he stood by the most controversial policies of the Bush administration, and urged president-elect Barack Obama to think hard before undoing them. Asked about the use of torture on terror suspects, he replied: “We don’t do torture. We never have. It’s not something this administration subscribes to.”
Later in the same interview, Cheney was asked whether the use of waterboarding in the interrogation of the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, had been appropriate. He replied: “I do.”
Waterboarding is a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and is widely regarded as a form of torture. It was used on three high-level al-Qaida suspects, including Mohammed, but has since been banned by the US.
Cheney was chosen in 2000 by George Bush to be his vice-president; he did not put his own name forward for the job. He has since turned into one of the most divisive and reviled vice-presidents in US history, amassing to his office enormous powers and devising a stream of controversial policies.
Despite the vitriol he has attracted, and Bush’s historically low approval rating of just 29%, Cheney was still able to joke about his term in the White House.
He referred to a comment from Hillary Clinton likening him to the Star Wars character Darth Vader. “I asked my wife about that, if that didn’t bother her. She said, no, it humanises you.”
But his lack of any introspection over the decisions made under his watch – in contrast to Bush who recently said he had been sorry about the false intelligence over Iraq – will renew Cheney’s reputation as a combatant and uncompromising vice-president.
Though no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, he insisted that Saddam Hussein had had the capability to produce them.
“He had the technology, he had the people. This was a bad actor and the country’s better off, the world’s better off with Saddam gone. We made the right decision,” he said.
On Guantánamo, he challenged the incoming Obama administration to think hard about what he claimed were the “hardcore” detainees still being held at the Cuban base.
“What are you going to do with those prisoners?” he said, adding: “I don’t know any other nation in the world that would do what we’ve done in terms of taking care of people who are avowed enemies.”
He also defended the use of secret wiretapping of suspects that was carried out without court warrant.
“It’s worked. It’s been successful. It was legal from the very beginning.”
Given the role of hate-figure that Cheney has acquired over the years among the American left, many US liberals will be dismayed to hear him say that he largely approves of the cabinet put together by the president-elect.
He praised the decision to keep Robert Gates as defence secretary as “excellent” and predicted that General Jim Jones would be “very, very effective” as national security adviser.
He even complimented his old adversary, Hillary Clinton, Obama’s choice as secretary of state, saying “she’s tough, she’s smart, she works very hard and she may turn out to be just what President Obama needs.”
Cheney has 34 days left in office. This will be his fourth transition out of government and back to private life. He said he was not ready to retire yet, but did want to spend more time with his family. “Got some rivers I want to face. Maybe write a book. I haven’t decided yet.”