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. Mike

    Honestly, I'm more afraid of Obama than I ever was of Bush. It's absolutely pathetic when Americans are scared of their own government.

    May 29, 2009 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  2. JLH

    I really like GW Bush more and more as I look back upon what he did and stood. Classy man.

    May 29, 2009 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  3. Marie

    So foolish and backward. Maybe evil. I wish that he wasn't religious. That may mean that someday he may come to realize how wrong he is and how much harm he has done to this country and so many families and people around the world. Must be nice to feel like g*d is on your side when there is no way to even know that. ignorance is bliss. thank goodness for him there's no such thing as hell.

    May 29, 2009 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  4. joe

    bush cheney era glory days for white supremacists groups ho god!!!
    thnks is over,please go away!!!

    May 29, 2009 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  5. Jesse

    A planned terrorist attack in NYC was just thwarted without torturing anybody to get the information.

    Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, your reasoning is wrong.

    May 29, 2009 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  6. Matt

    ok...good for you George...Bye now

    May 29, 2009 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  7. Dr. Patrick St. John Price

    Excellence – on behalf of genealogy
    Duke of Sutherland
    Specer Roche Bush
    Diana – Churchill

    Mr. Obama and Mandela are frauds out to cut your head off
    International security of canada Borders to another threatened 9-11 by AlQuaida

    May 29, 2009 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  8. Leslie

    Did he mention that thousand of lives he ended with the false information that sent us into war. You have BLOOD on your hand Bush.

    May 29, 2009 12:29 am at 12:29 am |
  9. GM Vancouver

    Go home. We don't want torturers and murderers in Canada,
    You are persona non grata.

    May 29, 2009 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  10. The Focus Guy

    I was there tonight and I must say that although I disagree with a lot of the former presidents policies I saw almost a different person tonight. He seemed more human and the crawd appeared to appreciate his honesty regarding his zest to protect the country. In addition, it was refreshing to see the former president go out of his way several times to stress the fact that he did and would not critisized president Obama and I respect him for that. Rush & Chayney should learn a bit of from Bush.

    May 29, 2009 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  11. Butch Dillon

    Bush is a jerk

    May 29, 2009 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  12. Donald

    Bush, a class act.

    May 29, 2009 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  13. Anonymous

    God bless Bush

    May 29, 2009 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  14. Gop

    I have to hand it to this man no matter who puts him down he does not waiver in his convictions.

    The only problem I have with him is he was not a true conservative. I also blame the media for our economy tanking more then even congress. As president Bush said they do enjoy conflict and bad news even when they have to make it up!

    I like the fact history will prove he did a lot more good then bad and our country was better for the amount of time he was our president.

    At this point Obama would be lucky for just half that!

    If any one believes Bush was a bad president then get ready for one that is worst because Obama is going down that same Jimmy Carter path!

    May 29, 2009 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  15. Dan

    Thank you Mr. Bush for doing your job. Now we have a weak man in the white house.

    May 29, 2009 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  16. rob crawford

    So there is still someone giving him cue cards.

    May 29, 2009 12:36 am at 12:36 am |
  17. Scientific

    Have a Coke and a smile, Mr. President. Please.

    May 29, 2009 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  18. AmarjitS.

    He is correct after 911 he had to take solid action to save America from further attacks & American lives on American soil. With information availabe acted in a determined way to carry terrorists intiative in their homeland of Afganistan. Investigative techniques had to be used to extract the information of the network of Al Qaeda which is a disabling & distorted methodology but less than those used in WW II for treatment of POW & other captured civilians for the same purpose. Moreover for lawful ends all is lawful within reasonable means. Similarly Police has to disable the capacity of the suspect to avoid further embroil which is done with fisting & boxing by all available as one Cop will not be able to handle & control the suspect who may be resting to restart or run away.There is very delicate line of what is human & what is not If anything done in legal or self defence is legal & legitimate so is the coercive methods to recover information for saving large number of human lives. 911 was not legal & human.

    May 29, 2009 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  19. William H.

    to all u bush haters he is a man with integerty how love's his country

    May 29, 2009 12:37 am at 12:37 am |
  20. Tatianna

    Obama and his minions dishonesty is just shameful, especially after President Bush worked so hard to ensure a smooth transition and President Bush has declined to criticize Obama. What a shame his gracious professionalism isnt returned by the current occupant of the Oval Office. His ultimate legacy hasnt been written. But the only one thing can be said without reservations is that President Bush has kept the country safe since 9/11 attacks. Dems might find the truth about this to be inconvenient indeed. Can anyone tell me how we are safer under under Obama?

    May 29, 2009 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  21. steve

    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?"

    But, will it answer the burning question of our times, "Is our children learning?"

    May 29, 2009 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  22. Bill/CA

    Say whatever you want about Bush, but at least he has class, something his imbecile VP could learn a little something about.

    May 29, 2009 12:40 am at 12:40 am |
  23. Tex

    The big question is...Does Bush think torture is legal? I guess he does. In the same token N. korea, Iran and the so called rogue nations have a right to go ahead and develop the Nuclear bombs coz they believe they are protecting their people. The Crazy "beheaders" can as well go ahead and do their thing coz they believe they are protecting their own!!!!!! Mr. Bush what may seem legal to you is actually illegal. You erode the moral authority of our nation to fight the war that is necessary to keep us safe. If my neighbour attcks my dog, I should waterboard his friend to try and get information about him,...right mr. Former president???? I guess this is the price we pay for electing someone stupid to the highest office in the land

    May 29, 2009 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  24. Brandon Snook

    Did Peter Hamby graduate from college? The amount of typos in this article are astounding. It's kind of embarrassing. Please fix the typos. And please post my comment.

    May 29, 2009 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  25. Joe

    No one likes you. GO AWAY!

    May 29, 2009 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
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