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. fil hussein oaks

    The scum Bush should be entering a torture chamber for his turn on the board.

    May 28, 2009 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  2. jnkekoa

    For all his public displays of idiocy, his brutish criminality, and exasperating incompetence, kudos to the former president for his continuing gracious refusal to criticize his successor. I never voted for the man and could myself frame the charges for his death penalty trial, but I mean it when I say that he has conducted himself well in that (sole) regard.

    May 28, 2009 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  3. Steven in Charleston

    "I vowed to take whatever steps that were necessary to protect you."

    I love my puppy very much. I worry about him getting run over by a car, or falling down the stairs, or eating something that might make him sick, and even though I work hard to protect him from these potential threats, they still are possible. I guess I ~could~ completely protect him from these risks by locking him in a small crate and keeping him there 24/7. No dangerous cars or stairs or bad things to eat in there. But what kind of life would that be? It is no different when talking about what Former President Bush did. Stripping away any semblence of Civil Rights ~might~ make us "safe" but it sure doesn't make us free.

    May 28, 2009 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  4. Sforce

    Bush we want you back. Obama is ruining the Country every day. God help us.

    May 28, 2009 11:47 pm at 11:47 pm |
  5. nobody

    You keep carrying that cross, Mr. Bush.

    Carry it right into obscurity.

    May 28, 2009 11:49 pm at 11:49 pm |
  6. Paul Ronco

    The typical tyrant's excuses, he runs the nation into the ground on a drunken orgy with his buddies and then when he leaves us holding the wreckage of his tenure he places a dandelion in front of his genitals and blames the scorn on the uncompromising integrity of his virginal soul. The real question to ask is not what the Bush Administration lost due to its so-called 'integrity,' but what the Bush Administration didn't get of what it sought. Bush took what he wanted, and when it conflicted with existing laws, he simply rewrote the laws to accommodate his worldview. Hitler, too, was cursing the perceived disloyalty of others to his grave, all the while exonerating himself from any blame, and this self-absolving hogwash from Bush is hardly any different. Bush is a classic tyrant.

    May 28, 2009 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  7. JS007

    Oh, Bush, where do I even start? You got a bunch of hack, yes-men lawyers to write memos that Cheney wanted, then the tortures used exceeded even what those faulty memos authorized. You and Cheney are war criminals and the biggest stain Obama will wear is his failure to prosecute all who were involved in torture (Republican or Democrat). Let's hope Obama is just buying some time.

    May 28, 2009 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  8. James

    War criminal says "what."

    May 28, 2009 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  9. Larry

    George has been lying for 8 years ...

    Today is no different

    Go back to the ranch George

    We don't want your worthless opinion ...

    May 28, 2009 11:50 pm at 11:50 pm |
  10. cathy

    The set of principles Bush is referring to are Satan's Principles for Torturing, Misleading and Destroying the World. Bush = The Great Destroyer

    May 28, 2009 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  11. Patrick

    The fact that Bush and Cheney feel they have to defend the torture program so aggressively tells you that they know they broke the law.

    May 28, 2009 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  12. Scott

    At least he is taking the high road and not trashing the current administration. While the current times will be harsh, I expect history to be very kind to former President George W. Bush when we all have the chance to look back and put this era into perspective.

    May 28, 2009 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  13. Forever Gone to FoxNews

    Losing to FoxNews are you, CNN?

    I know that is true cause I am one of those who left CNN after all that totally Obamamaniac driven coverage of the primaries and the election of last November. Untrustworthy, one-sided, coverage of news is a total shame to the world of journalism ...

    Yes, I am one of the Hillary fans who left and will NEVER return – not to CNN, not to ABC and definitely not to MSNBC ...
    Will not read New York Times, will not sbuscribe to Time. Pretty sad state of affairs ..

    And again I repeat: FoxNews have to thank CNN for sending to them all their viewers ... All we have is FoxNews to tell us the REAL news ...


    May 28, 2009 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  14. malclave

    If only a Democrat had anywhere approaching the same level of class former Pres. Bush has, the U.S. would be a much better place.

    May 28, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  15. Rob

    This is crap. It's just another divisive topic to divide the nation on a petty issue. Obama will continue torturing just like Bush did, he's covering his butt already by not releasing the photos of Abu Gharib where kids and women were raped and men were sodomized on orders of none other than Mr. post election resigner, Donny Rumsfield.

    Get off the right left paradigm, they're both on the same team! They're both AGAINST the people.

    May 28, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  16. Charlotte, NC

    Apparently he had been putting Cheney up to defending him, but he just couldn't keep quiet either.

    I enjoyed Robin William's comments on what was W going to do when he went out of office. Said he can't go on a speaking tour!

    May 28, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |

    Ole G Dubb may be out of office which is good but I still feels like the next comment out of his mouth is going be something stupid,can I get a witness?

    May 28, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  18. norman scott

    Ok.... he was not willing to sacrifice his principles for the sake of popularity... but if his principles are War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Crimes Against the Peace, then he should be prosecuted. At court, before sentencing, he can reiterate his belief in his principles, and be justly punished for sticking to them

    May 28, 2009 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  19. Doreen Augusta Maine

    I am sorry, but I am not really interested in Bush's opinions. He was an awful President. I don't dislike him, but I was so very glad to see him leave.

    May 28, 2009 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  20. Democrat

    I'm about as left winged as they come, and I admit that Bush is an honorable man when out of office. He took a much higher road than Cheney after he left office, and I'm sure in my childrens' and grandchlildrens' history books he will be regarded with respect for this.

    May 28, 2009 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  21. Veronica

    As usual, Uncurious George is a day late, and a dollar short.

    May 29, 2009 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  22. Jude McKay

    Well, like the former president said, "I think the verdict is out."

    May 29, 2009 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  23. George Elemeno

    No, George. The first thing you ask is "what is the most effective way of getting information?" The answer would not have been torture. There were better ways.

    Even if the answer had been torture, the response should have been "Americans do not do that. We have higher standards. We stand for bigger and better than that."

    Asking "What is legal?" and "How do we make torture seem legal?" are the ways of smaller men.

    I am sorry you had such a small vision of America, Mr. Bush. Enjoy your retirement.

    May 29, 2009 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  24. Emily

    Wait...Mr. Bush is writing a book? Lol, I won't buy it but I might look around in it for some classic Bush-isms. I'm actually surprised he's not "out there" as much as you'd think a former president should be. Oh well.

    May 29, 2009 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
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