Rumsfeld Gets Grilled at Truth & Reconciliation
March 29, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The
was several years after the Bush Administration had left office,
in what has been called the period of "Restoration of Constitutional
rule." Criminal indictments were about to be unsealed, naming the
architects of the former regime's foreign wars/torture policy and
martial law-type domestic rule. Those individuals had one chance
to escape likely incarceration: appearances before the recently-instituted
Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Here is a partial transcript
from Donald Rumsfeld's testimony:
Bishop Tutu: Mr. Rumsfeld, welcome. The President and Congress
have designated me chairman of America's Truth & Reconciliation
Commission, based on my experience in my native South Africa after
the apartheid regime fell. I briefly will run over the protocols
of such hearings, as I will do later for George W. Bush, Richard
Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard
Perle, John Ashcroft, Douglas Feith and the many others who have
applied for amnesty.
Our mandate is to get the truth on the record of what happened,
and to assist those guilty of crimes and those victimized by them
to face that truth squarely, and deal with the ramifications in
a civilized manner where the entire society benefits.
You will be asked questions by the Commissioners. The only way
to obtain amnesty - and thus avoid the criminal proceedings being
prepared against you - is to tell the truth, the whole truth, about
the matters being explored here. In your case, Mr. Rumsfeld, we
are talking about the crimes you committed during your tenure as
Secretary of Defense.
Be under no illusions: if during or at the end of your testimony,
we on the Commission determine that you have not been fully forthcoming
and/or have diverted from the truth, your request for amnesty will
be denied. If you understand, and agree to swear the oath before
you, please stand and raise your right hand.
Rumsfeld: Yes, I agree to tell the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
Commissioner #1: Mr. Rumsfeld, no official in the Bush
Administration, including yourself, ever admitted to any specific
mistakes in unleashing the Iraq war, or in the way that invasion
and the ensuing occupation of that country were carried out. Here
is your opportunity to unburden yourself of the mistakes and moral
lapses you committed. Please proceed.
Rumsfeld: In thinking back to the planning stages of the
war, I must admit that I too readily accepted the wildly optimistic
views of the neo-con theorists who were advocating for -
Bishop Tutu: I will interrupt here to warn you, Mr. Rumsfeld.
You were a founding member of The Project for The New American Century,
a neo-conservative think tank that advocated early and often for
attacking Iraq years before the actual invasion, so you were a key
member of that group of "wildly optimistic neo-con theorists."
Trying to distance yourself from your culpability, and pass it
to others, will not work here, sir. You are not testifying in front
of Republicans on Capitol Hill; nor are you at a lecturn at a news
conference filled with complacent American reporters. You are before
the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, where lies and obfuscation
are not acceptable.
If you attempt again to deceive or escape responsibility for your
actions, your hearing will be ended and your application for amnesty
will be summarily denied. I will not warn you again. Is that clear?
Bishop Tutu: We await your full and honest reply to the
Rumsfeld: It is very difficult for me - and I daresay for
most of us in this line of work - to stick to the truth. In order
to protect state secrets, to defend the nation's security, and be
loyal to the President who appointed us, we often wind up telling
half-truths or outright falsehoods, to the point that such behavior
in public becomes a habit, a bad habit. But I will follow your admonitions,
and tell all that I know as truthfully as I can.
I know the disaster that the Iraq War turned into, and the terrible
things that occurred during our occupation of that country were
byproducts that flowed from our original decision to go to war.
We acted as we did partly due to bad intelligence, partly to bad
planning, but mostly from the absolute haste to get our boots on
the ground before the United Nations could possibly vote to stop
I assure you that we did not contemplate and plan a war against
Iraq only for the illegitimate reasons that we'll be examining here.
We also truly believed that we were acting in the best interests
of the United States in overthrowing the Iraqi regime.
We planned on using the takeover in Iraq, and the engineering
of a democratically-elected government there - one amenable to our
influence, naturally - as a lever in altering the entire Middle
East. The Islamic countries, which controlled the huge petroleum
and gas fields, could not be relied upon to keep those natural resources
flowing to us and our allies. The world would soon be running out
of tappable energy sources, and those Middle Eastern regimes could
turn on us at any time.
Not only was there corruption on massive scales in many of those
autocratically-ruled nations, but fundamentalist Islamic forces
were gaining strength against these regimes; we couldn't risk these
countries falling to Al Qaeda-like forces violently opposed to our
existence. This was our thinking before 9/11; afterwards, it was
intensified a hundred fold.
Commissioner #2: We notice that in all you have said, you
nowhere mentioned the reasons your administration used in public
to justify the American invasion to the citizenry, the Congress,
and the United Nations. We're referring to the supposed nuclear
program and stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that,
it was claimed, Saddam Hussein was going to use against his neighbors,
the invading troops, and even the mainland of the United States.
Nor have you mentioned the constant assertion and suggestions that
Saddam was linked to the 9/11 terror attacks. Did you really believe
what you and your cohorts were selling to others?
