"If you're going to be engaged in a world conflict such as we are, such as the global war on terrorism, if you don't have a place where you can hold these people, your only other option is to kill them," Mr. Cheney said.
"And we don't operate that way."
The former vice president's statements only raise the stakes in fierce debate with his critics, who believe Mr. Cheney presided over the formulation of interrogation techniques that they regard as torture and remains unapologetic for approving waterboarding and other harsh methods used.
Mr. Cheney bases his argument on the view that suspected terrorists should be considered prisoners of war and said such persons "ought to be held until the end of the conflict.
He also criticized the Obama administration for failing to think through its plans to shutter Guantanamo.
"The administration made a mistake of the president issuing an order that he wants it closed within a year, but didn't have a clue as to how to proceed," Mr. Cheney said. "And now they're having trouble because they're having to come up with a plan of some kind."
Mr. Cheney, who has become the most prominent figure to defend the Bush administration's record on terror and national security, spoke and took questions at a lunch honoring journalism award winners at the National Press Club.
The former vice president said that the Guantanamo Bay prison is "a fine facility" and that the White House will have a "very difficult" time closing it, because of the legal, political and diplomatic challenges associated with indefinite detention.