(CNSNews.com) – Critics call it torture, but on Sunday, President George W. Bush said he “firmly” rejects the term. He said the interrogation techniques used on some al Qaeda detainees during his presidency were lawful and “necessary” to get information that ended up saving American lives.
“One such person who gave us information was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed” -- the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush told “Fox News Sunday.”
Vice President Dick Cheney recently admitted that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was one of three individuals subjected to waterboarding.
According to Bush, when he learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had been captured and might be withholding important information, he asked what tools were legally available to get the information out of Mohammed. He said his administration requested and received legal opinions before any decision was made.
“And I think when people study the history of this particular episode, they'll find out...we gained good information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in order to protect our country. We believe that the information we gained helped save lives on American soil,” Bush told Fox New’s Brit Hume.
Although Bush did not use the word “waterboarding,” Vice President Dick Cheney recently told ABC News that the waterboarding of terrorist suspects was appropriate and helped to “disrupt all further attempts to strike the homeland.” In the same interview, Cheney also said the U.S. does not torture suspects.
On Sunday, President Bush told Fox News’s Brit Hume that his presidency was defined by the 9/11 attacks – and that he “used the powers inherent in the Constitution” to defend the country.
“I have at times used those powers in ways that people had not anticipated -- for example, the idea of, within the law, being able to have our folks question known killers about their intention.”
Bush rejected the word ‘torture.” He said everything this administration did had a “legal basis to it. Otherwise, we would not have done it.”
Asked if he was worried if the next administration will “erode” the tools used by the Bush administration, Bush said he hopes not.
He said the next administration should “take a hard look at the realities of the world and the tools now in place to protect the United States from further attack. I would hope they would take a sober assessment, and I believe they will.”
He said he is “confident” that President-elect Barack Obama “understand the nature of the world and understands the need to protect America.”
Bush said his administration did a good job of “connecting the dots and linking pieces of information to better protect the country, with the civil liberties of our citizens in mind.”
“Look, I understand why people can get carried away on this issue. But generally, they don't know the facts,” Bush said. “And all I can tell the American people is we better have tools in place that are legal and that can help us protect the American people from an enemy that still exists.”
Bush said he is concerned that in the future, America may at some point let down its guard. “And if we ever do that, the country will become highly vulnerable,” he warned.
He said he “can’t imagine what it would be like to be president without these tools available and we captured a known killer who might have information about the next attack on America.”
Leaving the White House
On other topics, Bush told Brit Hume he has “mixed emotions” about leaving the White House: “I'm going to miss being the commander in chief of the military,” he said. He said he has “great respect” for men and women in uniform.
“I’ve called upon them to do hard tasks. I have met with the families of the fallen. I have been to Walter Reed to see the wounded. And I have been incredibly inspired by their courage, their bravery, their sacrifice.”
Bush said he is proud of his administration’s accomplishments. “I know I gave it my all for eight years, and I did not sell my soul for the sake of popularity. And so when I get back home and look in the mirror, I will be proud of what I see.”
As for his recent luncheon with President-elect Barack Obama, President Bush said he likes Obama, whom he described as a “charismatic person” who has “a lot going for him.” Bush said he’s impressed with Obama making his family a priority.
In response to a question about where the Republican Party goes from here, Bush admitted his party “got whipped in 2008.” He said new leaders are needed.
“I can remember the '64 elections, the Goldwater -- the Johnson landslide against Barry Goldwater, and you know, we were -- everybody said the party was wiped out. And then a whole new wave of Republicans ran, including George H.W. Bush, who got elected to the United States Congress from the 7th Congressional District.”
The same thing will happen in the future, Bush predicted. “But it's very important for our party not to narrow its focus, not to become so inward looking that we drive people away from a philosophy that is compassionate and decent.”
Bush urged Republicans to be more “open minded.” “We shouldn't have litmus tests as to whether or not you can be a Republican,” he said.
“And we should be open-minded about big issues like immigration reform, because if we're viewed as anti-somebody -- in other words, if the party is viewed as anti-immigrant -- then another fellow may say, ‘Well, if they're against the immigrant, they may be against me.’ We've got to be a party for a better future...and for hope.”
Bush said the party’s philosophy shouldn’t change, although maybe it’s messengers should. “We need a new group of leaders,” he said, mentioning his own brother as one of those emerging leaders.
Bush said he’ll be “fairly footloose for a while” when he leaves office. He joked that his wife Laura will find tasks to keep him busy.
“But I imagine I'll spend a fair amount of time in Dallas working on the policy center that will be associated with a library on the SMU campus, and I'm excited about that, because I do want to continue to promote not a political party, not my personality or my record, but a set of values that I think are very important for the country.”
He also said he plans to write a book: “You know, I'm not quite exactly sure what it's going to be, but I'm toying with the idea of maybe describing the toughest decisions I had to make as president...”