Rumsfeld: I did not, nor did many others of us. Though
I must say that our zealotry blinded our judgment as we listened
to all the rosy pictures painted by the Iraqi exiles. No, as Deputy
Defense Secretary Wolfowitz has suggested, we figured that we'd
have trouble getting our war plan through Congress if we told the
truth, so we agreed on the WMD issue as most likely to garner support
from the American people. Plus, given the emotional resonance of
the 9/11 attacks, we figured if we could suggest Saddam's connection
to that day of terrorism, we'd have another powerful argument on
our side. The American people swallowed our bait whole, and we were
Commissioner #3: In other words, you and Bush and Cheney
and Rice and the others felt that if you lied to and frightened
the citizens - telling them, as you did, that nuclear weapons might
be exploded inside the United States, and that drone Iraqi airplanes
could deliver toxic agents over the East Coast - you would gain
popular support for launching the war?
Rumsfeld: Yes. We believed in the righteousness of our
cause - that we would completely reshape the geopolitics of the
Greater Middle East, thus bringing peace and stability and economic
vitality to that downtrodden, constantly-explosive region, and,
not incidentally, benefit our corporate friends and supporters.
To get to that place, we were willing to do whatever needed to be
done to get the war started.
For example, since the CIA and other intelligence agencies were
not able, or willing, to provide us the sure-fire intelligence that
would justify our attack - they had so many caveats and qualifications
in their reports, even after Vice President Cheney visited them
many times to try to massage the text - I set up my own little intelligence
unit in the Pentagon, the Office of Special Plans, hired some neo-con
appointees I knew I could count on, and they came up with a report
that Rove and Cheney and Bush could use. That report bypassed all
the professional intelligence agencies and went directly to the
White House, meaning it was full speed ahead.
So, to answer your question directly, yes, we lied and concealed
our true motives. I am terribly sorry for my participation in that
grand deception, regardless of the motives that -
Woman in Audience: (standing, loudly) Your lies
got our son Gary killed! He was sent three times from the National
Guard to Iraq and was blown up there! You should be ashamed of yourself,
of your crimes! Tens of thousands died for your imperial ideas!
You have blood on your hands, and on your soul, you -
Bishop Tutu: (banging gavel) Madam, we realize the
high emotions in this room, and we all feel for your loss. But this
is neither the time nor the place for you to express yourself this
way. We have hearing-sessions devoted to the victims and their surviving
family members. In order for the Truth & Reconciliation process
to work, those testifying need to feel free to speak openly and
frankly and not worry about being assaulted in any way. So please
take your seat, and we will continue. Thank you. Please go on, Mr.
Rumsfeld: I want to tell that mother that I did feel the
loss of every American soldier, but that would be only a partial
truth. In my mind at the time, losses were anticipated as we moved
forward on our important work in altering the power alignments of
that region and controlling the energy sources. So, in truth, I
didn't spend a lot of time mourning over the soldiers in our volunteer
military force; they knew what they had signed up for. Well, maybe
not the National Guard and Reserves - we had to employ them more
than we originally had anticipated, because our forces were stretched
so thin in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
Commissioner #1: Wasn't that the case, Mr. Rumsfeld, because
you were ideologically committed to the small-army idea and figured
that a restricted force could get the job done because any enemy
would be so frightened by America's horrific "shock & awe" attack
system that they wouldn't even engage the American military? Would
it be fair to say that the Bush Administration, and you're a good
example, refused to recognize reality staring you in the face, prefering
to stick to your fantasy scenarios?
Rumsfeld: Yes. I made a mistake in not re-thinking our
small, mobile-army philosophy when confronted by nationalist insurgent
forces, and by those with no fear of death, the so-called suicide
bombers. I was too stubborn. By the time I was willing to admit
that we needed more troops, and we brought them in from the Reserves
and Guards in the States, it was too late. We had lost the fear-factor
you mention and thus the ability to control the situation.
We kept hoping that the Iraqi troops and police we were training
would be ready soon to take over many of our responsibilities, so
we could move our forces into the background; we figured the American
public could handle Iraqis dying easier than the huge numbers of
U.S. troops we were racking up by doing everything ourselves. But
the Iraqi trainees often deserted, were riddled with insurgent agents,
and weren't all that proficient at fighting anyway. So our troops
had to remain out there in high profile - charged with nation-building
at the same time as they were fighting the "bad guys" - and many
of our young men and women were equipped with improper weapons and
insufficient armoring. My poor management again.
Commissioner #2: The clear picture I get from all that
you've said here is that the advance planning for this invasion
and occupation was hastily and shoddily arranged, and led to the
deaths of a staggering number of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians
who should have been, and could have been, alive today were it not
for Administration bumbling and incompetency.
Rumsfeld: Yes. As much as I have publicly denied this conclusion
in the past, I must admit here that what you say is true.
Commissioner #3: Moving on to the post-"Mission Accomplished"
phase, would you explain why in the days following the collapse
of the Iraqi regime, looters and saboteurs were permitted to roam
free, harvesting armaments from the unguarded ammo dumps that later
would be used to make roadside and suicide bombs with which to kill
Rumsfeld: Right. Without the necessary pre-planning, for
a long time we were basically winging it, one day at a time. Since
we didn't expect a local insurgency, we had the wrong troops in
there, with the wrong skills, who were not properly armored or equipped
to fight a guerrilla war.
