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 didn't like him as president, but he's been nothing but gracious. I wish Cheney had half the decorum and class.
In my personal opinion i think Bush was OK. He did keep us safe at home. I also want to thank him and his administration for helping Kosovo gain indipendence. GOD BLESS USA
Okay, he's done. He's ruined the party. He made massive mistakes. He would be idiotic to say he and his cabinet did things that were illegal and immoral. Of course he and his big boy Cheney justify what they've done.
Noisy standing ovation? That's a joke, right? I'm sure people were just clapping while trying to get rid of mosquitos or something.
Bush seems like a real nice guy. He has some humility, and although I am a democrat and did not agree with many of the things his administration did, I think he did what he thought was best for the country. Unfortunately I do not feel that many of the people in his admin had the same good nature, like cheney. I wish the best for the former president, but I am very glad he is the former president.
The difference between Bush and Cheney is that Bush really doesn't know better... He was gullible enough to be thoroughly manipulated by Cheney who lied to him and to us. I just don't think Bush has the intellectual capacity to have made any of the big decisions without someone spelling it out for him in big block letters, which Cheney did.
What a class! President Bush has a class. He did not criticize his successor, while his successor has been criticizing Bush all the time. He shows the true leadership.
If killing them saved lives would you do that too? what you did was against international law and against US law. period.
I miss Bush. He was a good President.
any Bushism out of this speech?
YOU MEAN SOMEONE PAID HIM FOR GIVING A SPEECH??????????
unwilling to sacrifice his soul for the populace??? but not unwilling to sell it to the highest bidder. Two thing the bush 8 years gave us , debt and a loss on integrity.
Why is this printed? Is he like your hero now? Did you expect him to say cuff me boys and take me in? We know his position so this is a nonstory.
ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME,WHERE HAS W BEEN THE PAST 8 YEARS!!!!!!!
Can somebody tells this fools that the end doesn't justify the mean.
Torture is against the law and who ever does it regardless of the results it produced need to be punished.
So according to his logic as long as i can justify that I robbed the bank because I need to help homeless on the street i did not break the law.
Does that even sound right for him to say that?
What a waist of oxigen to listen to this HITLER type leader. Let's not forget he was railed in to back Cheney into killing many Americans and Canadians on 9/11.
So let's stop this idiot and jail his ass as well as Cheney and Rumstead, Limbaugh, and the reast of the Communists who work at FOX News.
Personally I think the USA has done everything right thus far regarding North Korea.
I realize now that negotiations won't work with North Korea.
Obama will have some sleepless nights trying to figure this issue out.
Force could trigger World War III, and I'm sure that is what the USA is trying to avoid.
This touchy matter could get ugly, .. "I'm talking REAL UGLY !"
Good Luck on this one, President Obama, fore I'd hate to be in your shoes trying to figure all this out regarding North Korea.
You have to give the guy credit. He is handling post Presidency in a very dignified manner. Most former Presidents have been quick to slam their predecessors.
Another planet heard from.
This ought to get interesting now.
Maybe he's not such the idiot you say he is?
He's a great man who had some tough choices to make.
I won't say Obama isn't a great man.
I'll save that decision till after I see the outcome of this North Korea confrontation.
Mr. George W. Bush, you are a class act. You were a class act in the White House as well and I sure miss you. You put the American people first and, because of YOU AND OUR OUTSTANDING MILITARY, we haven't been hit again. Mr. Obama is NO WHERE NEAR your calibur, no matter what he does.
I wish you the best sir, and, THANK YOU for the added dignity you ALWAYS showed wherever you were and wherever you go. You ALWAYS SHOWED the love you have for this GREAT COUNTRY of ours and I REALLY miss that. I miss you in the White House. For one thing, the class went with you. It's gone now. Thank you for the honor of being our President. Continue to hold your beliefs and to hold your head high.
Bush was a raw, honest man that America loves to see in the movies but not to live it. Bush was what we wanted to be while Obama is what we really are, appeasers not different than Chamberlain who came back to England after visiting Hitler and produced a paper of peace, a seal from an intruder and asked the free world to sleep free. And we slept for a few months only to pay the dear price of World War II later.
What a bunch of garbage. Bush and Cheney stopped all harsh interrogations after Abu Graib became public, so to now say it's what kept us safe is just smoke and mirrors. And if by Obama stopping torture we are no longer safe. Then how does Bush justify no torture for the last four years of his administration?
Never ceases to amaze me the astonishing rationale this man (and his henchman, Cheney) uses in attempts to cover their butts.
The most astonishing rationale of which is the premptive invasion of another country that had nothing what so ever to do with 9/11!
That is just for starters and says nothing about the thousand upon thousands of needless deaths of our young men and women as well as the lives of all those displaced or killed as a result of the Bush / Cheney administration.
HE KEPT US SAFE!????... THE ONLY THING BUSH DID WAS INCITE, INFLAME, AND FURTHER DESTABLIZE THE MIDDLE EAST AND IN THE PROCESS CREATE AN EVEN LARGER MOVEMENT AGAINST THE U.S.