26 November 2010

Excerpts from President Bush's memoir, "Decision Points"


On hiding his DUI record:
Politically, it would not have been a problem to reveal the DUI that day. The next election was two years away, and I had quit drinking. I decided not to raise the DUI for one reason: my girls. Barbara and Jenna would start driving soon. I worried that disclosing my DUI would undermine the stern lectures I had been giving them about drinking and driving. I didn’t want them to say, “Daddy did it and he turned out okay, so we can, too.”

On "winning" the 2000 election:
Shortly thereafter, Jim Baker called to ask if I wanted to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He and Ted Olson, an outstanding lawyer Jim had recruited, felt we had a strong case. They explained that appealing the decision was a risky move. The U.S. Supreme Court might not agree to hear the case, or they could rule against us. I told Jim to make the appeal. I was prepared to accept my fate. The country needed closure, one way or
the other.
On December 12, thirty-five days after the election, Laura and I were lying in bed when Karl called and insisted that we turn on the TV. I listened intently as Pete Williams of NBC News deciphered the Supreme Court’s verdict. By a vote of 7–2, the justices found that Florida’s chaotic, inconsistent recount procedure had violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Then, by a vote of 5–4, the Court ruled that there was no fair way to recount the votes in time for Florida to participate in the Electoral College. The election results would stand. By a tally of 2,912,790 to 2,912,253, I had won Florida. I would be the forty-third president of the United States.
My first response was relief. The uncertainty had inflicted a heavy toll on the country. After all the ups and downs, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to rejoice. I had hoped to share my victory with twenty thousand people at the state capitol on election night. Instead, I probably became the first person to learn he had won the presidency while lying in bed with his wife watching TV.

On Harriet Miers:
Two other messages came from our consultations on Capitol Hill. The first was that I should think about picking a lawyer from outside the bench. The second was that I seriously consider my White House counsel, Harriet Miers. Several senators had been very impressed by Harriet as she shepherded John Roberts through his interviews on Capitol Hill. I liked the idea of nominating Harriet. She had been a legal pioneer in Texas—the first woman president of a major Texas law firm, the Dallas Bar Association, and the State Bar of Texas. She had been elected to the Dallas City Council, directed the Texas Lottery Commission, and served nearly five years in top White House positions. There was no doubt in my mind that she shared my judicial philosophy and that her outlook would not change. She would make an outstanding justice.
I asked Harriet if she had any interest in the job. She was surprised —more like shocked—but she said she would serve if I asked. I raised the deal with other members of the search group. Harriet’s colleagues loved and respected her, and some thought she would be a good choice. Others argued that it was too risky to pick someone with no established record on
he bench, or that we would be accused of cronyism. Several told me bluntly that she was not the right choice. None told me to expect the firestorm of criticism we received from our supporters.
The decision came down to Harriet and Priscilla Owen. I decided to go with Harriet. I knew her better. I thought she had a better chance to be confirmed. And she would bring a unique perspective to the Court as someone outside the judicial fraternity. Initially, a number of senators and judges praised the selection. Their voices, however, were quickly drowned out. On the right, initial whispers of disbelief turned to howls of incredulity.
How could I name someone with so little experience? How could they trust the judicial philosophy of someone they didn’t know?
It seemed to me that there was another argument against Harriet, one that went largely unspoken: How could I name someone who did not run in elite legal circles? Harriet had not gone to an Ivy League law school. Her personal style compounded the doubts. She is not glib. She is not fancy. She thinks hard before she speaks—a trait so rare in Washington that it was mistaken for intellectual slowness. As one conservative critic condescendingly put it, “However nice, helpful, prompt, and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn’t qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on The West Wing, let alone to be a real one.”
All of these criticisms came from so-called friends. When the left started criticizing Harriet, too, I knew the nomination was doomed. After three terrible weeks, I got a call in my office in the Treaty Room, where I was working late in the evening. The White House operator told me Harriet was on the phone. In a steady, composed voice, she informed me that she thought it best that she withdraw from consideration for the Supreme Court. As much as it pained me, I agreed.

On 9/11:
I was stunned. That plane must have had the worst pilot in the world. How could he possibly have flown into a skyscraper on a clear day? Maybe he’d had a heart attack. I told Condi to stay on top of the situation and asked my communications director, Dan Bartlett, to work on a statement promising the full support of federal emergency management services.
I greeted Booker’s principal, a friendly woman named Gwen Rigell. She introduced me to the teacher, Sandra Kay Daniels, and her roomful of second-graders. Mrs. Daniels led the class through a reading drill. After a few minutes, she told the students to pick up their lesson books. I sensed a presence behind me. Andy Card pressed his head next to mine and whispered in my ear.
“A second plane hit the second tower,” he said, pronouncing each word deliberately in his Massachusetts accent. “America is under attack.”
My first reaction was outrage. Someone had dared attack America. They were going to pay. Then I looked at the faces of the children in front of me.
I thought about the contrast between the brutality of the attackers and the innocence of those children. Millions like them would soon be counting on me to protect them. I was determined not to let them down. I saw reporters at the back of the room, learning the news on their cell phones and pagers. Instinct kicked in. I knew my reaction would be recorded and beamed throughout the world. The nation would be in shock; the president could not be. If I stormed out hastily, it would scare the children and send ripples of panic throughout the country.
The reading lesson continued, but my mind raced far from the classroom. Who could have done this? How bad was the damage? What did the government need to do?
Press Secretary Ari Fleischer positioned himself between the reporters and me. He held up a sign that read “Don’t say anything yet.” I didn’t plan to. I had settled on a plan of action: When the lesson ended, I would leave the classroom calmly, gather the facts, and speak to the nation.

