In dueling speeches given moments apart Thursday, President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney offered radically different visions of what's needed to protect the country from foreign terrorists bent on killing as many Americans as possible.
One looked to chart the future, while the other sought to justify the past. About the only thing they agreed on was that any official inquiry into reports of prisoner mistreatment in the fight against terror would only distract attention from the dangerous threats that lie ahead.
President Obama reiterated his determination to ban torture, which he said violated the nation's most cherished principles, and to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, where terrorist suspects from Afghanistan and Iraq are being held.
Mr. Obama wants to move the inmates to maximum security prisons in the U.S., a plan that has been sharply criticized by some Democratic lawmakers whose constituents fear having such dangerous prisoners housed in their states - despite the president's assurances they pose no threat to public safety and that confining them on U.S. soil is in keeping with the country's commitment to the rule of law.
By contrast, Mr. Cheney, who said he was responding to the distortions and misrepresentations of what the Bush administration accomplished, renewed his criticism of its successor, which he says has put the country at greater risk for another terrorist attack. He condemned the decision to close Guantanamo and vigorously defended the Bush administration policy on torture as vital to national security.
At one point, Mr. Cheney practically dared Mr. Obama to release secret CIA memos he said showed that information obtained through torture yielded information that helped foil terrorist plots and led to the saving of "hundreds or hundreds of thousands" of American lives.
As Congress and the public consider whether to back Mr. Obama's effort to leave Guantanamo behind or to indulge Mr. Cheney's desire to rehash the debates of the last eight years, they should consider this:
The speeches by the president and former vice president came at the same time that authorities in New York were announcing the arrest of a homegrown jihadist cell there that is accused of plotting to blow up a synagogue and shoot down military airplanes. All four suspects were converts to Islam, though authorities said they didn't appear connected to any foreign terrorist group.
Do we have more to fear from domestic terrorists roaming around the country, or from foreign militants in maximum security cells?