By Olivia Smith
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Ex-president George W. Bush insists he's still right on the use of harsh interrogation tactics, critics be damned.
Even though President Barack Obama condemned the practice and has ordered an end to it, Bush insisted "I made the decision, within the law, to get information so I can say to myself, 'I've done what it takes to do my duty to protect the American people.' I can tell you that the information we got saved lives."
Bush'[s comments came in a speech before his largest post-presidency audience to date, in front of an audience of 2,500 at the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan.
He called the controversial methods legal and effective.
"The first thing you do is ask what's legal?" Bush said, describing his line of thought after alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in 2003, as quoted on CNN.com. "What do the lawyers say is possible?"
The terrorist, who told the Pentagon he was responsible for the September 11, 2001 terror attacks "from A to Z," as quoted on the BBC News Web site, was waterboarded 183 times, according to reports.
Bush went out of his way to downplay the partisan nature of the debate over torture tactics, saying his remarks were not intended as a criticism of President Obama, or Obama's decision to stop using the measures.
"Nothing I am saying is meant to criticize my successor," Bush said.
The former president, who in a last minute change of format responded to questions directly from the audience, also touched on what he misses most about his old job, and defended his administration over the economic crisis.
Flying on Air Force One, eating meals prepared by the White House kitchen staff and drawing inspiration from his encounters with U.S. military personnel were among things he misses about White House life.
The often-tearful meetings he had with relatives of fallen soldiers were "in some ways... very hard and in some ways, it was very uplifting."
Bush, the nation's 43rd president, spoke to 2,500 people about "the fog of war" that followed the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the economic downturn and his return to life as a regular citizen.
He blamed "a lack of responsible regulation" in the lending industry for the recession and said that the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae, and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., or Freddie Mac, shouldn't have engaged in certain financial practices.
"I don't want to sound like a self-serving guy, but we did try to rein them in," Bush said.
The audience, which gave Bush a warm welcome at his arrival, cheered when he said he wanted to be remembered as a president who "showed up in office with a set of principles and he was unwilling to sacrifice his soul for the sake of popularity."