George W Bush: 'waterboarding' terrorists saved lives
George W Bush, the former United States president, has insisted that the "waterboarding" of terrorist suspects by the CIA saved lives by stopping Islamist attacks on Heathrow and Canary Wharf.
In an interview publicising his new book “Decision Points”, Mr Bush vigorously defended waterboarding, a kind of simulated drowning that was known as an “enhanced interrogation technique” by the Bush administration but regarded as “torture” by many opponents, some allies and a few internal dissenters.
“Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives,” said Mr Bush, who denied that the practice amounted to torture. When asked if he authorised of waterboarding to gain information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the captured al-Qaeda leader, he responded: “Damn right!”
In his book, Mr Bush writes: “Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.”
He writes that although the procedure was "tough", it was legal.
The British government has long viewed waterboarding as torture. Last month, Sir John Sawers, the head of MI6, said in a speech that Britain had "nothing whatsoever" to do with torture. Mr Bush was being interviewed by The Times, which is serialising the book. He hailed Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, as a modern-day Winston Churchill but was dismissive of the significance of British public opinion during the run-up to the Iraq war and subsequently.
Mr Bush recalled that when Mr Blair faced a possible Parliamentary vote of no confidence in on the eve of the Iraq invasion he gave him the chance to decide not to send British troops to Iraq because “rather than lose the Government, I would much rather have Tony and his wisdom and his strategic thinking as the prime minister of a strong and important ally”.
According to Mr Bush, Mr Blair responded: “I’m in. If it costs the Government, fine.”
In the book, Mr Bush also:
• Recounts his reaction after a third hijacked plane hit its target, the Pentagon, on September 11th 2001. He writes: “My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass."
• Discloses that he ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
• Describes how he considered a covert attack on Syrian nuclear facilities but decided against it when the CIA judged it too risky. Israel carried out a similar attack instead.
• Acknowledges he took "too long" to act over the Hurricane Katrina disaster that engulfed New Orleans in 2005, killing more than 1,800 people, but describes being accused of racism (many victims were black) as the lowest point of his presidency.