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. jlc

    Thank you, Mr. President! Even though I disagreed with some of your policies, the man showed up with a set of principles, and he was unwilling to sacrifice his soul for the sake of popularity. THAT is very rare for a politician whether democrat, republican, or independent.

    May 29, 2009 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  2. dave

    I saw the speech and the president nailed it.One of the best talks ever at the Econ Club

    May 29, 2009 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  3. Scott

    Typical below the radar liberal bias. I'm speaking of the picture they used of Bush. Sure when a Democrat or someone CNN is fond of they show a decent picture.When a Republican or someone who doesn't pander to the left in the topic they show a bad picture. Most people don't realize it.

    I learned about this when I completely wasted four years as a Communications major. Actually I really knew nothing about media bias until I started in Communications. It sickened me and I wish I had studied something else.

    Unless you want to be forced to write a certain way, Newspapers and media in general is not where you want to be. I just hope one person reads this at CNN.

    May 29, 2009 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  4. sbv

    it is clear both cheney and bush are only out to defend themselves; torture works is the wrong argument – even if it too has now been debunked as untrue, untrustworthy and inefficient. it is against the laws of our country's history and founding father, regardless of what some political appointees told them, and our international agreements,

    as to keeping us safer, this too has been debunked and has been shown to have made us less safe by creating more terrorist to do us harm and making our allies less willing to work with us.

    unfortunately, "he was unwilling to sacrifice his soul for the sake of popularity," as edmund burke said all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing," or in the case of ex-president bush, to think he was showing his principles.

    May 29, 2009 12:13 am at 12:13 am |
  5. Dave

    I cannot even comment on this jerk. The worst President ever.

    May 29, 2009 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  6. Simon

    I'm shocked that not one LEO in the country has yet had the guts to arrest this guy.

    May 29, 2009 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  7. Octave Hyacint Sr

    Yes they should be talking to their attorney not the media. It is time they are investigated so we can find out just what really happen and fix it. Octave Long Beacch, CA

    May 29, 2009 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  8. Richard Larson

    What can the man say? If he were to say anything different he would immediately be pilloried by those who are convinced that he and Dick Cheney are saints. They can do no wrong whatever they do.

    I would have been shocked, I mean totally, incredibly, out of this world shocked if Bush had even come close to admitting that what he authorized was criminal. He might have been incredibly naive in terms of International Law and the affects of what he/they did, but he is not stupid.

    I have been saying since 2001 that this is what happens when both the president and vice-president are not attorneys and totally ignorant of the consequences of illegal activity and the abrogation of treaties.

    May 29, 2009 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  9. EddieTheHat626

    Bush needs to crawl back underneath the rock he came from. Please, just go away!

    May 29, 2009 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  10. mary prez

    Well done, GWB! I deeply appreciate your becoming a seemingly wise statesman in your post-presidency. Our hope is that your new public persona will help heal the wounds that the eight years of your presidency had inflicted upon us as a society and a nation. Thanks for your expression of kindness to our new president and for recognizing that silence is often golden!

    May 29, 2009 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  11. Frank


    An egomaniac defending their decisions.

    George, please return to your normal life of lacking intellectual curiosity, not reading anything, getting "thinkaches" when people offered dissenting opinions, and accpet that fact that not only were you a complete failure, you will continue to be a failure over time.

    Mr, Cheney told you what to do for 8 years. so now that you're aping his slanderous BS, is merely the status quo.

    May 29, 2009 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  12. BJC

    God Bless You Mr. Bush
    A TRUE commander in chief.

    May 29, 2009 12:16 am at 12:16 am |
  13. honestly

    They are all guilty as charged. All of them should face the music for their acts, lying and murders of innocent Iraqis as well as killed and maimed U.S. servicemen and women.

    May 29, 2009 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  14. Lee in Oregon

    Now why can't Cheney have the good sense to extend the same courtesy to our new president as his former boss has. How refreshing would that be! If he thinks this is the only way to preserve his legacy he couldn't be more wrong.

    Mr. Cheney it's time for you to retire and leave the world's problems to President Obama. You had 8 years to solve them.......and you FAILED.......enough is enough.

    May 29, 2009 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  15. God

    You repeatedly lied to the American people in order to justify your decision to get us into an idiotic war that did not get us any closer to dismantling Al Qaeda. You're a pathological liar, and I don't believe you.

    May 29, 2009 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  16. aaron

    I am certainly not a W fan, but I think this really shows some class. Even while he was in office he never judged past Presidents. It would be nice if Obama would take a page and stop talking so much trash every time someone mentions a problem. He did ask for the job.

    May 29, 2009 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  17. John O

    Every despot, in every age, has always claimed he did it for the people.
    Torture, no matter how many lawyers write memos, is a war crime.
    And Mr. Bush is now an admitted war criminal along with Mr. Cheney.

    I believe the ball is in Mr. Holder's court.

    May 29, 2009 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  18. Gwen

    It is good to see President Bush out in public discourse. I truly feel that he truly stands for America and loves her ideals and democracy. I pray that America will survive all the changes and threats she is being subjected to. Hopefully, as our youth mature they will appreciate the value of our freedoms and independence. It is like the old bible story : feed a man a fish and he is full for one day (democrats) vs. teach a man to fish and he will never be hungry (republicans). We need to act not just in terms of the immediate but more importantly, the future. God Bless you, President Bush!

    May 29, 2009 12:20 am at 12:20 am |
  19. In the know

    Bush is wasting his time talking.

    May 29, 2009 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  20. Bea

    i'm sure.....but that doesnt mean torture is legal

    May 29, 2009 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  21. inger briggs

    Why don't these people go away?!! Bush and Cheney have done enough. Out to pasture with them both.

    May 29, 2009 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  22. Rob in Detroit Mi.

    Lier,Murderer, and wae criminal. this is bush.

    May 29, 2009 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  23. greg

    Bushie's gained more respect from me since he's not goin for the throat like his ex-puppetmaster.

    May 29, 2009 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  24. cydpunk

    Why does Bush Jr. keep coming to Canada to make speeches? He snubbed Canada for most of his Presidency...maybe it's those "French 'Freedom Fries" he loves so much!

    May 29, 2009 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  25. Dark

    "Why did I run for president?"

    That's as rhetorical a question as I've ever seen. Why did you run dubya?

    May 29, 2009 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
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