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. warren

    all is fair
    the proof is in the pudding

    look at this mess we are in


    May 28, 2009 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  2. Sam

    He may have made some wrong decisions (what president hasn't), but he has handled the transition to the new presidency with humility and grace... something that can't be said for a new administration that spends all of its time blaming him for it. Yes, he left some stuff to clean up, so did Clinton before him, and Bush Sr. before him. I think it is time for this administration to stop pointing fingers and do something. Forget pointing back at the bad and looking at history. It's time to make some new history!

    May 28, 2009 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  3. WBN

    As always, a Christian and a gentleman. In eight years, Bush never spoke ill of his detractors, even when leading Dems (Reid, Pelosi, Kennedy, and many others called him a traitor, a coward, a murderer, etc.). You would think some Americans who did not vote for him would at least acknowledge his decency. He will be vindicated by history as an excellent president–who really did stand by his convictions.

    May 28, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  4. JRQ

    I can remember the reporters at the Ranch asking President Bush why he wasn't at the White House. And he explained he had all he needed at the Ranch to work as President.

    Then September 11th came and life changed for him. Maybe it was to much mentally? I fear this with our President much in to little time.

    Either way it was nice to take some of the pressure off President Obama.

    May 28, 2009 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  5. Gary

    Some things that Bush did I completely disagree with. Sometimes I didn't feel his administration did the best job. But overall I have always felt he is a good man. He's a man of character who had to make difficult choices. The decisions were not black and white but rather shades of grey. He kept us safe after 9/11. He truely wanted Iraq and Afghanistan to become peaceful, stable democracies (and they still might). The treatment he received from the media and still receives is unfair. We are a better country because of his presidency. I wish him all of the best in his retirement.

    May 28, 2009 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  6. fools, fooled by obama

    Too bad alot of those lives were loony liberals.

    May 28, 2009 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  7. bill

    Bush and Cheney are using the same speechwriter to try to sway public opinion in their favor.

    It will never happen because we had two imbeciles running this country for eight years.

    May 28, 2009 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  8. The Samaritan

    I so much wish President Bush and his wife Laura all the best in Texas. He had a lot of hard decisions to make in regards to 9-11, and many others during his administration.
    It is so easy for the inexperienced new administration to set judgement on what went on with out the right information for political gains.
    Remember the Golden Rule? This new administration should think of the blunders that are ahead of them, nobody is perfect.
    In our attempt to not become a footnote in the history books, we forget about change, which happens very fast and brings an unbalanced and cantankerous future.

    May 28, 2009 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  9. Chery Tx

    President Bush is respectful Man .....Unlike Cheney, Rove Newt And Fat boy Limbaugh

    May 28, 2009 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  10. Jeff

    No matter what you say against him, President Bush remains a classy guy.

    May 28, 2009 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  11. Barbara

    So Cheney got to him again!

    May 28, 2009 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  12. Fairfax VA chick

    Bush is one classy fellow. I had the privilege of meeting him in his final months as president. Very nice, decent man!

    May 28, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  13. Nik

    President Bush didn't make all the best decisions in the world, but there is no doubt he had America's best interests in his heart. Wish I could say the same for Obama.

    May 28, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  14. hypocrites_are_everywhere

    I've never doubted Bush' sincerity & good intention. But I'd never respect any man (or woman) who doesn't admit mistakes (e.g. WMDs)! Other justifications (e.g. spreading democracy, no terrorist attack since 9/11) for invading Iraq are simply B.S./ a failed attempt to hide the true blunder!

    Hmmm... and this guy "was" our president!

    I voted for Reagan but not the Bush/Cheney gangster.

    May 28, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  15. wmmj

    We wouldn't have needed to save any lives it Bush hadn't sent American soldiers to Iraq in the first place for no apparent reason.

