Richard B. Cheney photo

Telephonic Interview of the Vice President by Tony Snow, Fox News

May 11, 2004

The Vice President's Office

11:08 A.M. EDT

Q: Welcome and without further ado, let me welcome our very special guest today, Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Vice President, welcome.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Tony. It's good to be with you.

Q: All right, you have had a check-up today. You healthy?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am. I'm back at work. I go in -- of course, the docs watch my health very carefully because of my history. But I went in today for my annual cardiac check-up, where we do a treadmill and an echocardiogram, stress test and so forth. Everything went great.

Q: Good, well, we'll put you in our own stress test here.


Q: All right. Let's talk a little bit about the Abu Ghraib scandal. First, have you seen all the pictures and videos?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm sure I haven't seen all of them. I've seen more than have been released to the public. I was over at the Pentagon yesterday and viewed some of them over there.

Q: What's your reaction when you saw them?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's very strong. Clearly, there were people there doing outrageous things. And there's no question but what there was some kind of fundamental breakdown that needs to be thoroughly investigated and steps taken to make sure it never happens again.

I think it's also important to point out, though, that these abuses were uncovered by the military. They're being investigated by the military. This isn't something the press uncovered. This is something that was being handled as is appropriate through the regular military channels and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Q: But your personal reaction was what? I want to get a sense of when you saw it, were you stunned? Are you appalled? Or is this something you were ready for, having seen what you saw --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All of the above. It was very strong stuff, and I'll just leave it at that. But there are questions here in terms of the release of this kind of information that can adversely affect, for example, courts martial; could, in some cases, be detrimental from the standpoint of people who are innocent. So there are lot of legal issues around the question of what you release and when you release it, and how this material should be treated. So I believe the -- I think this is correct, the Department is going to make this material accessible to Congress, but then there will have to be a decision made what and at what point any additional photos are released to the public.

Q: A lot of people think this stuff has already been digitized, there's no way to stop it. Is there some way to stop it if you guys decide that it's not suitable for public viewing?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't know that there is a way to stop it, Tony. But it has -- clearly has significant consequence. And it affects circumstances in the region out there. It can affect our troops on the ground in Iraq. It can affect morale and so forth. It's absolutely essential that the American people understand, and our men and women in uniform understand that these are acts of a handful of individuals and should in no way reflect upon the enormous contribution that our forces out there have made, or the importance of their mission. And so it has got to be handled in an intelligent, reasonable fashion. And it's not just a matter of, sort of whetting people's appetites to see sensational stuff here.

Q: Right. But was there anything you saw that would lead you to call it tough, physical torture?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't want to characterize it beyond what I have. I just -- I think it would be inappropriate for me to do that. It's clear that there -- as I say, there was a fundamental breakdown there someplace. People were doing things they should not have been doing under those circumstances, and it's important that it be thoroughly investigated. And it will be -- it is being --

Q: I gather if you had your druthers, no more would go public?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- I wouldn't put it in quite that fashion. I'd say there are a lot of equities involved here besides just satisfying the desires of the press that want to have more pictures to print. There are serious questions about people's rights, as well as our ability to be able to prosecute. We wouldn't want -- as a result of the release of pictures and the mistreatment of that kind of information -- to allow guilty parties off the hook, so that they couldn't be prosecuted.

By the same token, you don't want to see innocent people inappropriately maligned by virtue of the release of photographs. So it's got to be handled in an intelligent, responsible fashion.

Q: So you think it might be possible also for the administration to contact media organizations if they inform you that they've got their hands on some of this stuff, and you would make whatever arguments you thought appropriate?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Again, the Defense Department would have to handle all that. They're the ones who are directly involved here. And I don't want to second-guess them. They've got important responsibilities. I used to be the Secretary of Defense. I understand how those procedures work, and they've got to, in fact, safeguard the integrity of that process --

Q: Let's talk a little bit about the process. First, do you see any evidence that the involvement extends beyond seven soldier and 20 or so detainees?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can't say that. I just -- I don't know what's out there, Tony. And there may well be. I just don't know. Again, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate.

Q: Okay, I'm speaking with Vice President Dick Cheney here on the Tony Snow Show. Mr. Vice President, there is -- the argument we're hearing from some of the attorneys of detainees is that these people were acting on orders. Specifically, they had been told that people needed to get intelligence out of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The first question is, was it not the policy, or at least somebody in Washington, passing down to people in Iraq the need to get more and better intelligence out of detainees?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, there's no question, but what there was a desire -- there always is -- when you've got ongoing military operations, attacks being launched against our troops and soldiers, as well as innocent civilians over there, to learn as much as you can from people that have been detained in order to prevent further attacks and/or to be able to go prosecute guilty parties. But there's a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.

