WASHINGTON - Vice President Joe Biden rejected assertions by Dick Cheney on Sunday that the Obama administration was soft on terrorism and waterboarding should have been an option for the suspect in an attempted Christmas Day airline bombing.
In an unusual round of dueling interviews played out across Sunday morning television talkshows, Biden said his Republican predecessor either is misinformed or he is misinforming and accused him of trying to rewrite history.
Cheney, a chief architect of former President George W. Bush's counterterrorism policy and a harsh critic of President Barack Obama's approach, said Biden was dead wrong to have recently deemed another September 11-style attack on the United States to be unlikely.
Countering Cheney's barbs, Biden told NBC's Meet the Press: Dick Cheney's a fine fellow, but he is not entitled to rewrite history without it being challenged. I don't know where he has been.
The former vice president shot back with a tone of sarcasm, saying on ABC's This Week: Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by my friend Joe Biden.
The exchange, the closest Biden and Cheney have come to an actual debate, reflected the White House's determination to head off Republican efforts to paint Obama and his fellow Democrats as weak on national security in a congressional election year.
The Obama administration has come under heavy criticism from conservatives for its handling of an attempted Christmas Day bombing on a Detroit-bound transatlantic flight, an intelligence lapse that led the president to order reforms.
Republicans have argued that by granting civilian legal rights to the suspect, Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, U.S. authorities reduced chances of gaining valuable intelligence on al Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the failed attack.
Administration officials deny any lost opportunity and say Abdulmutallab is cooperating again and providing useful information to thwart future plots.
When asked whether the U.S. government should have had the option to use enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, on Abdulmutallab, Cheney told ABC: You ought to have all of those capabilities on the table.
Shortly after taking office in January of last year, Obama banned the use of harsh interrogation methods against terrorism suspects, including waterboarding, or simulated drowning, which human rights groups call torture.
Under the Bush administration, Cheney had been a powerful defender of such techniques in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on the United States.
Asked about Cheney's comment and whether he could ever envision the Obama administration approving the use of waterboarding, Biden told CBS television's Face the Nation, No, it's not effective.
Biden also challenged Cheney's recent criticism that Obama is not treating the fight against terrorism as a war.
I don't think ... former Vice President Dick Cheney listens, Biden said on NBC. 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.
Cheney also rebuked Biden for his recent assertion the Obama administration deserved credit for winding down the Iraq war. Obama campaigned on his opposition to the unpopular war.
For them to try to take credit for what happened in Iraq is a little strange, Cheney told NBC, referring to the fact Bush ordered a troop buildup that helped calm the situation. It ought to go with a healthy dose of thanks to George Bush.
Biden said the war not worth the horrible price but insisted the Obama administration's efforts at sectarian reconciliation were now the key to stability. However, he did say, begrudgingly it seemed, I'm happy to thank George Bush.
Turning to voters' top concern, Biden cited tangible evidence the recession-hit economy was moving in the right direction. Job creation is considered crucial to the Democrats' prospects in the November elections. By then, he said, the story of this administration is going to be more clearly told and we're going to do just fine.
(Additional reporting by David Lawder, editing by Jackie Frank)