WHEN Oprah Winfrey asked former President George W Bush about Sarah Palin during her TV interview with him on Tuesday, he replied: “I'm not a political pundit. You are asking me to wade back into the swamp.” That reply caught perfectly something that has been apparent in other TV and press interviews he has given to promote his memoirs Decision Points which were published yesterday -- that he is glad to be finished with politics and relieved of its responsibilities. He must be the first ex-president for a long time to convey such a sense of detachment from the consequences of eight years in the White House.

The early reactions to his memoirs have focussed on his remarks about the waterboarding interrogation technique which simulates drowning. He defends his authorisation of its use in interrogation of al-Qaeda and other prisoners by saying that he obtained a legal view that it did not amount to torture. “The lawyer said it was legal...I'm not a lawyer. But you gotta trust the judgement of the people around you and I do.” When asked whether as President he perhaps needed to take a broader view, he has just said, “Read the book.”

Downing Street's quick intervention, to say that it accepts President Obama's view that waterboarding comes under the definition of torture and should not be used however strong the temptation, was timely and welcome.


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