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. pbj

    Not to worry, George. You were right; history will vindicate you. Barry has already adopted your domestic economic policies, his timetable for "prompt" withdrawl from Iraq has slipped under the rubric of "responsible" withdrawal, he's surging troops in Afghanistan, he can't figure out exactly how to follow through on closing Gitmo, he realized he shouldn't release the prisoner "abuse' photos after all - and if there's another 9/11 on his watch, he will be waterboarding suspects faster than you can say, "welcome to the real world." Now that's continuity you can believe in.

    May 29, 2009 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  2. Dan

    A good man, possibly the last "free" president we will have, with the darn communists in power now. He did what he could when it came to national defense, and Im proud to have served under him.

    May 29, 2009 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  3. russell lee

    insofar as i can see, he's still lying on the matter

    May 29, 2009 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  4. MCD, San Francisco, CA

    Bush is a sad man whose big ego let him be used and abused by those he trusted. Cheney is a hateful and evil man who is now trying to save his own backside.

    May 29, 2009 01:02 am at 1:02 am |
  5. raoul Butler

    The information you got cost lives. Bush started with a rich country, when he left he and his buddies were rich and the country is now bankrupt, is that the leverage he was referring to. As for 911, his brother was in charge of security at the airport the planes took off from... not to mention what his dady was up to that day. Lol

    May 29, 2009 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  6. minnie1

    My belief is Bush/Cheney kept us SAFE that was his number 1 job. Whatever happen if something happen in that prison all had been APPROVED BY CONGRESS. ALL WAS CONGRESS. I believe all this is a DISTRACTION, SINCE THE BO administration blocks the photos BO/PELOS needs to apologize to BUSH/CHENEY and the world since they accuse with no proof that they did whatever ILLEGALLY WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF CONGRESS. WHERE'S THE BEEF?

    May 29, 2009 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
  7. cycle3man

    Get back under the rock you torturer!
    You are an embarrassment to this wonderful country.
    Get back to the ranch and do what you do best::
    Dig holes for fence posts.

    May 29, 2009 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  8. Michigan_Texas

    I particularly like this line "I didn't like it when a former president criticized me, so therefore I am not going to criticize my successor."

    No matter how controversial his policies are, President Bush is an respectful man.

    May 29, 2009 01:06 am at 1:06 am |
  9. Joe Q. Public

    Uh oh.
    Karl is sending junior on a CYA tour.
    Do you think they're getting nervous bexause they may have to answer for torture?

    May 29, 2009 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  10. ron

    Not worth commenting

    May 29, 2009 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  11. TRUTH

    and destroyed lives , george killed th gop

    May 29, 2009 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  12. Doyle

    George Bush, Thank You! Some of us really do appreciate your efforts and integrity.

    May 29, 2009 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  13. DannyCali

    All he said is lied.....he just want to promot his brother only. The interrogation techniques not aprove yet why he used it.

    May 29, 2009 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  14. Murli Advani

    Mr. President Bush is a highly principled person. He will never criticize any President, past present or future.

    He kept us safe and he kept the economy moving.
    The financial crisis was not his doing but that of Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and the freddie mac and fannie Mae. Both were supported by the culprits Dodd and Frank.

    They would not budge although the Pres wanted them to reign in the Freddie Mac and Fannie mae.
    I wish the President well.. And as for Pres Barack-I don't like his policies one bit and they will destroy this country.

    May 29, 2009 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  15. RO

    You might not like his policies, but the man has principle, character and integrity. He takes the high road about Obama – that is character. He doesn't repeat the criticisms of former Presidents – that is integrity. He never gave ground on what he believed in – that is principle. GWB was and is and honorable President.

    May 29, 2009 01:09 am at 1:09 am |
  16. Ben Tyler

    "The first thing you do is ask, what's legal?" he said. "What do the lawyers say is possible?"

    Don't you think the first question should have been, "What works? What do the experts say?" I found that kin of telling.

    May 29, 2009 01:11 am at 1:11 am |
  17. ThinkAboutIt

    When Bush asked what was legal and was told that torture was not, his next question was, "How can we re-name it so we can do it while telling ourselves we're staying within the law?"

    And so the label "enemy combatant" was born.

    It's still torture, it's still illegal, it's still immoral. With my apologies to Shakespeare, a criminal act by any other name would smell as rotten and abhorrent.

    May 29, 2009 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  18. Jonw

    what a monster, Im glad he's no longer president!

    May 29, 2009 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  19. renea

    At least the former president appears to be showing some respect towards president Obama by staying his distance.

    May 29, 2009 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  20. Jim Houghton

    I never thought I would say it - and I would still punch GWB in the face if I ever got the chance - but compared to Cheney he's showing a little class.

    May 29, 2009 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  21. truth_does_not_hurt_denial_does

    It's our military superiority that kept the Al Quaeda terrorists at bay - not WMDs or torturing. McCain even acknowledged that torturing doesn't work and you are no John McCain! 🙁

    Soon or later, Obama should expose everything about Gitmo and the torturing practices that we carried out under your watch! 🙁

    May 29, 2009 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  22. Janie

    Well I for one admired President Bush for what he done for us as a country while he was President...If he had the chance to run again for President he would get my vote....The one thing that stands out in my mind about him the most is his dedication to always put God first in his own life and showing America that he trusted in God first and then man...Thankyou President Bush...God Bless you....

    May 29, 2009 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  23. PJ

    Really, who cares what he thinks? He had his chance to make America better and safer and he messed up both. (Remind me again who was president – and vice president – when 9/11 happened?)

    So please, just go away. We have work to do.

    May 29, 2009 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  24. No Shurb

    You have got to be kidding me!

    May 29, 2009 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  25. Baruch

    This man belongs behind bars for the rest of his life.

    May 29, 2009 01:15 am at 1:15 am |
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