And these forces in Iraq, people captured in Iraq, are subject to the Geneva Convention. And so, as I say, there are legitimate ways to handle that. And I don't think in this case, you would want to call these methods legitimate.

Q: So you believe even detainees, those who might have been fighting in civilian garb, who not normally would be covered by the Geneva Convention, they should be treated as if the convention applied to them?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, actually there are Article III and Article IV of the Geneva Convention that apply in Iraq under different circumstances. If you remember in Afghanistan, and the war on terror, generally, if you've got somebody who is wearing civilian clothes, killing civilians, not abiding by the laws of the war, then you've got a set of circumstances in which you've got unlawful combatants. And those people do not need to be treated under the Geneva Convention. A lot of the folks down in Guantanamo fall into that category.

We, nonetheless, announced a policy that they would be treated in accordance with the standards, for example, that we adhere for the Geneva Convention. They're well treated. They're fed, medical care, and so forth.

There's a separate category then that really comes out of the end of World War II where the convention dealt specifically with this question of an occupying power coming in, and the kinds of methods and so forth they were allowed to use against locals who were resisting that occupation. And this was devised primarily for Europe where you had the Germans occupying large parts of Europe in World War II. So you've got a set of rule there that, in this particular case, given the United States' status as an occupying power, the Geneva Convention does apply to anybody captured in Iraq, and they're supposed to be treated accordingly.

Q: Mr. Vice President, is it your opinion that interrogators have, in fact, extracted useful information from prisoners of Abu Ghraib or other prisons in Iraq?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I am confident we have extracted useful information through interrogations, but I can't say all what happened with respect to this particular unit. I don't have any way of knowing whether or not Abu Ghraib generated out of these individuals. I do know, obviously, that we have been able -- in many cases, we've had Iraqis come forward and volunteer information. In other cases, people who have been captured and were part of Ansar al-Islam, for example, or one of those other organizations, have provided us very useful intelligence that has allowed us to go out and wrap up other parts of the organization. That's not surprising. That's the way it works. But it's not -- again, I don't want to judge or make that judgment with respect to this specific set of individuals or detainees. I just don't know.

Q: Well, I'm trying to get a little context here because people are trying to figure out how big a problem this may be. Again, there is a call for better intelligence out of people who are held captive in Iraq and in Doha, Qatar and other places, do you fear that the kind of behavior that we saw at Abu Ghraib was, in fact, not unusual, that occurred elsewhere?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I just don't know, Tony.

Q: Is there any evidence that anybody has brought to your attention or to the attention --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen anything that goes beyond Abu Ghraib. But I just -- I don't want to -- I can't say I know everything. I don't. There may not be anything else out there, or there may be more. And the way to find out is to continue the process that was started back in January when this was first reported and is now underway by the military and the Department of Defense.

Q: Were you surprised that apparently you and the President were about the last to know the pictures, A, existed; and, B, were about to go on national television?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. I'm not surprised. I remember when I went to the Defense Department as a new Secretary of Defense and reading in the news clips every day things about the department, things that were going on in the department I thought I should have known about before I read about them in the newspaper. I mentioned this to one senior officer who had been around for over 30 years. And I said, don't you think I should know about this stuff before it's in the press.

He said, look, Mr. Secretary, he said, what you need to remember is that no matter what you could contemplate or think about right now someplace in the United States military somebody is doing it.

Just in terms of the sheer size of the organization and range of activities that are involved there, it's a huge organization. When I was there, we had some 4 million people -- uniformed or civilians -- operating on a worldwide basis. And occasionally, you get into problems. And there are procedures there to deal with that. And in fact, that's what's happening in this case.

Surprised? Sure. You're always surprised when somebody brings forward something that shows some folks doing something improper, inappropriate, illegal. And I'm not -- that happens from time to time, but I do think this has been handled in a responsible fashion. The investigation began the day after it was reported up the chain of command. It was the military that uncovered it. There was actually a press announcement two days after the report came in, making it clear that there was a problem here, and there was an investigation underway.

Q: Do you agree then that the problem has pretty much been handled and taken care of at Abu Ghraib?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't think you can say that until all of the investigations are completed; you've tracked this to see how far it goes up the chain of command; and you're able to sit down and look at all the various facets of the problem; and that the appropriate people have been either prosecuted or exonerated; that you've looked to see if there are systemic problems here that need to be addressed in terms of policy, in terms of organization or training, and look at all those issues. And that's -- the stuff now has been out now for what, three or four days in the press? And it would be premature at this point to conclude that we know everything, or that all the decisions have been made. They haven't.

Q: Okay, Vice President Dick Cheney, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. When we return, more with the Vice President right here on the Tony Snow Show.

(Interruption to proceedings.)

