Cheney Questions Where Guantanamo Prisoners Will Land

Former vp slams closing of Guantanamo; national security adviser responds.

May 10, 2009 — -- In a rare spectacle, the former vice president warned that his successors have made the world less safe.

Due to the Obama administration's reversal of Bush administration policies on harsh interrogations and the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Vice President Dick Cheney said on CBS' "Face the Nation" program, "in the future we're not going to have the same safeguards we've had for the last eight years."

Continuing the unusual broadside, he added, "They have moved to take down a lot of those policies we put in place that kept the nation safe for nearly eight years from a follow-on terrorist attack like 9/11."

The broadside by a politician well-known for his low profile forced the president's national security adviser to fire back.

"I don't believe that," James Jones told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" program. "The Obama administration inherited a situation at Guantanamo that was intolerable."

For weeks now, Cheney has launched something of an anti-Obama campaign, while former President Bush observes the customary silence.

"The reason I've been speaking, and in effect what I've been doing is responding to press queries such as yours, is because I think the issues that are at stake here are so important," Cheney said.

The face-off on the airwaves today came as the president considers reviving military commission trials for terror suspects.

Obama criticized those trials on the campaign trail, saying, "By any measure, our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure."

Administration officials told ABC News that Obama was referring only to President Bush's military commissions. New tribunals would be fairer, they say, barring evidence from harsh interrogations and limiting second-hand "hearsay" testimony. But human rights advocates say they would amount to a betrayal.

"If the military commissions do go forward, yes, President Obama will have betrayed a fundamental promise that he made as candidate and as president," Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told ABC News. "It will engender a firestorm within Obama's very own party."

McCain Calls Closing Gitmo 'Terrible Mistake'

Past tribunals were marred by evidence tainted by allegations of torture and amateur judges who, in one case, didn't know what the Geneva Conventions were.

"Nobody seemed to know what they were doing," Eugene Fidell, a military law expert at Yale Law School, told ABC. "It was sort of the Keystone Cops running the court system."

The promise to shutter the prison doors drew cheers on the campaign trail. Carrying it out is proving much harder. The president also took fire today over one likely new home for Guantanamo's prisoners: military prisons on American soil.

"This is nuts," former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on "Fox News Sunday." "I mean, this is just crazy. These are -- these are not American nationals. We have no obligation to keep them here."

Cheney was also critical.

"I think that's going to be a tough sell," he said. "I don't know a single congressional district in this country that is going to say, 'Gee, great. They're sending us 20 al Qaeda terrorists.'"

Sen. John McCain told ABC News the president brought the uproar on himself by rushing to close the Guantanamo prison without addressing questions about where the prisoners would go and how detainees would be tried.

"That is a terrible mistake," McCain said. "Announce the closure, but don't address the underlying problems that a lot of us have been wrestling with for years."