Liz Cheney vs. O'Donnell: ABC's Chris Cuomo Moderates Fiery Debate on Torture
Good Morning America on Friday featured something that has become
rare on morning shows, an actual philosophical debate between a strong
conservative and a vocal liberal. Liz Cheney, daughter of Vice
President Dick Cheney, engaged in a shoot-out with MSNBC analyst and
former Senate Democratic chief of staff Lawrence O'Donnell over the
issue of torture, Guantanamo Bay and keeping America safe. (On MSNBC,
Thursday, O'Donnell called Dick Cheney's speech an "abomination.") [Audio available for download here.]
Cuomo did offer this softball to O'Donnell in relation to Barack Obama and the former Vice President's dueling speeches on Thursday: "Enhanced interrogation. Is that just another word for torture and is that the game America should be in?" He then asked O'Donnell, "Is this just another term for torture? Is that what you think is going on here?" But, Cuomo mostly conducted a fair interview, playing traffic cop as the two guests argued their points. He pointedly queried O'Donnell, "Mr. O'Donnell, is the President's instinct to play nice putting us at risk?"
Cheney seemed to enjoy inciting the MSNBC analyst. Towards the end of the segment, as Cuomo was trying to rein in the two, the former State Department official reminded viewers of a rather odd argument O'Donnell had made earlier in piece. He asserted that if waterboarding worked, why didn't the Bush administration use it on all the terrorists at Guantanamo, instead of only a select few? (As if all the detainees had high value information.)
Cheney taunted, "And it should be noted that Lawrence thinks we should have waterboarded 500 people at Guantanamo." This set O'Donnell off. He retorted, "I did not say that, Liz! I asked why your father didn't waterboard more people to make America safe...If waterboarding keeps America say, why didn't they do it to more people?" Cuomo, clearly trying to get out of the interview, pleaded, "You're both getting me yelled at now."
A transcript of the segment, which aired at 7:03am, follows:
CHRIS CUOMO: Couldn't have a more important question, really. So, let's continue this debate. We're joined by Liz Cheney, former State Department official and, of course, daughter of former Vice President Cheney and Lawrence O'Donnell, former Senate Democratic chief of staff, live from Los Angeles. Thank you to you both for being here.
LIZ CHENEY: Great to be here. Thank you, Chris.
CUOMO: So, let's get to the big question. Liz, I'll start with you. Why are we as Americans less safe right now because of President Obama's philosophy?
CHENEY: Well, I think it's in part because of his actions. I think taking the step of releasing the legal memos that laid out in great detail exactly what techniques we used in our enhanced interrogation program gave, as my dad said yesterday, the terrorists a new insert for their training manual. We know former Director of National Intelligence Mike Hayden has explained, we know that terrorists train to these techniques, so it's one thing to say we're not going to do them anymore, which as a policy is the President's right to do. But, then to take the step and say we're releasing all this information, you know, I think very clearly makes us less safe. It takes a tool out of the toolbox for every former president or future president.
CUOMO: Mr. O'Donnell, is the President's instinct to play nice putting us at risk?
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL (Fmr. Senate Democratic chief of staff): Well, you know, the interesting thing about Liz and her dad's position is that a releasing of a memo has made the country less safe and so the Cheney family suggestion is now to release more of it. So, you know, you can't have it both ways. You can't say that if we release classified information it makes us less safe and now let's release more of it. That's their position and the funny thing is that Dick Cheney's argument and Liz's argument with the Obama administration is really an argument that began in the Bush administration when Dick Cheney started to lose the fights in house. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed in practices under the Obama administration.
CHENEY: You know- It's absolutely- That's actually not true, Lawrence. No. Well, Lawrence-
O'DONNELL: It was George W. Bush. It was George W. Bush who stopped waterboarding. Liz, you know who stopped waterboarding. You know who banned it. It was the Bush White House that stopped it. That's who stopped it. That's who said we're not-
CHENEY: Lawrence- Would you like to hear what I do know? 'Cause I'm happy to tell you what I do know. What I do know, actually, is that there's a big difference, as I'm sure you probably know too, I don't know if when you were in the Senate you had access to classified information. But there's a big difference between information that really does, in fact, compromise sources and methods, which is the information that was in the legal memos that were released, which is why you had four former CIA directors and the current CIA director ask the President, please don't release this information. The point that my dad has made is now that that information is out there, now that we have said to the terrorists, here's how we're going to interrogate, here's how we used to interrogate, we won't be able to do it anymore, the American people-
CHENEY: Lawrence, let me finish my point.
CUOMO: Hold on, Lawrence. Let Liz finish.
O'DONNELL: Liz, you didn't let me finish so we'll play it your way. Go ahead.
