On December 14, 2004, President Bush awarded George Tenet — along with Paul Bremer and Tommy Franks — the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In his remarks, Bush said of these individuals:
Today this honor goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events, and whose efforts have made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty.
A group of former CIA intelligence officials recently wrote a letter to Tenet, saying, “The reality of Iraq, however, has not made our nation more secure nor has the cause of human liberty been advanced. In fact, your tenure as head of the CIA has helped create a world that is more dangerous.” The officials then called on Tenet to give back his medal. “We believe you have a moral obligation to return the Medal of Freedom you received from President George Bush,” they wrote.
Last night on Larry King Live, Tenet obstinately rejected the call to return the medal:
I would never give thought to giving back the Medal of Freedom. … I accepted the award on their behalf [the men and women of the CIA] and I will never give that medal back.
Tenet also said of President Bush, “I like the president. I respect the president. … He’s the commander-in-chief. He’s never shied away from — from responsibility.” Noting that his book does not criticize Bush, Tenet explained, “It’s not my intention to hurt people. … It’s not my intention to point fingers at people. I’m trying to tell a story.”
KING: There are some saying would you give thought to giving back the Medal of Freedom?
TENET: No, I would never give thought to giving back the Medal of Freedom because it was — it was an honor bestowed because of the work of the men and women of CIA in Afghanistan and our work against terrorism. And I believe that that work — I accepted the award on their behalf and I will never give that medal back.
KING: Do you think President Bush will be hurt by this book?
KING: I know you praise him in the book…
TENET: I don’t…
KING: … but do you think he…
TENET: I don’t think so. Larry, look, I like the president. I respect the president. He — I was responsible for what I, you know, the intelligence community. He’s the commander-in-chief. He’s never shied away from — from responsibility.
It’s not my intention to hurt people. It’s not my intention to point fingers at people. I’m trying to tell a story.