FORMER AMERICAN PRESIDENT George W Bush has defended some the most controversial policies from his time in office – including the use of ‘waterboarding’ to interrogate terror suspects and the invasion of Iraq – in his first major interview since leaving the presidential post.
Speaking to NBC ahead of the release of his memoir Decision Points, Bush said that waterboarding was legal and that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. Bush told interviewer Matt Lauer that history would judge him a success, but added: “I’m gonna be dead when they finally figure it out”.
Bush said that he had consulted with his legal adviser about the use of interrogation methods for terror suspects, and that he had been told that waterboarding was lawful:
He said it did not fall within the anti-torture act. I’m not a lawyer. But you’ve got to trust the judgement of people around you, and I do.
‘Waterboarding’ involves immobilising a detainee with straps or restraints, placing a cloth or sack over the head, and pouring water over the face to block breathing and simulate drowning. According to Human Rights Watch, waterboarding causes “severe physical suffering… distress, terror of imminent death… prolonged mental harm and, if uninterrupted, death by suffocation”. It was routinely used in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Bush said that he felt assured the technique was not torture: “No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm,” he wrote in his memoir. He also defended the use of waterboarding on moral grounds, saying:
I will tell you this: using those techniques saved lives. My job was to protect America. And I did.
The invasion of Iraq
Bush discusses the “sickening feeling” that he gets each time he thinks about the failure of US forces to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq – however he stands by the action: “I don’t believe it was the wrong decision,” he said.
His book also reveals that he considered invading Iran and Syria during his tenure.
Bush said he recognised the mistakes he had made, and called the economic situation passed on to his successor “one ugly way to end a presidency”. However he said that he would choose to bail out the banks again, given the decision, as it “sent an unmistakable signal that we would not let the American financial system fail”.