    May 28, 2009 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  16. fortytude

    * Cheney and Rummy were long time PENTAGON and Washington insiders that new the score, they weren't born on Jan 20, 2001. Heck Bush I was the CIA head at one point.
    * Clinton gave briefings to Republican led Congress
    * Clinton gave Bush numerous documents on Bin Ladin.

    If these guys are so much better than Dems at security they should have taken this info and blew up Afghanistan. They didn't crack a book because they didn't give a shat. All they cared about was their idealogy and 9/11 helped them with their agenda. Pure and simple. Oh Mr. Bush, where's the WMD that led to our was w/ iraq? Did that save our miltary member's lives?

    Let me give you 2 more concrete examples of how Bush DID NOT KEEP US SAFER:

    * N Korea didn't invent their bomb starting on Jan 20, 2009
    * Iran didn't invent their rocket starting on Jan 20, 2009

    Thanks for all your good work, Brownie, I mean Bush.

    May 28, 2009 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  17. Anna Matthews

    These actions may or may not have saved lives, no one knows for sure. After all, tourturing people who have no reservations about blowing themselves up and taking others with them, will say what they have been trained to say if caught. What we do know is that this torturing people did not help us secure Bin Laden. Why? Was this not one of the torture questions? And if not why not.? And as for saving lives, Bin laden still on the loose,

    May 28, 2009 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  18. Funny Girl

    Well it was refreshing to see that Former President W didn't tread on the hateful ways of Cheney! But still, too fresh for the former President to be at any function with the word Economics in it. 🙂

    May 28, 2009 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  19. alvino

    North Korea establised a nuclear program during Bush's presidency, and all he could do was to call them part of the "axes of evil." Now that is an example of his tough cowboy mentality.

    May 28, 2009 11:05 pm at 11:05 pm |
  20. Texan

    Spoken from a "true" southern gentlemen with CLASS!!!!!! Time will tell..............

    May 28, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  21. alvino

    The decider thinks torture works even though it has cost us over 4000 of our finest in his personal ill-advised war in Iraq.

    May 28, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  22. cc Pennes

    bull....! his legacy....... he ruined this country! he was a moron, and he stole the election from gore, what a different world this would have been today, if gore was the president THANK GOD FOR OBAMA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 28, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  23. Steven

    Do you blame Allen Greenspan for our economic decision for the greater part of a decade? If you new the economy was bad when Clinton left office and their mortgage numbers look to good to calculate for the loss of jobs why did you not drive out country for a more positive direction then the war without showing the people results on your mass spending. I know if I pay 500 million for 1 tank I would want to see the business end work. WHAT ABOUT MEDICAL DEBT IN GENERAL. 1 uninsured Persons kidney replacement on SSI OR fix income cost more then that person would make in their life time plus continued treatment. which the states and cities pay for. But who has added those dollars up. How big is that balloon of deception?

    May 28, 2009 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  24. Gbenga

    Seeing Bush on the news is like adding salt to the injury I am already nursing. I feel right now I have lost my life, the time spent in school Bachelors, Masters degree, a shart nice starting career, all just came to an abrubt end because of Mr. Bush inability to have a foresight.

    You can Imagine on my unemployment bed, feeling so useless and trying so hard to check my mail every second only to get that mail that will say congratulations, all i see is Bush: 'The information we got saved lives'.

    Please save me my life by not showing this healines.

    May 28, 2009 11:08 pm at 11:08 pm |
  25. Dorothy

    "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you"
    You have got to be kidding. Everything the Bush administration did put us in more danger and made the rest of the world angry at us and therefore less safe. George W must be wanting to sell copies of his book so we are going to have to listen to him and Cheney justify what they did. In reality, they probably both can;t sleep nights because of the way they screwed up this country. Thank God we have a president now who is beginning to pick up the pieces of the Bush mess and get this country straightened out. Anyone who buys a copy of Bush's book needs professional help. He has nothing to say that he couldn't have said to us when he was President. The best thing he can do now is leave us alone. he's caused enough damage.

    May 28, 2009 11:09 pm at 11:09 pm |
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