TRANSCRIPT: ABC News' Jonathan Karl Interviews Vice President Dick Cheney

PHOTO: Jonathan Karl interviews former Vice President Dick Cheney.
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JONATHAN KARL: Mr. Vice President, thank you for taking time to talk to us on this day of all days. What went through your mind when you heard the news?

DICK CHENEY: Well, I first heard about it last night-- when the first press reports started coming in. You know, those of us who've been involved over the years in the counterterrorism program and dealing with 9/11 and so forth so of-- capturing Osama bin Laden was the ultimate goal. The ultimate objective. It doesn't solve all the problems by any means, but it's clearly been a priority for the last two administrations. And I think like most Americans I felt a great sense of satisfaction when I found out that we'd in fact captured and killed him.

JONATHAN KARL: Did you think about all those that have dedicated their lives to this? I mean obviously to this and the larger war on terror, but this?

DICK CHENEY: Well-- this, but it's-- it's-- I thought about the-- literally thousands of-- young Americans who put their lives on the line. Some of 'em even as we speak here today. But-- and-- and who've sacrificed everything in-- Afghanistan and Iraq-- in the pursuit of the safety and security and freedom of the American people.

And it's very hard to not think about them when you think about something like this. It's not just Bin Laden or just those that are involved in the counterterrorism effort. We've gotta cast the net broader than that. But I think it's a-- very special tribute that we all owe to the bravery and courage of the men and women in the intelligence and military business who performed so well to finally get it done.

It's taken a long time. They never gave up. They never backed off. They just kept pluggin' along until they got it right. And it also looks, at least on a preliminary basis, based on press accounts, that a lot of the things that we did early on fed into this ultimate success. And I think that means positive things too about the overall policy approach.

JONATHAN KARL: Have you spoken to President Bush about it?

DICK CHENEY: I have not. Not yet. Talked to Steve Adler this morning but I-- I expect to talk to President Bush about it too.

JONATHAN KARL: You heard I'm sure the President say last night that one of the first things he did was bring Leon Panetta in and tell him to make the capture or killing of Bin Laden the top priority. Does the President deserve credit?

DICK CHENEY: Well, I think the administration clearly deserves credit for the success of the operation. If you look at it from the perspective of the President, he's gotta make the basic judgment to tell the force to go execute. In this case the raid. And-- wrestle with deciding, you know, is this good enough intelligence. Can we act on it? And from what I can tell it looks to me like you know, we all owe him the same sense of satisfaction that I'm sure they feel.

JONATHAN KARL:Was that a change though, making Bin Laden the top priority?

DICK CHENEY: No, I don't think it was a change. I think it'd been a top priority since-- well, even before 9/11. Certainly was since 9/11, after 9/11 for-- the Bush administration. And-- I'm sure it was for the Obama administration as well too.

JONATHAN KARL: We're also hearing that a key piece of intelligence very early on came out of the interrogation program, the CIA's interrogation program: The nom de guerre of the courier.

DICK CHENEY: Right.

JONATHAN KARL: Some reports have it coming from KSM. You know, that interrogation program that is now defunct.

DICK CHENEY: Well, it's an enhanced interrogation program that we put in place back in our first term. And I don't know the details. All I know is what I've seen in the newspaper at this point, but it wouldn't be surprising if in fact that program produced results that ultimately contributed to the success of this venture.

But it's a-- I think important to look at this as a continuum. I mean it's not just on one day you get up, bang, and you got Osama bin Laden. It's the kind of thing where an awful lot of people over a long period of time, thousands have worked this case and worked these issues and followed up on the leads and captured bad guys and interrogated them and so forth.

So I think it could be looked upon as a collective effort by our military and intelligence personnel-- and by a lot of our civilian leaders. And in the final analysis we demonstrated conclusively that the American government takes very seriously our responsible to bring justice, if you will, or to bring to justice somebody like Bin Laden who's committed this terrible outrage, killing-- 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

And I think the way for us to think about it is-- is to think about it as part of a collective effort. It started in the Clinton administration, was carried forward very aggressively in the Bush administration and now the Obama administration with the-- the results that we're all very pleased to see today.

JONATHAN KARL: Where-- where the goal has never, never changed in terms of the ultimate goal-- I think that's--

JONATHAN KARL: --being al Qaeda. Getting Bin Laden?

DICK CHENEY: You can talk about, you know, how you state the goal. We always thought about in terms of defending the nation successfully for the seven and a half years after 9/11 for preventing any further mass casualty attacks. And at the heart of that effort, obviously, was goin' after Bin Laden. AndI think that's-- I think everybody had the same basic ultimately objective.

JONATHAN KARL: Did you ever get close? Did you ever think you were almost there? That you were gonna get him?

DICK CHENEY: I can't say that. I mean, you know, you-- you work it so hard, day in and day out. You get reports. Some of which turned out not to be true. But ultimately, you know, what happened was is what needed to happen. You had success plowed on success plowed on success that ultimately led to his capture.

JONATHAN KARL: And are we safer now?

DICK CHENEY: I think so.

DICK CHENEY: But it's a kind of situation where we need to preserve our sense of vigilance, if you will. It'd be a big mistake for us now to assume, "There. That's taken care of. It's all over with." Al Qaeda's a big organization and they're very active now in the Arabian peninsula down in Yemen.

There's every reason to believe there'll be further attacks attempted against the United States. And for us to spend so much time patting ourselves on the back because we got Bin Laden that we miss the next attack would be a terrible tragedy. We need to stay just as vigilant as we have been. We need to continue to emplace those policies that produced the intelligence that we needed in order to be able to successfully complete this mission.

JONATHAN KARL: All right, Mr. Vice President. Great to see you in New York and great to--

DICK CHENEY: Great to--

JONATHAN KARL: --see you--

DICK CHENEY: --see you.

JONATHAN KARL: and thank you so much for your time.

DICK CHENEY: Thank you.

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