George Bush returned to the public eye with a bang last night, using his newly published memoirs to claim that information the US gained by “waterboarding” terror suspects helped to foil at least two attacks on London.
The practice, which simulates drowning and is widely considered to be an act of torture, helped prevent planned bombings of both Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf, he said.
“Three people were waterboarded and I believe that decision saved lives,” he wrote. “Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf, and multiple targets in the United States.”
Mr Bush provided no further details of the alleged intended attacks, and it was not clear whether their supposed ringleaders were ever brought to justice. Neither did he address the fact that waterboarding did nothing to prevent the bombings in London on 7 July 2005.
Almost two years since he left the White House as one of the least-loved presidents of modern times, the book he is promoting promises to be |America’s publishing event of 2010. In an interview to publicise the memoir, Decision Points, Mr Bush reasserted his belief that waterboarding did not amount to torture. Asked if it was ever used on the captured al-Qa’ida leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he told The Times: “Damn right!”
Elsewhere in the 497-page book, the ex-president reveals that he once told the Pentagon to draw up plans for attacks on Iran and Syria but eventually decided against starting the third and fourth wars of his presidency.
He described Tony Blair as his greatest foreign ally, recalling how, when Mr Blair faced a possible no-|confidence vote in Parliament on the eve of the Iraq war, he offered him the chance to opt out of sending British troops. He said Mr Blair replied: “I’m in. If it costs the government, fine.”
The interview, on NBC, also saw Mr Bush shed light on his childhood, revealing that his career-long opposition to abortion was cemented when his mother, Barbara, showed him a dead foetus in a jar, saying it was the result of her having suffered a miscarriage.
“There’s no question that affected me, [giving me] a philosophy that we should respect life,” he recalled of the incident, which happened when he was a teenager. “I never expected to see the remains of the foetus, which she had saved in a jar to bring to the hospital. There was a human life, a little brother or sister.”
Late last night, Mr Bush was due to appear in a Fox News interview expressing his view that his brother, Jeb, should stand for the Republican presidential nomination next year. This morning, he will kick off a nationwide tour by signing copies of his book at a shopping mall near his home in Dallas, before appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show this afternoon.
The man who emerges in Decision Points is familiar: a leader who prides himself on making judgements by gut instinct rather than after a lengthy perusal of the facts. “Dubya” comes across as one of the boys, incurious and defiantly anti-intellectual. “This is going to come as quite a shock to people… that I can write a book, much less read one,” he told friends a few months ago, in one of those garbled sentences known as Bushisms. In fact, he did not exactly write it; that task fell to Christopher Michel, 28, a former speechwriter, known to Mr Bush as “Junior Bird Man”.
Decision Points is structured around a dozen key moments, starting when he gave up alcohol at the age of 40, continuing through his decision to seek the presidency, the 9/11 attacks and the war to topple Saddam Hussein, in which he admits mistakes but insists the invasion of Iraq was still the right thing to have done. Generally speaking, however, it can be summed up in two words: no regrets.