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WASHINGTON - Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday sharply criticized the Obama administration's decision to investigate the abuse of prisoners held by the CIA, delivering a forceful defense of the full range of interrogation techniques used by intelligence officers.

Speaking six days after Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a federal prosecutor to examine the abuse of detainees, Cheney described the use of waterboarding and other coercive methods -- including threatening detainees with a gun and a power drill -- as legal and crucial elements of the counterterrorism war.

"I knew about the waterboarding ... as a general policy that we had approved," said Cheney, who noted that neither a gun nor a drill was actually used on detainees. "The fact of the matter is the Justice Department reviewed all those allegations several years ago."

Cheney, speaking in an interview on "Fox News Sunday," said he supported officers who strayed outside the Justice Department rules and used unauthorized interrogation techniques, saying they did so to keep the United States safe. And he warned that Holder's investigation would demoralize intelligence officers and discourage them from working aggressively to protect the nation.

Some of Cheney's concerns are already reverberating in the Obama administration, as officials debate whether the investigation will undercut the work of the CIA or serve as a critical step toward exposing and possibly prosecuting serious acts of wrongdoing that have damaged the country's standing in the international community. NEW YORK TIMES