Today on Face the Nation, former Secretary of Sate Colin Powell dismissed former Vice President Cheney’s claim that President Obama has made the nation less safe. Saying, “I don’t know where the claim comes [from],” Powell ticked off Obama’s national security accomplishments, gave a full-throated defense of using civilian courts to process terrorists, and said Cheney’s attacks “are not borne out by the facts”:
SCHIEFFER: Let’s talk a little bit about national security. The former vice president, you just saw him there, he has almost on a weekly basis, it says something about the president is putting the nation’s security at risk. … Has Barack Obama made this country less safe?
POWELL: Well, let me lay out a few positions and facts. … I don’t know where the claim comes that we are less safe. … In eight years the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail. Meanwhile the federal courts, our Article 3 regular legal court system has put dozens of terrorists in jail. They’re fully capable of doing it. So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn’t borne out by the history of the military commission. […]
SCHIEFFER: Your bottom line answer is no?
POWELL: The bottom line answer is the nation is still at risk. Terrorists are out there. They’re trying to get through. But to suggest that somehow we have become much less safer because of the actions of the administration, I don’t think that’s borne out by the facts.
For weeks, Republicans have been hammering Obama over his handling of the Christmas Day terror attempt, especially the decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in civilian court rather than a military commission. Many whined that Abdulmutallab had not been properly interrogated because he was read his Miranda rights. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even tried to score political points by insulting counterterrorism field agents. Of course, they ignored that President Bush treated shoe bomber Richard Reid in almost exactly the same way in 2001. And Obama’s rejection of torture has actually aided Abdulmutallab’s cooperation, not hurt it.
Later in the interview, Powell said that he has “no problem” with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed being tried in federal court, though he would prefer the trial to be held some place other than New York City. Powell also reaffirmed his commitment to closing the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, saying it “has cost us a lot over the years in terms of our standing in the world and the way in which despots have hidden behind what we have done at Guantanamo to justify their own positions.”
Cheney and Powell have frequently been in heated disagreement with each other. After Powell warned last year that the GOP was in “deep trouble” because it was being led by far-right figures like hate radio host Rush Limbaugh, Cheney retaliated by saying that Limbaugh is a better Republican than Powell. Powell responded by saying that Cheney and Limbaugh have their own “version” of the party.