What does Vice President Dick Cheney really think about what's going on in Iraq, the latest revelations about domestic spying and the anti-torture amendment?
The usually media-shy Cheney made a surprise trip Sunday to Iraq, where he talked with ABC News' Terry Moran, co-anchor of "Nightline," about some of the biggest issues facing our country and the world.
Below are excerpts from the interview. Look for more of the discussion Monday, Dec. 19, on "Nightline."
Terry Moran: Let me shift gears. The president has now acknowledged authorizing and reauthorizing, more than 30 times, a program to spy on Americans without any warrant from any court. This is a huge change.
Vice President Dick Cheney: I think that's a slight distortion of what the president said. The president said -- is that we will use all of our power and authority -- the decision we made after 9/11 -- to do everything we can to defend the country. That's our obligation. We take an oath of office to do that.
Moran: That's not in dispute.
Cheney: And that when we have a situation where we have communication between someone inside the U.S. and an acknowledged al Qaeda or terrorist source outside the U.S., that that's something we need to know.
And he has authorized us to look at that. And it is, in fact, consistent with the constitution. It's been reviewed. It's reviewed every 45 days by the president himself, by the attorney general of the U.S., by the president's council, by the director of CIA.
It's been briefed to the Congress over a dozen times. And, in fact, it is a program that is, by every effort we've been able to make, consistent with the statutes and with the law. It's the kind of capability [that], if we'd had before 9/11, might have led us to be able to prevent 9/11.
We had two 9/11 terrorists in San Diego prior to the attack in contact with al Qaeda sources outside the U.S. We didn't know it. The 9/11 Commission talks about it. If we'd had this capability, then we might well have been able to stop it.
Moran: But, Mr. Vice President, this is a program that surveilles people inside the United States. The Constitution--
Cheney: Who are in touch with al Qaeda who are outside the United States.
Moran: Don't you have to have a court give permission for that in any other circumstance -- to eavesdrop on communications in America?
Cheney: Terry, these are communications that involve acknowledged or known terrorists -- dirty numbers, if you will. And in fact, it is consistent with the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief. It's consistent with the resolution that was passed by the Congress after 9/11.
And it has been reviewed repeatedly by the Justice Department every single time it's been renewed, to make certain that it is, in fact, managed in a manner that's fully consistent with the Constitution and with our statutes.
Moran: But that's all the executive branch. The Constitution calls for a court, a co-equal branch of government, as a check on the power of the executive, to give a say-so before an American or someone in America is surveilled, or searched, or spied upon.