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.
Did anyone really expect him to say anything different? Did we think that he wouldn't back his old buddy up? Bush would die, as would Cheney, before they would admit that what they did was wrong! As much as they want history to be kind to them, they'd better get used to the reality of what they did to us for eight years and just live with themselves.
The first thing I ask is "what is the right thing to do?" Lawyers ask "what's legal?" Maybe the real problem is that George was answering the question instead of asking it.
An hours long back and forth with the audience and no telepronpter?
Gee, thats not what they said about W is it?
Well I have seen GWB spar with the news corps for an hour or so and hold his own.
Miss you George, more than I hate to amit.
Nice lie. They started torture before Bush's lawyers ever rendered an opinion on what was legal. Just because Bush and Cheney keep saying it. Doesn't make it true or right.
Funny, the CIA Inspector General, the FBI, the people who reverse engineered the torture program, and the actual interrogators–who were getting actionable intelligence by proven methods– say otherwise. Bush-still trying to justify the unjustifiable, and defend war crimes.
Say what ever you want. The man is a class act. Mistakes, sure but his were all transparent. Not calculated deception behind closed doors while saying "transparent, transparent, transparent" from a podium. It is time reporters start digging in and stop slobbering over Obama. Anyone think the economy is really in recovery? National health care, energy policy, and the stimulus plan is going to tax EVERYONE who earns a wage or owns a business into poverty .
He just forgot to add, that it killed 10 times more than it saved.
Well done Mr. President! He does not ride on accusations. What he believed good, he did for the people at the cost of his popularity.
Why isn't this guy in prison?
he needs to go away , he makes me sick whenever i look at him, when i hear him talk i have very bad thoughts
In the future, those of you who bashed Bush and took great pleasure in doing so will see that he was not the terrible President you made him out to be. I did not agree with some of his policies or decisions, but I do believe he is a good man with a big heart. It is sad that CNN and other media outlets have roasted him the past couple of year and blamed him for everything bad that has happend to us.
Yeah; like that "really good" intel you got that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that Al-Qaeda was teaming up with Saddam. Did you have to torture to get that? No doubt. We've lost about 3000 American lives in Iraq because of that "really good" intel. Not to mention the tens of thousands of Americans who were wounded in the Battle of Iraq.
And let's not forget the stuff you missed. Like the warning of your own Terrorism Expert before 9-11. Over 2000 lives were lost there, and our nation suffered the worst security breach in our history.
I don't accept for one minute that you are responsible for saving American lives, much less that you needed to torture to do it.
President Bush is a true American. He is the only presiden with the exception Og President Regan who stood by his principles. I salute him. I felt safe with him as President. I do not with the president. The North Korea situation will test our new president
I respect the guy for his measured tone.
I summarize the difference between Hussein and Bush
Obama the stage man, looking for popularity and votes
Bush the statesman, looking for principles and live with a free conscience
May God help this country with Hussein and Acorn at the helm
Maybe the information did save lives. How many young men and women are dead, how many more have to live the rest of their lives disabled? How many innocent Iraqs are dead and how many are also maimed for the rest of their lives. I think it is time for Mr. Bush to get down on his knees along with Mr. Cheney and beg for forgiveness from the GOOD LORD for the mess they created. I only hope the Congress or the World Court prosecute both men. Eight years under the rule of both men(?) have been disasteruos for the world. I think it is time somebody pays.
Sure Bush is not going to say anything about the new president,,, This is how he ran his administration,,,He let Cheney and all the others run their mouth saying the things he wanted them to..
Torture is a war crime and Bush , Cheney , Rumsfeld , Rove and Obama know d... well it is...
If Obama try to stop the prosecution of anyone involved in the war crimes not matter if they are a republican or a democrat then he is guilty of driving the get a way car from a crime..
Seems as if Emanuel is running this administration..
President Bush- Please go away already.
Why would I believe you, Mr. Bush? You lied to us. You told us that our country did not torture. And you lied.
You are a monster.
So, "W" tells us that the lawyers said that waterboarding was legal, huh? I guess he was referring to the toadies who told him what he wanted to hear, just as Alberto , his towering legal toadie okayed all the executions in Texas of people who were "represented" by incompetents and drunks.
I'd like to see our hero, who hid in the Texas Guard to protect us during Vietnam, undergo waterboarding. He'd probably wet his diaper!
"The first thing you do is ask, what's legal?" he said...
Huh? How about what is the best way to interrogate this guy to get reliable good and useful info... How about ask the guys who've done this sort of thing for a 100 years... oh, while still acting smart, legal and human about it!
what happened with the information this idiot got before 9/11? his sheer stupidity and the incompetence of his administration led to the deaths of 3000 people in the towers. it would be best for bush to keep his yap shut – unlike his idiot v.p. cheney
I wish our current president could be as patriotic and as gracious as our previous president. His (Obama) previous administration "bashing" is getting old and it makes him appear ignorant and purposefully stupid.
Here we go, watch the Bush bashing begin again.
I voted for Obama, but this Bush-hating thing is getting pretty old, don't you think? He's not our President anymore, so let's move on.