Q: Welcome back. Vice President Dick Cheney joins me again on the Tony Snow Show. Mr. Vice President, I'm going to try to shotgun a lot of issues in our remaining five minutes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay, I'll give you short answers.

Q: Okay, a couple of final questions on Abu Ghraib. The International Red Cross is saying that since only about 700 people have actually been charged by the United States, and there are some 9,000 in detention, that 90 percent or more are wrongfully detained -- either innocent or wrongfully detained. Is the Red Cross wrong?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I can't say that. You got to remember what's happened over there. Forces moved in and have been involved in ongoing conflict with people setting remote-controlled explosive devices. And a lot of our troops have been injured or killed. And I believe that they do, in fact, have reasons for most of the people that have been detained. Thousands have been released. They don't want to keep anybody just for the sake of keeping them. But on the other hand, it's very important to regaining control of the situation, keeping people off the streets that are otherwise trying to harm Americans or Iraqis who are helping us, that you've got to have the facilities that we've used over there for these purposes.

Q: You mentioned ongoing hostilities. The latest Gallup Poll indicating 56 percent of the American public now thinks the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. What do you tell them, those doubting Americans, to assure them that this is the right thing to do?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I tell them basically to remember why we went there, and all that we've accomplished. We, in fact, had, I think, very good reasons for going into Iraq -- Afghanistan, first -- all of this in the aftermath of 9/11, our concern over terrorism and the possibility of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Iraq -- Saddam Hussein was a longtime haven for terrorists and had produced and used weapons of mass destruction in the past, constituted a threat, and we acted against it.

Q: Okay, now, let me ask you on weapons of mass destruction, do you think there is a likelihood that they will still be discovered in Iraq?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I just don't know, Tony. I think the evidence that we had certainly was very strong. We had -- we know he'd done it in the past. He'd killed thousands of people, his own people and Iranians, as well, in two different periods when he was using chemical weapons against folks, and he had every indication that he was poised, prepared ready to go. Whether or not we'll ever find large stockpiles, I just don't. But we know he could have -- he could have moved rapidly to produce biological, chemical weapons, or to resume a nuclear program.

Q: Do you feel that his regime may have transferred those to terrorists?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We were concerned about that. I don't know whether he has or not. That's the kind of thing you always look out for. The biggest threat we face today as a nation is an al Qaeda cell in the middle of one of our cities with a biological agent, or a nuclear weapon. And we have to do everything we can to go on offense, to eliminate the terrorists before they can attack us, but also to make sure they never get their hands on that kind of material.

Q: Mr. Vice President, Teresa Heinz Kerry the other day took a shot at you. I'm going to play a clip, and I want your reaction.


(Recording plays.)

MRS. KERRY: You have a couple of people who escaped four, five, six times and deferred and deferred and deferred calling him anything, or doubting his heroism is, in and of itself, unpatriotic. Unpatriotic -- (inaudible).

(End of recording.)

Q: She called you unpatriotic.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) I noticed. The fact is, Tony, that neither the President, nor I, nor anybody associated with our campaign has ever said that John Kerry was unpatriotic. We've never done anything but praise his military service. It deserves to be praised. He served honorably in Vietnam. And we've never said anything but very positive things about it.

The problem that they're having is that every time I question his voting record, his 20 years in the Senate, where he did, in fact, cast thousands of votes over a 20-year period of time, that's what they don't like. And I'm not challenging his patriotism. I'm challenging his judgment. And that's perfectly fair game, it seems to me, to look at a public official who has spent that much time in public office, who has taken position after position on weapons systems and strategies and votes on the war and supplemental and so forth, and look at that and say, if he were President of the United States, do these decisions he's made in the past give you confidence he'll make the right decision.

Q: I'm going to try to get a get a yes or no real quickly. Tax cuts, more in the future?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I'm a big advocate of tax cuts. I think the reason the economy has responded as well as it has is because of the tax cuts in the past. And I don't want to prejudge where we're going here. We do want to make the current ones permanent.

Q: Okay, do we need more troops in the U.S. military?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I don't think so. I think there's a fundamental reform underway that Pete Schoomaker is working in the Army to create more brigades, but using the existing number of end-strength. I think we can be much more efficient in terms of how we're organized in the military. And that's what we're doing.

Q: Thirty seconds. Why is Ted Kennedy so mad at you?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Me personally?

Q: Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I didn't know he was.

Q: Okay. Vice President Dick Cheney, I want to thank you for joining -- and by the way, is "Red River" really your favorite movie?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) Well, it's right up there at the top of my short list.

Q: Okay, glad you're healthy.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: All right. See you, Tony.

Q: Thanks for joining us -- Vice President Dick Cheney. We'll be back with your calls and more right here on the Snow Show.

END 11:31 A.M. EDT

Richard B. Cheney, Telephonic Interview of the Vice President by Tony Snow, Fox News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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