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. Oh My!

    Values, morals, principles, ethics, trust, honesty, go ahead and slam President Bush but in battle I would want him in my fox hole.

    May 29, 2009 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  2. Richard from Lynnwood, WA

    Please just go away idiot! Take your old friend Dick with you. You're making a fool out of yourself now. Don't you see, it's over. We don't want to see your ugly mug anymore!

    May 29, 2009 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  3. CVal

    For a man who claims to be a Christian, the first thing you ask yourself is not what the lawyers say you can get away with as Mr. Bush claims. You decide what is moral and ethical in the long traditional integrity of what America is all about. We are not Nazis, or at least our heritage isn't. We are not North Vietnamese or Japanese. We are Americans. We arrested Lt. Calley for the murders he ordered at MyLai village in Vietnam. Now, our military does the same as a matter of routine. I would not want to be Mr. Bush on judgement day. Many have come forward who have been involved directly with the torture of prisoners and have testified that we did not get useful information that we couldn't get by other means. The truth is being told now, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney and you can't stop it. You should go to prison for what you've done. True, your friends are now billionaires thanks to your actions while in office and no doubt they promised to reward you both. We'll see.

    May 29, 2009 12:44 am at 12:44 am |
  4. David S. Robins

    More lies from Bush. We liked it better when he was silent. If he keeps talking like this, then it's clear we do need a truth commission to investigate the war crimes he, Cheney and their fellow thugs committed. It will be shameful if we decent Americans allow the criminal Bush gang to go unpunished.

    May 29, 2009 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  5. Uncurious George

    For the first time in approx. 9 years he finally answered unscripted questions, I wonder if any of them REAL questions, or if they were just more softballs from his loving Reich Wing.

    May 29, 2009 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  6. Textynn

    Boy the Bush Administration Gang is getting very very uncomfortable and it shows big time. I have never heard W be humble in any way, shape, or form. This is obviously a well rehearsed speech and it is obvious that the questions were plants to make him sound much more thought out than we know he is capable of.

    He doesn't fool me for a minute. He's scared, and like all criminals before him learn... just getting cleaned up and dialing down the egocentric talk doesn't fool all the judges all the time.

    May 29, 2009 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  7. lawrence Anderson

    As we sit in our shed, we think about this question, "How is it possible a man like g.bush can compleatly distroy several countrys, includeing his own, then,travel around the world trying to convince people he didnt really mean no harm. Shucks. I can not waite a minute longerin antisaption of his book. Yet sader is the fact lots of those books will be sold. Americans are that way. I love America and and ashamed of her end Lawrence Richard Anderson California

    May 29, 2009 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  8. End Of An Error

    With reports that both men and women in US captivity at Abu Graihb were raped by US "interrogators", Bush and company had better have saved a lot of lives.

    Bush compromised our morals and this country. The Iraq invasion never should have been. All the reasons Bush gave for invading were false. We have destroyed a country, killed its citizens, and tortured its citizens.

    What George W. Bush did was despicable. He stained this country. And as far as anything else of importance to this country, he did nothing. Eight years of nothing instead of addressing the problems that were allowed to fester and get worse.

    May 29, 2009 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  9. vmora

    As expected! What do most criminals do? Deny they committed any crimes!!

    May 29, 2009 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  10. Beulah

    So the wars were because he wanted to save his soul, rather than be popular with the people he had promised to serve. Mr Bush is a selfish bastard and if there is a hell, it's too good for him.

    May 29, 2009 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  11. Thomas Fleming


    May 29, 2009 12:48 am at 12:48 am |
  12. Anonymous

    Thank You President Bush! The American People are grateful for your courage and determination in protecting them and their Country from savage bargarians who would kill us and our children.

    May 29, 2009 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  13. Dave of the mountains

    "Yes I drove the country to bankruptcy by allowing greed to bypass laws under the light of the burning Constitution." would be a little more truthful. And Cheney is still doing the hatchet job.

    May 29, 2009 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  14. Andy Lovas

    Saved lives?

    Where, when, how?

    These guys still think that we should trust them.

    When the more we learn, the more it appears they were willing to lie and to slant the truth to us whenever they felt it would aid their cause.

    May 29, 2009 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  15. Greg in Denver

    No matter how noble he tries to paint his actions, George W. Bush was the most pathetic excuse for a president we could ever have.

    He was arrogant, reckless, incompetent and just plain stupid. He felt he didn't have to answer to anyone, that he was "the decider." He had absolutely no regard for the rule of law. And he had neither the maturity nor the intellectual capacity to understand, let alone appreciate, a checks and balances system of government.

    He caused so many people to die that did not need to die. And the blind party loyalty of Republicans who supported and made excuses for him is what enabled him. Republicans showed more loyalty to their party than they did our country. And as a result, our country paid a horrible price; our troops paid a horrendous price.

    Bush needs to just go away and stay away. Republicans should be shamed of themselves.

    May 29, 2009 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  16. Doris L. Lawrence

    Bush will regain his respect, but Cheney will not

    May 29, 2009 12:56 am at 12:56 am |
  17. Frank Sellers

    Why doesn't hone its reporting skills and call Bush's so-called "enhanced interrogation" program what it is: Torture.

    I dare you.

    May 29, 2009 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  18. Stephen Flannery

    Wouldn't pay a wooden nickel to hear this sputtering fool utter another syllable. What exactly were the set of principles he showed up with? I fail to see the preponderance of any evidence that he has any principles at all.

    May 29, 2009 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  19. Folabi

    Oh well, better his approach than the other grumpy old fella's who loves to come on the screen to sneer and scare us all away..

    May 29, 2009 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  20. stevetall

    Liar, lair, pants on fire. This pinhead and all the other little pinheads he surrounded himself with only heard what they wanted to hear. If they didn't hear what they were hoping to hear, they ignored the smart people and found other pinheads to make up facts to support their position.

    I must now command, "Silence!" from this infidel. Shame on you, George. It pains me to think of all that wasted education you smoked pot and tooted cocaine through.

    May 29, 2009 12:57 am at 12:57 am |
  21. Kevin

    A class act.

    May 29, 2009 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  22. Gene Odyssey

    Funny how this report is filled with quotations to point out his less-than-carismatic speech, as in "look audience, how this guy talks!". Lame CNN.

    May 29, 2009 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  23. Dan Stewart

    George Dubya Bush, aiming to destroy America since 2001.

    May 29, 2009 12:58 am at 12:58 am |
  24. Mark

    "I can tell you that the information we got saved lives."

    Well, I wasn't sure until now. But if Bush says, then it has to be true. The guy never lies, and he never makes mistakes.

    Jesus Christ! Why is he still talking? Why?

    May 29, 2009 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  25. Henry Howey

    This man was unsuited for governor of Texas and totally wrong for POTUS. I have also reed that his questions for these events are pre-screened. He allowed torture because he was and is a coward.

    May 29, 2009 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
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