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Biden: Cheney 'Trying to Rewrite History'

by Carol E. Lee

Vice President Joe Biden hurtled a stinging critique at former Vice President Dick Cheney, rejecting his predecessor's assertions that the Obama administration is soft on terrorism.

Vice President Joe Biden rejected his predecessor's assertions that the Obama administration is soft on terrorism. (Photo: AP photo composite by POLITICO) In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," Biden said Cheney "either is misinformed or he is misinforming" and accused him of "trying to rewrite history."

"Let me choose my words carefully here," Biden said in an interview taped Saturday night from Vancouver. "Dick Cheney's a fine fellow. He's entitled to his own opinion. He's not entitled to rewrite history. He's not entitled to his own facts."

Addressing Cheney's criticism of the Obama administration's decision to offer alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad a civilian trail and to read the Christmas Day Bomber his Miranda rights, Biden argued that the Bush administration also tried accused terrorists in civilian court and Mirandized the shoe bomber.

Biden specifically challenged Cheney's criticism that Obama is not treating the fight against terrorism as a war.

"I don't think the Vice - the former Vice President Dick Cheney listens," Biden said. "The President of the United States said in the State of the Union, ‘We're at war with al Qaeda.' He stated this - and by the way, we're pursuing that war with a vigor like it's never been seen before."

Biden said while the Bush administration "did their best," the Obama administration is waging a stronger fight against al Qaeda than its predecessor.

"There has never been as much emphasis and resources brought against Al Qaeda. The success rate exceeds anything that occurred in the last administration," Biden said. "It's simply not true that the President of the United States is not prosecuting the war against Al Qaeda with a vigor that's never been seen before. It's real. It's deep. It's successful."

Biden said specifically that the Obama administration's efforts have killed 12 of al Qaeda's top 20 leaders and 100 of their associates.

"They are in fact not able to do anything remotely like they were in the past," Biden said of al Qaeda. "They are on the run. I don't know where Dick Cheney has been. Look, it's one thing, again, to criticize. It's another thing to sort of rewrite history. What is he talking about?"

Cheney, who as vice president was a chief architect of the Bush administration's policies for fighting terrorism and handling accused terrorists, has been one of the White House's most high-profile critics since Obama took office. In an unusual move for a former vice president, he has repeatedly issued harsh assessments of the administration's handling of national security and foreign policy issues over the past year.

Biden called Cheney "a fine fellow" twice and declined to speculate on Cheney's motive. But he did not hold back in his assessment of the former vice president.

"All I know is he's factually, substantively wrong on the major criticisms he is asserting," Biden said. "He either is misinformed or he is misinforming."

Biden's comments were made public an hour before Cheney is scheduled to appear live on ABC's "This Week," where he's expected to argue that that the stakes are too high for the Obama administration to reverse course on policies that kept the country safe after 9/11.

Biden is set to be back on the Sunday morning airwaves live at 10:30 a.m. on CBS's "Face the Nation" to respond to Cheney.

In his "Meet the Press" interview Biden said President Obama will ultimately decide where to hold the trial of Mohammad, who is now unlikely to be tried in civilian court in New York as the administration had originally ordered. Biden also did not rule out a military commission.

"I am not ruling anything out," he said. "A military tribunal is available. It is the less preferable way to go. But one way or another, [Mohammad] will be held accountable."

Questioned about whether the administration has already decided that Mohammad would continue to be detained if he is acquitted, Biden would not confirm or deny that but said there is "no doubt that he would not be acquitted."

"I assure you, I assure you, acquitted or not, he will not be walking the streets of the United States of America," Biden said. "And he will not be acquitted."

Biden's interview leaned heavily on foreign policy. And while he clarified his remark earlier this week that success in Iraq would be one of President Obama's great achievements, which drew some criticism because the Iraq plan was put in place under the Bush administration - "What I meant by that is I think he has taken office and managed the situation incredibly well in Iraq." - when asked if he believes the war there was worth it he said, "No."

"I don't think the war was worth it in the sense that we paid a horrible price, not only in loss of life, the way the war was mishandled from the outset," Biden said. "But we took our eye off the ball, putting us in a much different and more dangerous position in Afghanistan. We lost support around the world. It's taken a lot of hard work to get it back. But we were handed - we were dealt a hand, and I think we're handling it incredibly well. ... I think we're handling it very well, the Iraqis are handling it well. And we built on the positive things that the Bush administration had initiated. And we have jettisoned those things that were negative."

On Iran, Biden said he believes China, the lone holdout, will eventually agree to sanctions, and he disputed President Ahmadinajad's claim that the country is a nuclear power.

"It is not a nuclear power," Biden said. "And I believe we'll get the support of China to continue to impose sanctions on Iran to isolate them, to make it clear that in fact they cannot move forward. The progress that Iran has made on the nuclear front is greatly exaggerated in my view. If you take a look at what's happened-- anyway, I think we've made significant progress."

On domestic issues, Biden declined to confirm reports that he advised President Obama last January not to pursue health care reform because of the economic crisis. Instead he reiterated Obama's commitment to getting health care legislation.

"Given what's happened, given the trouble that health care reform is now in, do you think that that advice should have been followed?" "Meet the Press" host David Gregory asked.

"Well, first of all, I'm not acknowledging what advice I gave," Biden said. "The advice I gave to the president is private, that's why he keeps asking for it, and as long as it stays private. I think the president made the right judgment in deciding that in order to bend the cost curve and prevent people from being victimized by health insurance costs that we had to move and we had to move aggressively."

Biden said Obama has three goals in legislation that brings down the cost of premiums, gets Medicare and Medicaid under control and reforms insurance company practices, such as denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

"[W]e think it's absolutely essential for the economic health of this country that we move forward on health care," Biden said.

The vice president also predicted that come the November elections, which will be a referendum on Obama, the climate for Democrats will be much more favorable than it is right now.

"[B]y the time we get around to November, in addition to bringing home 90,000 American troops out of Iraq, the story of this administration is going to be more clearly told, and we're gonna do just fine," Biden said.

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