BENTON HARBOR, Michigan (CNN) – Former President George W. Bush on Thursday repeated Dick Cheney's assertion that their enhanced interrogation program was legal and garnered valuable information that prevented future terrorist attacks.
In his largest domestic speech since leaving the White House in January, Bush told an audience in southwestern Michigan that after the September 11 attacks, "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."
Although he did not specifically allude to the high-profile debate over President Obama's decision to halt the use harsh interrogation techniques, and without referencing Cheney by name, Bush spoke in broad strokes about how he proceeded after the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003.
"The first thing you do is ask, what's legal?" he said. "What do the lawyers say is possible? I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, 'I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.' I can tell you that the information we got saved lives."
But Bush avoided the sharp tone favored by his former vice president in recent weeks, and went out of his way to stress that he does not want to disparage the new president.
"Nothing I am saying is meant to criticize my successor," Bush said. "There are plenty of people who have weighed in. Trust me, having seen it firsthand. I didn't like it when a former president criticized me, so therefore I am not going to criticize my successor. I wish him all the best."
The former president was speaking to nearly 2,500 members the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan. The format of the speech was changed at the last minute when Bush decided to answer questions directly from the audience members, instead of responding to pre-submitted questions provided to a moderator.
Bush repeated his disclaimer about not passing judgment Obama later in the speech when asked about North Korea's test of a nuclear weapon. Before answering, the 43rd president said that he is "in no way trying to shape my successor's decisions or criticize them."
"I know there are news people here, and they love conflict," he said.
On the topic of how to respond to North Korea, Bush said diplomacy is impossible without leverage.
"A lot of times people want to give out the carrots," he said. "My attitude is, you give out the carrots when the behavior changes."
After his opening remarks, Bush engaged in a nearly hour-long back-and-forth with audience members that touched on nearly all aspects of his presidency, from the September 11 attacks to his ban on embryonic stem cell research to his consultations with advisers as the economic crisis hit last year.
He strongly defended his Troubled Asset Relief Program as crucial to preventing capital markets from freezing up, which he said would have led to another Great Depression. He noted that he remains "a free market guy."
Bush was asked what he thinks about conservative pundits who claim the Obama administration's fiscal policies are opening the door to socialism.
"I've heard talk about that," he said. "I think the verdict is out. I think people are waiting to see what all this means."
The former president earned a noisy standing ovation when asked what he wants his legacy to be.
"Well, I hope it is this: The man showed up with a set of principles, and he was unwilling to compromise his soul for the sake of popularity," he said.
Bush also revealed the topic of the first chapter in his forthcoming book, which he said will be about "the stories of my administration as I saw them." That first chapter, he said, will be answer the question: "Why did I run for president?"
An aide to the former president did not disclose how much he was paid for the speaking appearance, which was booked through the Washington Speakers Bureau. After the event, Bush flew to Toronto, where he will appear tomorrow at a forum with his White House predecessor, Bill Clinton.
Obama and his people could learn alot about civilty and class from the Bushes.
George W. Bush is a man of integrity. Those who think otherwise, don't know him; they only know the false portrayal that certain media outlets generate for their own agendas.
The fact that he is willing to take questions that have not been pre-submitted is evidence that he will speak the truth to direct questions and not dodge them, like so many other politicians.
He did nothing illegal while performing his duty to protect the citizens of this country, and I say Bravo for him and all the other brave heroes who continue to protect this country and the values it has stood for over the years but, sadly, are now being whittled away. Do any of you really think Obama, aka "citizen of the world", would put your interests first?
The Siamese Bobsy Twins - Bush and Cheney!! One speaks just like the other! Joined at the hip FOREVER!
He didn't "do what he needed to do to protect lives". He was on the golf course instead of investigating a memo that said that the terrorists were "determined to strike on American soil...using planes". He failed at protecting Americans in order to strip us of our rights under the auspices of helping prevent another attack. Shameful rhetoric from a shameful President.
The information American citizens got during the 2008 election cycle has saved, is saving, and will save lives. That's why we elected the folks we did. I think there was a typo in Bush's comment: "The 'information' we got (via torture) saved LIES."
It's seems like Bush is living a somewhat secluded life since he left office. This is very rare for a former president,
The republicans losing in 2008 is what really saved lives.
Too bad over 5,000 of our children had to die before they
( Bush/Cheney flunkies) got kicked out.
He's still an idiot.
Should have listened to Clinton and 911 would have never happened. No Bush you didn't save lives. You invaded Iraq with no WMD and over 100,000 innocent Iraqies died. You intentionally invaded Iraq for personal gain for Cheney and his cronies Who do you think you are kidding.Your Administration was a total failure but the Republicans got fat.
Is this an effort to avoid possibly being tried for war crimes or at the least a formal investigation? It seems to me that both Mr. Bush and Cheney seem very nervous.
Ha. What should one expect. Who wrote this one?
If only he had been so classy and considerate while in office.
Thank the lord for George Bush! God blees him and the USA!
Bush, you tried to finish up your Daddy's war – you failed miserably, you lied about every aspect of it, you left the military unprepared, you killed our soldiers – and most of them don't like your sorry "rear end" – I know because I'm one of them. Go back to your ranch; you've done enough damage and America is still cleaning up your mess. Your village is missing their idiot – go home.
Bush continues to be in denial. Why doesn't he come clean about 9/11? 9/11 was self Induced as a provocation to proceed with the Iraq Invasion ! So as to protect Whom from Whom ? Lives lost will haunt Him into his own miserable future. The Twin Towers will never be replaced; They were insured by AIG. Enough of this sick bastard !
Why in God's name didn't this doofus answer questions from the public with newspeople around when he was in office? What a total ... oh, never mind. He needs to stay in hibernation. How much you think he got paid for this? And he wouldn't answer questions when the taxpayers were paying for it ...
Well said Mr. President! You served the office with dignity. Thank you for always standing firm for what you believed in. History will redeem you. God bless you and your family!
He is still playing Cheney's dog. "Fetch, Bushie."
What an idiot. He is so dumb you almost feel sorry for the poor fool. He should be in prison.
well, it would have been nice to say i wont criticize our president, or the president, and not my successor... just have been a nice humbe honor... but i have enjoyed this man's character from afar... im a democrat with some republican leanings and to say the least the Bush administration was one for the history books - as Beyonce would say, "Flaws and All"
As usual, President Bush exhibited grace and class with his responses to questions. While I'm happy the former President is enjoying life, I miss him. I no longer feel safe, and have zero trust in the government.
This man did SO much damage to our country and its place in the world, it truly is tragic. I fear President Obama won't have enough time in even 8 years in office to undo all that damage. I laugh when the Right bounces up and down at the Obama 100-day mark, exulting that everything from now on is Obama's doing...... Yeah, right!
I'm about to turn 45. I hope and pray that I LIVE to see the day that the effects of the Bush presidency have successfully been put behind us!
Can't this man just go away to some undisclosed location?
He should have given it from a Federal Prison. What an Idiot.
Stories like "Top Republicans, call Limbaugh, Gingrich comments 'terrible" show your extreme bias, and transparent attempt to shape the news to fit an agenda. CNN is useless for real investigative reporting.
The issue is not whether information was gained, the issue is how it may have been gained. Torture is against the law, and those who continue to support torture are war criminals and should be prosecuted as such.