CHENEY: Let me finish my point. Thank you. All we're asking is that the American people themselves have the opportunity now to decide. The American people should be able to see, because this whole debate is about whether or not enhanced interrogation kept the country safer. There are documents that show the intelligence we gained from that program and the American people ought to be able to judge for themselves. That's the main point. I think you know, it's fundamentally, you know, disingenuous for the White House and its supporters to say, well, the President can't declassify these memos or he can exercise his right to classify some but not others. I just think the American people deserve better than that.
CUOMO: Let's get past the vocabulary a little bit here, both of you, also. Enhanced interrogation. Is that just another word for torture and is that the game America should be in? That's something that seems to be danced around here in both speeches, needs to be addressed. Let me start with you, Lawrence, because you were waiting on that one. Is this just another term for torture? Is that what you think is going on here?
O'DONNELL: It is torture. This government has prosecuted people in the past for doing exactly this. But Dick Cheney believes that it's not torture and that is essential to his position. He can never acknowledge what waterboarding actually was, as practiced by the Bush administration, because it was torture. Every definition of torture is included in that. And, you know, what's really silly about it is the Cheney notion it was a very effective program, that waterboarding in these kind of torture methods were effective. If it was effective, why did they use it on only three people? If it was effective, why didn't they use it on the 500 people, 500 people that Bush/Cheney administration released from Guantanamo? 75 of whom we know, we know, we now know have gone back into the terrorism business. That was a failure of the Bush/Cheney administration to keep America safe by processing people correctly at Guantanamo. It let go a minimum of 75 people who have gone back into the terrorism.
CUOMO: Is that accurate? I mean, you hear what he's saying, have you been releasing them back?
CHENEY: No, of course, absolutely it's not accurate.
O'DONNELL: Your father said it yesterday! Liz, your father said yesterday that 14 percent of them went back into terrorism.
CHENEY: Lawrence, let me start at the beginning and go through the points that you made. Lawrence, that's true.
CUOMO: Let's get the response.
CHENEY: I'm not denying that. I'm not denying that, Lawrence, but now let me go through all of the inaccuracies in what you just said. First of all, the question of whether or not enhanced interrogation is torture has been answered. And it's been answered legally. And it's not that Cheney or President Bush or anyone else believed it to be torture. The Justice Department-
O'DONNELL: Are you afraid of calling it waterboarding? Are you afraid of the term waterboarding? Oh, okay. Great.
CHENEY: Lawrence, are you going to let me answer here? Waterboarding is not torture. And you ought- I would refer to you Attorney General Holder's testimony-
O'DONNELL: Why has this country prosecuted people for waterboarding? Why did we do that?
CHENEY: Lawrence- Because they did a number of other things in addition to waterboarding. But, let me go through the points you made. First of all, Attorney General Holder had a hard time explaining exactly what the legal definition is of waterboarding that would make it torture. We've done it to our own people. Secondly, your argument about why didn't we do it to 500 others proves our point. It was used in three cases when we had terrorists who had information about potential attacks on the United states of America. So, the notion that somehow, you know, we should have waterboarded everybody. I'm surprised that's a position you've taken this morning.
O'DONNELL: I'm not taking it! I don't think we should have waterboarded anyone because it doesn't work and there is zero evidence that it works.
CHENEY: Lawrence. Lawrence, on the issue of the people who were released from Guantanamo.
CUOMO: Hold on. Liz, finish this point. Then we got to wrap this.
CHENEY: You need to let me finish this point. There is zero evidence that we have seen. There is evidence that we haven't seen, the White House won't let us see. 14 percent of the people who released from Guantanamo already have returned to the fight and that's exactly-
O'DONNELL: Released by the Bush/Cheney administration.
CHENEY: And that's why it's so dangerous for the Obama administration to say it'll close Guantanamo and bring those people to the United States.
CUOMO: Liz, Lawrence, thank you very much. I'm cutting you both off so it's fair because we got to wrap this. But it's a great discussion for us to be having, the idea that we're having it all raises security issues. Should we be discussing it in public, having the President and former vice president.
CHENEY: And it should be noted that Lawrence thinks we should have waterboarded 500 people at Guantanamo. I think that-
O'DONNELL: I did not say that, Liz! I asked why your father didn't waterboard more people to make America safe.
CHENEY: And I told you the answer to that.
O'DONNELL: If waterboarding keeps America say, why didn't they do it to more people?
CUOMO: You're both getting me yelled at now.
CHENEY: -limited instances where we had to protect the-
CUOMO: Liz, thank you very much. Lawrence O'Donnell, Liz Cheney, thank you very much to both of you. We'll have you back.
-Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center.