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
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 lectern 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 Commissioner's
THE RUSH TO WAR IN IRAQ
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
terrible, horrible, 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
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
AMERICANS SWALLOWED THE LIES, WHOLE
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
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
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) Madame, 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.
MEETING REALITY ON THE GROUND
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, preferring to stick to your fantasy
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
WHO NEEDS PLANNING FOR A CAKEWALK?
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
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
We did manage to secure the Oil Ministry 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
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.
TORTURING PRISONERS & "GHOSTS"
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
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 politicians, 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?
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
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
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND
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--
(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.