Bush: Waterboarding legal ‘because the lawyer said it was’

By John Byrne
Tuesday, November 9, 2010 10:04 EDT
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Is waterboarding torture, as the UN Convention Against Torture asserts?

Or is it not torture, but just punishable by death? (Sen. John McCain pointed out during his presidential campaign that the US hanged several Japanese men after they were convicted of waterboarding American soldiers during World War II).

Or is it legal, as former President George W. Bush averred in an interview Monday, “because the lawyer said it was?”

Bush made the comment to NBC’s Matt Lauer during an interview about his new book, “Decision Points.”

Waterboarding is legal, Bush said, “because the lawyer said it was. He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I’m not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do.”

Lauer pushed for more of an explanation after Bush’s defense.

“Critics say that you got the Justice Department to give you the legal guidance and the legal memos that you wanted,” Lauer remarked. “Tom Kean, who was a former Republican co-chair of the 9/11 commission, said they got legal opinions they wanted from their own people.”

“He obviously doesn’t know,” Bush responded. “I hope Mr. Kean reads the book. That’s why I’ve written the book. He can, they can draw whatever conclusion they want. But I will tell you this. Using those techniques saved lives. My job is to protect America and I did.”

The British government considers waterboarding to be a form of torture and the former chair of the Commons intelligence and security committee doubts Bush’s claim that the practice saved any lives in the United Kingdom, the Guardian reports.

Also during in the interview, Bush explained that his mother had a miscarriage when he was a teenager and showed him the fetus. (Click for Related story: Bush: Mom gave me permission to talk about seeing her fetus in a jar)

“She says to her teenage kid, ‘Here’s a fetus,’” Bush told Lauer. “There’s no question that it affected me.”

“I never expected to see the remains of the fetus, which she had saved in a jar to bring to the hospital,” Bush wrote in his new memoir. “There was a human life, a little brother or sister.”

Bush’s mother, Barbara, gave him special permission to recount the story in his book, according to the New York Post.

Video of Bush’s exchange with Lauer (his comment about waterboarding) follows below. Video of Bush talking about his mother’s fetus is available here.

The lawyer quip was first caught by the politics site Talking Points Memo.

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