Protesters called for George W. Bush to be arrested for his role in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as he opened his presidential library in Dallas. Demonstrators staked hundreds of white crosses into the ground to represent troops killed in both wars and carried banners saying ‘torture is illegal’ and ‘arrest Bush’.
It comes after controversial remarks made by Mr Bush in his memoirs Decision Points that water-boarding saved lives in Britain by preventing attacks on Heathrow and Canary Wharf.
Mr Bush was joined by his wife Laura, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and former vice president Dick Cheney during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new library and policy institute at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
Due to be opened in February 2013, the policy institute is already working and will focus on education reform, global health, human freedom and economic growth.
‘It is hard to believe there is this much excitement about shoveling dirt,’ Mr Bush quipped. ‘Today’s groundbreaking marks the beginning of a journey. We take the first step toward the construction of the presidential center, which will be a dynamic hub of ideas and actions, based upon timeless principles.
Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe was also present during the ceremony, along with former White House press secretary Ari Fleisher, former chief of staff Josh Bolten and former commerce secretary Don Evans.
Acknowledging a group of soldiers from Fort Hood in the crowd, Mr Bush told them: ‘I really don’t miss Washington, but I do miss being your commander in chief.’
Jake Torres, SMU’s student body president, told the crowd that Bush had occasionally visited classes during the past two years and said: ‘It was a great day for SMU when we were chosen.’
Former Vice President Dick Cheney used a cane and was markedly thinner since his heart surgery over the summer
After Mr Bush took the podium, he told Torres: ‘Mr. President, a word of advice: It’s not too early to start thinking about your memoirs.’
The former Texas governor’s memoirs will be reflected in part of the library’s permanent exhibit, a ‘decision theater’ where visitors can hear a set of facts, then try to decide what they would have done.
The permanent exhibit also focuses on themes of freedom, opportunity, compassion and responsibility.
An exhibit running until February 6 next year at the university’s Meadow’s Museum gives the public its first glimpse into Mr Bush’s archives, including the bullhorn he used when he visited Ground Zero in lower Manhattan days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In his speech, Mr Cheney – looking much thinner than he days in Washington – referred to the significance of the bullhorn, which Bush used to tell those gathered at Ground Zero: ‘I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.’
‘Far in the future, visitors here will see the bullhorn and when they do, I hope they’ll picture the world as it was that day and realize how it was transformed in the months and years ahead. America went from being on the defense against terrorists to going on the offense against them,’ Cheney said. ‘Because you were determined to throw back the enemy, we did not suffer another 9/11 or something worse,’ he continued.
Mr Cheney, who suffers from congestive heart failure, used a cane to walk but went to the podium without it.
Spokesman Peter Long said later that the former vice president lost weight during his long hospital stay – about a month – and is hoping to keep it off for his health. The cane was for a bad knee from playing high school football that acts up occasionally, Long said.
The protesters, who also held signs including one reading ‘Library or Lie-bury’, included Cindy Sheehan, who became a war critic after her 21-year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004 and who staged a prolonged demonstration in 2005 outside his Crawford ranch.
Mr Bush’s almost 227,000sq ft brick and limestone presidential library will be the third located in Texas.
The library of his father, George H.W. Bush, is located on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station. Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential library is located on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin.
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