We did manage to secure the Oil Ministery and the oil refineries,
at least for a while, but the rest of the country went essentially
unguarded. Some of our Pentagon analysts simply didn't anticipate
what was going to happen and were appalled at the mass looting and
sabotage; they argued that we should have had more troops, especially
military police, on the ground immediately after Baghdad fell. Other
Pentagon theorists thought it would be good for Iraq to descend
into lawlessness so that the citizenry would have to rely on U.S.
forces to keep total anarchy at bay - and provide us a good justification
for building our hardened military bases around the country.
Commissioner #1: Assuming for the moment that the trust
in the U.S. military was warranted in those early days, it certainly
took a great hit after the photos of torture, humiliation and brutality
at Abu Ghraib made their way into the public media.
Rumsfeld: Your assumption is incorrect, Commissioner. The
families of those incarcerated at Abu Ghraib and the other U.S.
military jails and prisons knew pretty quickly that their loved
ones were being abused and tortured while in our care. What we were
trying to do was to keep the knowledge of the torture scandal away
from the American public; we didn't want to have Congress delve
too deeply into that can of worms - the election results might have
When the photos and videos made their way into the mass-media,
we thought we were done for. But, as usual in American politics,
the issue was "hot" for a week or two, and then faded from the public
mind - mainly because our friends in the mass-media chose to lose
interest in the subject.
We did come down pretty hard on the guards who committed some
of the offenses, and spent a good share of our energies making sure
nobody higher up the chain of command, certainly not me, would be
fingered in the unfolding scandal. So the full scale of those offenses,
as you can imagine, came out years later, such as the fact that
more than 100 detainees died while in our hands.
Some of those were what were called "ghost" prisoners - in violation
of military incarceration rules, and international law - that is,
prisoners never identified or officially logged in, while we worked
them over or, if necessary, sent them to other, friendly countries
where they could be tortured and the information they divulged would
then be sent back to us for analysis. We had our own chartered jets
flying these secret prisoners around the world for questioning.
Eventually, of course, that information came out in the open, but
the American people didn't raise a big fuss. Except the Democrat
politicians, of course, but they dropped the ball as well.
I never did quite understand how we in the Administration responsible
for the torture regimen lucked out; the only thing I can figure
is that 9/11 did the trick: the American public turned off their
logic, morality and intellectual curiosity about what really happened;
the masses accepted all our build-the-fear propaganda and were willing
to accept almost anything we did if it "would prevent another 9/11
from happening." So everything we wanted we wrapped in the terms
"national security" and "9/11" - and it worked like a charm. The
Democrat politicans, not wanting to be accused of "not supporting
the troops" or of being "unpatriotic," went silent.
Commissioner #2: At what point were you in on the discussions
inside the White House, Justice Department and the Pentagon trying
to come up with legal justifications for torture, so that you and
the others - you thought - would not be liable for either criminal
prosecution in this country or have to face war-crimes charges in
international courts abroad?
Rumsfeld: I was in the thick of it from the beginning.
You'll remember that we were successful long before the war even
started in making sure that international treaties would not be
used to try American leaders and troops for criminal charges in
international courts, or we simply did not ratify our membership
in those courts. We were thinking ahead.
Our rationalizations were all phony, of course, but we convinced
ourselves that we now were acting under the cover of law, and so
all of us just kept signing the orders, or issuing them verbally
when extra "sensitivity" was called for.
I deeply regret that some innocent Iraqi and Afghan citizens,
who simply got swept up in our dragnets, were tortured, and a few
even killed, in our custody. I believed at the time that the information
we likely were getting out of all those detainees could prevent
harm to our troops, and to our citizens at home. I didn't realize
until too late that our harsh incarceration/interrogation practices
resulted in little usable intelligence, and instead provided the
insurgency recruiters with a never-ending flow of volunteers to
fight against America.
Man in Audience: I am an American citizen, born in Baghdad.
Three members of my family - my brother, his wife, and my cousin
- were tortured and sexually abused, including rape, while in American
custody, Mr. Rumsfeld. You and the rest of the Bush officials have
sown the seeds of rebellion in Iraq, and you will reap the whirlwind
worldwide when you wind up in Hell! You -
Bishop Tutu: (banging gavel loudly) I must insist
that these outbursts stop. If they do not, I will be forced to clear
the hearing room of all guests. I don't want to do that, since the
essence of the hearings is for the victims and victimizer to be
in the same room together when the crimes are admitted to.
But perhaps this is as good a time as any for our first break
of the morning. We'll recess for 15 minutes, Mr. Rumsfeld; when
you return, we will go more into the topics you raised and then
move to the reconstruction process in Iraq, the leveling of Fallujah
and other towns, the engineering of elections, the Administration's
behavior during and pre-9/11, and the abuses in the so-called Patriot
Act. We stand in recess.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught politics and international
relations at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The
Crisis Papers Archive