May 28th, 2009
11:59 PM ET
12 years ago

Bush: 'The information we got saved lives'

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="In a Michigan speech, Bush spoke out about his administration's efforts to combat terrorism."]

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.

Filed under: Dick Cheney • Popular Posts • President Bush • President Obama
soundoff (337 Responses)
  1. Seattle Sue

    I would have to see documents to believe this. Bush and the Republicans lied for eight years and I will never believe them again.

    May 28, 2009 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  2. RH

    The whole point of this controversy is that the question of what was legal should have been a secondary consideration to what was moral.

    May 28, 2009 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  3. Pat, CA

    You did a GREAT job, President Bush. Thank you !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 28, 2009 09:55 pm at 9:55 pm |
  4. julius91

    good ole governor bush still trying to justify his lawbreaking ha!

    May 28, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  5. Lori

    Ohhhh gosh. Hasn't this man done enough damage to this country? CNN please don't report on this man. He is the main reason why so many of my fellow Americans are suffering right now!!! P.S. He did NOT keep safe on 9/11 despite intelligence!!!

    May 28, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  6. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    Worst...President...EVER! No matter how you 'feel' about it George.

    May 28, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  7. Pat, CA

    You did a GREAT job, President Bush. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 28, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  8. Ex-RepublicanTX and cheney's...there are move soldiers and civilians dead than people who died in the terrorists attack all together...Make Zero sense you two idiots.....What you need to write about Mr Bush is how Cheney turned you into a puppet so Harliburton can make money....Make the cover of your book have a picture of you string up like a puppet and Cheney and Rumsfeld playing with you.....Here is a Title for you
    "How Dick made a Dick out of Me"

    May 28, 2009 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  9. Independent

    and that's that , I really can't believe this is an issue I have to think this is totally political I mean really 3 people were water boarded, 3!!! c mon people are you kidding me.... say what you want about the guy but he is most definitely patriotic and he most definitely kept us safe after 9 11 end of story...

    May 28, 2009 09:57 pm at 9:57 pm |
  10. Kim, Dallas, TX

    President Bush, I have so much respect for you. I know you were president during many difficult issues, and although I did not agree with your course of action with Iraq, I am impressed with how you are handling this situation. It's so easy to criticize others, but to reserve comment takes much more strength and integrity. Thank you for what you have added to our country and how big of a person you have become through your tenure. I wish you had more control of others in your party, but no one can really control what others say and do.

    May 28, 2009 10:01 pm at 10:01 pm |
  11. Party of No good

    Oh no, don't let Bush start trying to put a sentence together again. He talk about making love to his gynecologist again.

    May 28, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  12. Franky

    Unfortunately, not the lives we anticipated, sorry...isn't it amazing what one tragic mishap can lead to? Is all in the books, I didn't write it, things were different back then, they changed. I hate to say it but they wanna speak records, well...that's all I gotta say. Personally, I don't think conservatives know what they want or wish, they hope but even they too make it complicated for themselves and the funny things is, they bring it and they wanna use records, I don't mind bringing up theirs...

    May 28, 2009 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
  13. gl, Pittsburgh

    Water boarding is illegel I don't care what Bush and Chency have to say. They are only saying this to keep President Obama Administration from going after them becasue it would look like reveng.

    May 28, 2009 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  14. No Incumbents 2010

    Is he talking about the information about WMD in Iraq? Or the information obtained through waterboarding falsely linking Al Qaeda to Iraq? How much was Bush paid for saying this? Waterboarding has been considered illegal torture by the U.S. for centuries.

    May 28, 2009 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
  15. Dave

    I dont care what anyone says about this guy...he is 100% CLASS. As a person, he's pretty amazing.

    May 28, 2009 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  16. mark

    We may not have all liked Bush, but at least what he said could be simply interpreted... When Obama speaks you interpret it then you see he has said nothing of substance. Its like trying to put your finger on mercury, always a moving target.

    May 28, 2009 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  17. Blamester

    Sorry Bush, we need someone outside of your admin to confirm that statement. You have a vested interest in claiming this.

    May 28, 2009 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  18. Hopeful Optimist

    A very average mind, and even that's probably being generous. But as they say, he's probably a 'pretty good old boy'. Why is it that Repubs always elect someone they can manipulate? They don't want anyone of any substance.

    May 28, 2009 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  19. Nini

    Mr. President the country owes you an apology.

    Rhetoric is easy but governing and keep America safe is not.
    The hypocrisy we see from Democrats and Obama confirms how Democrats used our national security to score political points.

    I never felt more insecure about my future and my safety as I am today.

    Thank you President Bush.

    May 28, 2009 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  20. Hope

    We dont torture period, we are a civilized society.

    May 28, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  21. Fitz in Texas

    "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."--------And I, my family, and millions of Americans thank you for this.

    "unwilling to sacrifice his soul for the sake of popularity". Spoken by a President that deeply loves his country and cares for the American people.

    May 28, 2009 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  22. tess

    CLASS ACT!!!!! something the democrats lack and don't understand! history will view bush through lens not blackened by liberal media bias and he knows it! god bless a man with character, honesty, morals and decency – what a rare thing in washington – especially now!

    May 28, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  23. John

    At least Bush gets one thing right; he is comporting himself with a lot more class than some of our other former presidents.

    May 28, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  24. MLH

    He doesn't criticise a current president, because he knows how that feels. Perhaps he ought to have seen what being water boarded felt like before he decided it was okey-dokey.

    May 28, 2009 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  25. gl, Pittsburgh

    Bush and Chency trying to rewrite history.

    May 28, 2009 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
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