Image: Dick Cheney
Susan Walsh  /  AP
Former Vice President Dick Cheney at the Ford Foundation Journalism Awards luncheon on Monday.
updated 6/1/2009 6:51:31 PM ET 2009-06-01T22:51:31

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that the only alternative the Bush administration had to creating the Guantanamo Bay naval prison was to kill the terror suspects who are incarcerated there, and "we don't operate that way."

The 240 prisoners left at Guantanamo, he said, are "the worst of the worst" — including alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammed — who would gladly become suicide bombers to kill more Americans.

"If you don't have a place where you can hold these people, the only other option is to kill them, and we don't operate that way," he said.

Cheney said the Bush administration had not set up the jail at Guantanamo, captured terrorists would have been brought to the United States where they would have received full legal rights.

He did not address why the prisoners could not have been held at U.S. military jails in war zones like Afghanistan and Iraq, where some newly captured prisoners are now incarcerated.

Former President George W. Bush's vice president has been a leading critic of President Barack Obama's order to close down the jail at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, an enclave of that communist-run island operated by the Navy since 1903.

The jail became widely known only in the past six years, after the United States began sending terror suspects, mostly captured in battle in Iraq or Afghanistan.

In his appearance Monday at the National Press Club, Cheney reiterated his challenge to Obama to release several pages of secret memos that Cheney insists would prove that harsh interrogations employed at the base were effective in eliciting vital information.

Critical of Obama's memo release
His initial request to release the memos was turned down last month because the documents are the subject of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and might be ordered released by a court.

Cheney noted that Obama superseded another lawsuit in April to release memos describing the CIA's harsh interrogation program, which Cheney said amounted to "giving away the store."

The former vice president also defended the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, despite faulty intelligence about its nuclear weapons program and links to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He asserted that U.S.-deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, later executed by an Iraqi court, could have helped terrorists acquire nuclear weapons.

The U.S. government could find no evidence of an active Iraq nuclear weapons program after the 2003 invasion nor of an active relationship between Saddam's Iraq and the al-Qaida network.

More than 4,300 U.S. service members have died in Iraq, and more than 30,000 have been wounded. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed in the war that has cost the United States about $675 billion so far, according to the National Priorities Project.

Cheney is writing a memoir about his years in government, which he said will highlight the successes of the policies set in place after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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