When word came down yesterday that former Defense Secretary and brazen orchestrator of mass death Donald Rumsfeld had shuffled loose the mortal coil at age 88, CNN and the other networks began to do their standard back-and-fill exercises to shore up the fiction while burying the truth after a genuine monster drops dead. “Controversial,” they called Rumsfeld, while showing footage of him scurrying around the wreckage after the Pentagon attack on September 11. “I think that’s what we’ll all remember,” said one talking head of those images.
Not if I have anything to say about it.
See, on the same day he was doing no more or less than what any average citizen would likely do at an emergency scene, Rumsfeld returned to his office and immediately began scheming to use the attacks as a pretense for invading Iraq. “Best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] @ same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden],” read the notes by an aide taken that day. “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
Ten months later and nine months before the war, “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of that invasion, as was explained in the Downing Street Memo, and through the testimony of actual patriots like Air Force Lt. Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who watched Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith and his George W. Bush cronies concoct fraudulent “evidence” for that war in the Office of Special Plans.
The world we live in today was created in fire and blood by Donald Rumsfeld and his think tank pals at the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) — along with all the Republicans and Democrats complicit in empowering their sordid plans. Having been gifted on 9/11 the “new Pearl Harbor” extolled in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” the PNAC plan for military domination of the Middle East, powerful PNAC men like Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney proceeded to throw a generation of Americans and Iraqis into a meat grinder that is still turning out bodies some 18 years later. They did this to win elections, accrue power and the war profits were in the trillions.
Rumsfeld and his people did not operate in a vacuum, of course. To this day, the ranks of congressional Democrats and Republicans still contain those who voted to initiate and fuel this ongoing calamity. One of them — former Sen. Hillary Clinton — lost the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump, in no small part because of her record on Iraq. Another enabler, Joe Biden — who falsely claimed to have opposed the war almost immediately after he voted to approve it — is now president of the United States despite his record on Iraq.
Rumsfeld’s tactic of choice in grasping for war? Fear. “Every day since September of 2002, we heard from Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, Fleischer, Rice, Powell, and several times from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, that Iraq’s weapons program represented an immediate and severe danger to the American people,” I wrote on June 22, 2003. “The shadow of September 11 loomed long and dark over these statements, and the approval ratings for combat indicated that Americans were willing to believe these Bush administration claims rather than accept even the most remote possibility that Iraqi weapons could be used on the home front.”
Plastic sheeting and duct tape, remember? Because Rumsfeld and Co. said Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX gas, mobile biological weapons labs, and uranium from Niger for use in a “robust” nuclear weapons programs, and that Iraq enjoyed connections to al Qaeda that led directly to the attacks of September 11.
“We know where they are,” Rumsfeld said of the fictitious weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on March 30, 2003. “They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” In a 2011 memoir titled Known and Unknown, Rumsfeld expressed regret for claiming to know where the WMD were, but insisted the toppling of Saddam Hussein was worth the price. Of course he did; he didn’t pay it, at all.
A properly detailed obituary of Donald Rumsfeld would run longer than a Gore Vidal novel. For that obit to be complete, it would have to include the mainstreaming of torture by the willing hand of the secretary of defense.
“We are awash in photographs of Iraqi men — not terrorists, just people — lying in heaps on cold floors with leashes around their necks,” I wrote on May 10, 2004. “We are awash in photographs of men chained so remorselessly that their backs are arched in agony, men forced to masturbate for cameras, men forced to pretend to have sex with one another for cameras, men forced to endure attacks from dogs, men with electrodes attached to them as they stand, hooded, in fear of their lives.”
Flash forward to February of 2016, and we had then-presidential candidate Donald Trump proudly declaring, “I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” His crowds went wild every time they heard this. By 2018, Mike Pompeo was promoted to secretary of state, and Gina Haspel took his place as the head of the CIA.
“She was not just another pro-war shouter back in D.C.,” I wrote at the time of her nomination to that post. “Haspel was in it [torture] up to her throat. For a time, she ran one of the “black sites,” this one located in Thailand, and was so proud of her work that she destroyed the tapes of her interrogations. For this, she was neither fired nor prosecuted, and pending confirmation will be in charge of one of the largest intelligence organizations in the world.”
Before Congress, Rumsfeld took full responsibility for the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and other sites. Eventually, he was fired for his gross incompetence, and is now remembered by most as the worst defense secretary in U.S. history. His boss, George W. Bush, spends his days painting portraits of the soldiers he sent to slaughter, while Dick Cheney likely lingers in a hyperbaric chamber somewhere, drinking children’s tears from a crystal goblet. None of them have experienced a nanosecond of consequences for what they did, all of which was done deliberately and with intent.
Aided and abetted by active complicity from both parties, Donald Rumsfeld and his PNAC ilk are in the national bloodstream, poisoning us from the inside out. Although they hardly acted alone, they played key roles in fueling the imperialism and militarism that characterize the United States. Trump was only one element of the consequences their actions brought upon us and the world.
The TV people can call Rumsfeld “controversial” as they please — many of them are complicit in supercharging his lies into the national zeitgeist, so it’s little wonder they’re disinterested in the truth — but all I see is another war criminal who got away with mass murder, torture and grand theft. His war was a smash-and-grab robbery writ large, and we will likely never fully recover from it. Neither will Iraq.
Rest in pieces, Mr. Secretary. May we never see your like again.
The stakes have never been higher (and our need for your support has never been greater).
For over two decades, Truthout’s journalists have worked tirelessly to give our readers the news they need to understand and take action in an increasingly complex world. At a time when we should be reaching even more people, big tech has suppressed independent news in their algorithms and drastically reduced our traffic. Less traffic this year has meant a sharp decline in donations.
The fact that you’re reading this message gives us hope for Truthout’s future and the future of democracy. As we cover the news of today and look to the near and distant future we need your help to keep our journalists writing.
Please do what you can today to help us keep working for the coming months and beyond.