On waterboarding:
Then Zubaydah stopped answering questions. George Tenet told me interrogators believed Zubaydah had more information to reveal. If he was hiding something more, what could it be? Zubaydah was our best lead to avoid another catastrophic attack. “We need to find out what he knows,” I directed the team. “What are our options?”
One option was for the CIA to take over Zubaydah’s questioning and move him to a secure location in another country where the Agency could have total control over his environment. CIA experts drew up a list of interrogation techniques that differed from those Zubaydah had successfully resisted. George assured me all interrogations would be performed by experienced intelligence professionals who had undergone
extensive training. Medical personnel would be on-site to guarantee that the detainee was not physically or mentally harmed.
At my direction, Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal review. They concluded that the enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution and all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.
I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did no lasting harm.
I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public. When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised our moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real. Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked. In the wake of 9/11, that was a risk I was unwilling to take. My most solemn responsibility as president was to protect the country. I approved the use of the interrogation techniques.
The new techniques proved highly effective. Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al Qaeda’s structure and operations. He also provided leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani police picked him up on the first anniversary of 9/11.
Zubaydah later explained to interrogators why he started answering questions again. His understanding of Islam was that he had to resist interrogation only up to a certain point. Waterboarding was the technique that allowed him to reach that threshold, fulfill his religious duty, and then cooperate. “You must do this for all the brothers,” he said.

On the Plame scandal:
Then it came out that Wilson’s wife’s position was classified. Critics alleged that someone in my administration had committed a crime by intentionally leaking the identity of a CIA operative. The Justice Department named a special prosecutor to investigate.
I was inherently skeptical of special prosecutors. I remembered how Lawrence Walsh had politicized his investigation of Iran-Contra during the 1992 campaign. But an intelligence leak was a serious matter, and I directed my staff to cooperate fully. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald interviewed most of the team, including me. Early in the process, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage informed Fitzgerald that he had provided Novak with the information about Plame. Nevertheless, the special prosecutor continued to investigate.
Over the course of more than two years, Fitzgerald brought numerous administration officials before a grand jury, including Dick’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby. After two appearances by Scooter, Fitzgerald produced an indictment for perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.
Scooter went to trial and was convicted. In June 2007 he was sentenced to thirty months in prison.
I faced an agonizing decision. I could let Scooter go to jail. I could use my power under the Constitution to grant him a pardon. Or I could commute his sentence, meaning his conviction would stand but his prison sentence would not. Some in the White House, led by the vice president, pushed aggressively for a pardon. Their argument was that the investigation should never have proceeded after Fitzgerald had identified Novak’s source. On the other hand, most advisers believed that the jury verdict was correct and should remain in place.
I decided it would send a bad message to pardon a former staff member convicted of obstructing justice, especially after I had instructed the staff to cooperate with the investigation. But the punishment Scooter had received did not fit the crime. The protracted investigation and trial had already caused personal, professional, and financial damage for Scooter and his family. In early July 2007, I announced my decision: “I respect the jury’s
verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.”

On WMDs:
If Saddam continued his pattern of deception, the only way to keep the pressure on Iraq would be to present some of the evidence ourselves. I asked George Tenet and his capable deputy, John McLaughlin, to brief me on what intelligence we could declassify to explain Iraq’s WMD programs.
A few days before Christmas, John walked me through their first effort. It was not very convincing. I thought back to CIA briefings I had received, the NIE that concluded Saddam had biological and chemical weapons, and the data the CIA had provided for my UN speech in September. “Surely we can do a better job of explaining the evidence against Saddam,” I said.
George Tenet agreed.
“It’s a slam dunk,” he said.
I believed him. I had been receiving intelligence briefings on Iraq for nearly two years. The conclusion that Saddam had WMD was nearly a universal consensus. My predecessor believed it. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill believed it. Intelligence agencies in Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, China, and Egypt believed it. As the German ambassador to the United States, not a supporter of war, later put it, “I think all of our governments believe that Iraq has produced weapons of mass destruction and that we have to assume that they still have … weapons of mass destruction.” If anything, we worried that the CIA was underestimating Saddam, as it had before the Gulf War.
In retrospect, of course, we all should have pushed harder on the intelligence and revisited our assumptions. But at the time, the evidence and the logic pointed in the other direction. If Saddam doesn’t actually have WMD, I asked myself, why on earth would he subject himself to a war he will almost certainly lose?

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