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.
I can finally start respecting Bush, a horrible president, but he has the right attitude here, as did Bill Clinton when Bush was president.
George W. Bush: Get the hell out of the public's view. I'm tired of you and your views. Be happy not to be in jail for what you have done in this country.
Your information also killed people!
90,000 Iraqi civilians, for starters ....
Does anyone proof what is posted here for grammatical errors? It's kililng me. Just sayin.
The man has class and honor, and I truly respect him. History will eventually be kind to him. The truth will come out and all eyes will be opened. There are those that will NEVER say I was wrong...BUT....Time is on his side. God Bless you my President. I am glad to have had you for this country.
In many ways, Bush is a class act. One who, I think, made several key mistakes, but who never deserved the evil sorts of labels he acquired. I truly think he acted in all cases in the interests of the people who so harshly criticized him. History will rembember him well.
Time to turn him over to the Hague. He's now an admitted war criminal. He should spend the rest of his life in prison.
Talk is cheap, especially from one who lied about torture. Produce some hard evidence to back up your assertions or just keep quiet.
You may not have sold your soul for popularity but you did sell it to help your buddies make money while breaking the U.S. economy. You are what you have always been, a failure.
I like Bush' attitude about not criticizing Obama...and we all know he could take lots of shots if he wanted to, whether you like 'em or not.
Will the Obama administration begin to return the favor–and respect–by any means, and quit blaming everything under the sun on Bush? Or will they just continue in campaign mode and the "blame it on the other guy" attitude? Probably the latter.
Thank you for your service President Bush and keeping us safe for over 7 1/2 years... History will be a very fair judge of the way you governed this country.... Hope your brother runs...
Boy do I miss him. He hasn't attacked Ovomit like he has been attacked by him. He is a gentleman and a TRUE AMERICAN.
GOD BLESS THE USA AND GEORGE BUSH!
I think President is a good fellow and has taken a lot o f critsizem
over his policies so much of life depends of fate and for him the attack on the worlD trade center started his presidency to wobble out of control also his advisers were lousy don rumphelt and others were just not smart enough in judment circels to advise him properly, fighting two wars should not have been done one at a time is all most nations can bear and so from a spiritual stand piont he tried to do good his response to katrin was muffed but i can imagine his reaction when so many things go wrong it somes effects good judment and he got a little stubborn and arrogant so he is a man and he ,made mistakles but his love for God will not be forgotten by me. his stance on not challengeing Obama is very classy.
Oh good, now we've heard from both Laurel AND Hardy. Great.
Good Night now.
Bush again shows class. No political posturing at all and what a relief from the current crop whose decisions depend on the polls – all day every day. When the foundations and definition of great leadership are confused by a relativistic world view, a nation can do nothing but fail. Good bye once great America, Good bye to the last great president !
Thank you for not being Cheney and trashing Obama; but then, he was running things, wasn't he?
"Well, I hope it is this: The man showed up with a set of principles, and he was unwilling to sacrifice his soul for the sake of popularity," he said
AMEN!!! Thank you Mr. Bush for all you did for this country.
The imbecile-in-chief proves he hasn't gained any brain cells since leaving office. Knowing that this man was President of the United States makes me physically ill.
Say what you want. Bush has always been and will always be a class act.
I really don't know why Bush got such a bad rap the final year in office. His approval ratings were so high until the election came around. I think if you take a honest hard impartial look you will find Bush was really a pretty good president.
Excuse us, Mr. President, if many citizens are unable to rely on your credibility and accept your assertion. Can you provide examples without disclosing sensitive intelligence?
"Well, I hope it is this: The man showed up with a set of principles, and he was unwilling to sacrifice his soul for the sake of popularity," he said.
Easy when you have no soul...
You made laws written by attorneys to fulfill your needs and wants without having to justify or address these issues here. Further more you made laws you broke! And I quote NIXON never again.... said "When the President dose it, Its not illegal." WRONG! He just did not arrest everyone who stood in his way or slammed him. He just recorded it and because of a sloppy CIA job his tapes have blank space vs. a missing section of the tape. And he was consider a brilliant man with great knowledge but a trader because he help to cover up what the previous GOP has complete said NO to review of the tapes or other docs like the missing emails. I did not like the circus fiasco which occurred under your watch while you oppressed and distract us with issues that have squander our Dollar. Signers of the bill of right would be very disappointed in the direction our country has been abandon too deal with.… I know my kids will be born into this country owing some GM CEO kids 30 to 40,000. That is not fair even to any immigrant’s children being born here….
The problem with "I can tell you that the information we got saved lives." as a defense iis that it's negative logic - it can't be proven. it's along the same lines as pre-emptive war. It's also vague (how many lives?) and Machiavelian (ends justify means).
In other words, it's a trump card to play against any argument for any behavior (torture) that is morally objectionable. This kind of smoke screen is what drives people to the fringes of an argument and keeps us from dealing with the issues head on (as uncomfortable as that is).
Respectful and Professional Mr President. While you bear the brunt of the current economic situation let us not forget how fellow americans reaped the benefits of easy credit, extravagent spending and bountiful employment for many many years. The government did not make this choice, americans did as evidenced by their signatures on countless credit card applications, mortgages, auto leases and on and on. On the conflicts abroad I worked in the World Trade Center and on that day most Americans wanted miltary action, how quickly they forget. You did what you thought was right. Let he who has committed no sin cast the first stone. Thank you
Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't Ronald Reagan accept $1 million from Japan to give a speech in Tokyo after he left office, knowing that they bought half of Washington, D.C. and half of the state of Hawaii on his watch?