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.
this guy really ruined the country
I am proud to have called you my President, Mr George W Bush. I know you did not enjoy a popular rating, from the media and some consitutents, but history will show how much you sacrificed to save our lives! Sad to say that this cannot be said of our current president.
"I made the decision, within the law,..." The decision to condone torture? Show us any law in any reasonable society or culture that says torture is legal. Bush perverted US and UN law(s) and tradition and morals and culture. Period. And now he almost boasts about it. He brought shame to America and will be so judged by a higher power some day. Some sins never fade away.
Bush: 'The information we got saved lives'
The end justifies the means, eh?
Every sociopath believes some variant of that.
prove it...talk is cheap. I want you to prove this statement.
How do citizens of this country disagree with a "man who stands behind his principles "sacrificing popularity? We were safer and it is obvious from the actions of the Clinton administration. My son graduated from college and served this country for 8 years, wounded severely for it at the hands of terrorists. Those who question interrogation need to go overseas and see what the real world is all about.
It's as though he thinks the ends justify the means....
"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
Much like the last honest Democrat President Harry Truman.
Spent too much on social programs and needed another 200k Troops on the Borders of Iraq – but overall a good prez – thanks for your service.
"The information we got saved lives"
Saddam could have said that about his torturing too!
"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.
He may not have sacrificed his soul, but he did sacrifice the U.S. Constitution that he had taken an oath to upheld.
I heard him say in MIchigan that he misses talking to the servicemen–well, he can go to Area 60, Arlington National Cemetary and ask the servicemen and women that are there for an eternity for forgiveness.
Always the Fall Guy!
What would Thomas Jefferson have done?
He would have hanged George Bush by the neck until dead.
So the necessary steps to protect me meant torturing people. I release you of that vow.
this si simply a skin saving tactics of bush, and nothing else. if bush is treated with waterboarding, i am sure he will confess in five minuites that cheny orchestrated the attack on twin tower, pentagon and pensylvinia to create a sense of fear in the minds of american people. he will also confess that he ordered the iraq war at the instigation of cheney to provide uncontested business contract to helliburton, blackwater, kellogs and the gang.
the fact is bush administration failed to protect america from 911 tragedy in spite of the fact that there were prior intelligence in this regard. they translated their failure of 911 into credit by escalating the war at the cost of the interest of american people financially, and also in terms of image.
Was a principal of yours to protect the Constitution? Evidently not.
You and you sycophants have trashed the law of the land. Why ask what the lawyers say is possible? They'll tell you exactly what you want to hear – that's why you chose them.
The royal class gets to play by a different set of rules, don't they Mr. Bush?
Saved Lives?...prove it George.
Don't you get it...the country turned you and your friends out in record numbers because they got tired of your lies.
If you've got evidence of this claim..show it...if not...shut up and go away...and take Cheney, Gingrich and Rush with you...
oh please shut up ofcourse bush is going to defend his policies we are in this mess because of him shut up and stay at home and i why this is news with cnn
That Dummy Should Shut Up period!!
Please re-read this article. Sometimes it helps to read it out loud. Take some pride in your job. Or did Bush actually write this article too?
"Bush repeated his disclaimer about not passing judgment Obama "
"That first chapter, he said, will be answer the question: "Why did I run for president?"
"Although he did not specifically allude to the high-profile debate over President Obama's decision to halt the use harsh interrogation techniques"
Always a class act – Thank you President Bush.
Geeeh – W's nose is really red – possibly the effect of a WMD?
rare post presidency speech...
apparently not rare enough
how do you calculate this? how many lives were supposedly saved subtract our ideals, subtract our international obligations, subtract our human rights record, subtract the thousands of innocent people that were swept off the streets, tortured for years, and then released for lack of charges, minus...
wow, american lives are worth way more than any other lives it would seem.
Liar. War criminal.