Transcript: Cheney Defends Hard Line Tactics

The following is a transcript from ABC News' Jonathan Karl's exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney on Dec. 15, 2008 in the Executive Office Building.

JONATHAN KARL: Mr. Vice President, there has not been a terrorist attack in the United States in more than seven years. How important have your administration's policies on surveillance, interrogation and detention been in protecting the homeland?

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Well, I think they've been crucial, Jonathan. I think that anybody who'd looked at the situation the morning after the 9/11 attack would never have bet that we'd been able to go this long without another attack.

video of vice president cheney discussing his time in office.
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We've been able to defeat or disrupt all further attempts to strike the homeland. It's enormously important. I think those programs were crucial. The president made some very tough decisions, and we had some very able and talented people involved in the military and our intelligence services, making certain that we were able to keep the country safe.

KARL: But you've heard leaders, the incoming Congress, saying that this policy has basically been torture and illegal wiretapping, and that they want to undo, basically, the central tenets of your anti-terrorism policy.

CHENEY: They're wrong. On the question of terrorist surveillance, this was always a policy to intercept communications between terrorists or known terrorists, or so-called "dirty numbers," and folks inside the United States to capture those international communications.

It's worked. It's been successful. It's now embodied in the FISA statute that we passed last year -- and that Barack Obama voted for, which I think was a good decision on his part. It's a very, very important capability. It is legal. It was legal from the very beginning. It is constitutional. To claim that it isn't, I think is just wrong.

On the question of so-called torture, we don't do torture. We never have. It's not something that this administration subscribes to. Again, we proceeded very cautiously. We checked. We had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross.

The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful -- wouldn't do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal. And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong. Did it produce the desired results? I think it did.

I think, for example, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was the number three man in al Qaeda, the man who planned the attacks of 9/11, provided us with a wealth of information. There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al Qaeda came from that one source. So, it's been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.

And I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don't know what they're talking about.

KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

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