'This Week' Transcript: Former Vice President Dick Cheney

Secondly, when this came up, as I recall, it was December of '01, just a couple of months after 9/11. We were not yet operational with the military commissions. We hadn't had all the Supreme Court decisions handed down about what we could and couldn't do with the commissions.

KARL: But you still had an option to put him into military custody.

CHENEY: Well, we could have put him into military custody. I don't -- I don't question that. The point is, in this particular case, all of that was never worked out, primarily because he pled guilty.

KARL: Now, I'd like to read you something that the sentencing judge reading the -- giving him his life sentence read to Richard Reid at the time of that sentencing. Here it is. He said to Reid, "You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. We do not negotiate with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice."

The judge in that case was a Reagan appointee. Doesn't he make a good point?

CHENEY: Well, I don't think so, in a sense that it -- if it -- if you interpret that as taking you to the point where all of these people are going to be treated as though they're guilty of individual criminal acts.

I want to come back again to the basic point I tried to make at the outset, John. And up until 9/11, all terrorist attacks were criminal acts. After 9/11, we made the decision that these were acts of war, these were strategic threats to the United States.

Once you make that judgment, then you can use a much broader range of tools, in terms of going after your adversary. You go after those who provide them safe harbor and sanctuary. You go after those who finance and those who provide weapons for them and those who train them. And you treat them as unlawful enemy combatants.

There's a huge distinction here in terms of the kinds of policies you put in place going forward. And what I'm most concerned about isn't so much argument about all the stuff in the past, about what happened to Abdulmutallab or Richard Reid. I think the relevant point is: What are the policies going to be going forward?

And if you're really serious and you believe this is a war and if you believe the greatest threat is a 9/11 with nukes or a 9/11 with a biological agent of some kind, then you have to consider it as a war, you have to consider it as something we may have to deal with tomorrow. You don't want the vice president of the United States running around saying, "Oh, it's not likely to happen."

KARL: Now, on that question of trying, you know, dealing as enemy combatants or through the criminal justice system, I came across this. This is a document that was put out by the Bush Justice Department under Attorney General Ashcroft...

CHENEY: Right.

KARL: ... covering the years 2001 to 2005. And if you go right to page one, they actually tout the criminal prosecutions...

CHENEY: They did.

KARL: ... of terror suspects, saying, "Altogether, the department has brought charges against 375 individuals in terrorism- related investigations and has convicted 195 to date." That was 2005. Again, seems to make the administration's point that they're not doing it all that differently from how you were doing it.

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