Democratic Underground

Rumsfeld Gets Grilled at Truth & Reconciliation Hearing

March 29, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

It 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?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Bishop Tutu: We await your full and honest reply to the Commissioner's question.

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.

(long pause)

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 us.

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 home free.

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.

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 American troops?

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 been affected.

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.

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