Accuracy in Media

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Interview with Donald Rumsfeld by Roger Aronoff

The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, February 18, 2011.

ARONOFF: Good morning and welcome to “TAKE AIM,” Accuracy in Media’s weekly talk show on Blog Talk Radio. AIM is America’s original media watchdog, and every week we point out biased coverage and bring you the stories the mainstream media ignore. I’m Roger Aronoff the editor of Accuracy in Media. Yes, Secretary Rumsfeld how are you sir, I was just introducing the show, and can you hear me okay?

RUMSFELD: I can hear you just fine.

ARONOFF: Our guest today is former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who’s with us to talk about his book and related matters, the book is called: Known and Unknown: A Memoir. It is available for purchase at and at your local bookstore, and it is currently number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list, and all the proceeds of the book are going to help the troops. We are so pleased to have you on here today, and I wanted to thank you for being here. Let me start out giving you a little bit more of an introduction, a little more of your background. The book is an excellent read. Mr. Rumsfeld was sworn in as the twenty-first Secretary of Defense and also the thirteenth Secretary of Defense, the youngest and the oldest under Presidents George W. Bush, and Gerald Ford. During the Ford administration he also served as White House Chief of Staff, and in 1973 and ‘74 was the U.S. ambassador to NATO. From ’63 to ’69 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, from Illinois. He’s also been a chief executive officer of two Fortune 500 companies and was a U.S. Navy pilot. Again, welcome and thank you for being here!

RUMSFELD: Thank you so much, it is good to be with you.

ARONOFF: I saw your interview with Diane Sawyer, I’ve seen most of the interviews you’ve done and one of the issues that I’m concerned about and think about is when she says you were wrong about WMD.  Well, yes, the CIA definitely was wrong on the specifics, they never found the 600 tons of weaponized sarin, but, there was much that was found — hundreds of tons of precursor chemicals for chemical weapons, ballistic missiles and even, thousands of pounds of low enriched uranium. Wasn’t this enough to sort of acknowledge, or claim that ‘well, we did find WMD when we went into Iraq?’

RUMSFELD: Well you know, there also was of course, a chemical facility up at Khurmal that was in Iraq. It’s not exactly clear what its connection with the Iraqi government was, but the Iraqi government was a repressive government, they certainly knew a great deal about what was going on in their country and we found ricin and potassium chloride and chemical weapons suits, and books in Arabic explaining how to make chemical weapons. I think that it was unfortunate that the administration did not do a good job in explaining, for example what you suggested, plus what was in the Duelfer report after the war. Mr. Duelfer went in there and actually created a report that analyzed exactly what was found, and there’s no question but that Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on his own people and on the Iranians, that he had an active program, and refused to allow the inspectors to have sufficient inspection and confidence that he has disposed of his supplies of chemical weapons. But of course it did tarnish the administration and the administration had difficulty defending itself with the onslaught that came.

ARONOFF: Right. I also noticed the difference between how Tony Blair who, when he was out on his book tour six months, or so, ago, and he was talking about [that] it was really more about U.N. resolution 1441 as well as all the others that Saddam Hussein had failed to comply with, and that was why we went [to war]. It wasn’t so much because we were certain that these weapons were there in a certain place, but it was the resolution, and so I agree with you it seems like the message was not handled well from the administration.

RUMSFELD: I think that’s right. I mean if you think about it, Saddam Hussein was giving $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers, he had repressed his people, he had invaded Iran, he had invaded Kuwait, he had been on the State Department’s terrorist list for years, the Congress of the U.S. in the 1990s passed legislation for regime change in Iraq which President Clinton signed, it was passed overwhelmingly by the Congress, all of the members of the intelligence committees in the Congress saw the same intelligence that we saw in the executive branch, the conclusion was uniform in the German and French and British and U.S. intelligence communities and, as you point out, Prime Minister Blair said that the Iraqis had rejected some seventeen U.N. resolutions and at the same time, Iraq was shooting at U.S. and British aircrafts that were patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones in Iraq, that were enforcing U.N. resolutions. So there were a good number of reasons that were listed in the resolutions that were passed by the U.N., there were a good number of reasons listed in the legislation that was passed by the U.S. Congress, it was much broader than simply weapons of mass destruction.

ARONOFF: Tell us what it was like working there at the Pentagon and with The New York Times, NBC and the other mainstream media organizations. Did you feel that they were generally out to get you? To make it look bad or the administration look bad or did they generally act fairly and responsibly throughout the war?

RUMSFELD: Oh, you know, it is hard to make a generalization. In my book I talk about several instances where the media has really gotten it wrong. Early on in the book, when I was director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, I talk about a column by Jack Anderson, which you know, went to hundreds of outlets; he had a widely circulated syndicate and he claimed terrible things about me and what we were doing in the Office of Economic Opportunity and he never checked and they were exactly false. And I assumed, being a little naïve back in 1969, that The Washington Post and the papers that carried it would retract it and that Anderson would retract it. I invited him over there, I showed him that it was inaccurate, I listed exactly what was wrong and there wasn’t a single shred of truth in his column, and it was terribly damaging to the administration and to me and to the Office of Economic Opportunity. But he never retracted it, he wouldn’t run a column, he said he would lose some of his newspapers that carried his column. And The Washington Post never carried a retraction and it was really stunningly inaccurate. I also talk in the book about CNN having a bureau in Baghdad, and years later admitting that they were very aware of the incredible viciousness of the Saddam Hussein regime, they were aware that Saddam’s people were beating women and doing perfectly terrible things and they never reported them. And they didn’t report them I suppose because they didn’t want to lose their bureau in Baghdad; and they probably felt that the people who told them these things conceivably could be punished by the Saddam Hussein regime. But it was a clear example of a major news organization reporting every day and not reporting the truth of what they knew, about the viciousness. I also, in the book, talk about an instance where, it was Newsweek magazine, that ran a story that someone in the United States military had flushed a Koran down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay. It was totally untrue, it did not happen, and as a result of their publishing that and carrying it around the world there were riots and protests in more than one country and more than one city and people lost their lives in the violence from this. And we eventually told them about it and they said if they printed something in Newsweek saying in effect that if some portion of their story was inaccurate they were sorry. But of course the people were dead by the time they did that.

ARONOFF: What about the time when The New York Times released information on the anti-terrorist financing system, SWIFT, in which we were tracking their use and how they transferred their funds? There didn’t seem to be much sense of urgency to find the leakers or hold the Times accountable. What were your thoughts about that then and now?

RUMSFELD: You know I have been in and around government now for a lot of years and I’ve lived 78 years and watched government for now a third of the history of our country. There was that instance, there was the instance where a portion of Gen. Franks’ war plan for Iraq was revealed in the press. I guess my feeling on it is that it is just enormously difficult to find leakers from the government. I don’t know why people do it – maybe for money, maybe for self aggrandizement, maybe they have a political difference with the people in government and they want to damage them and hurt them. But whatever the difference, it puts people’s lives at risk. I’ve often thought that I wished the leakers and the people in the media who insist on carrying classified information in The New York Times or other newspapers or television stations, I wish they had children in the lead organizations of military operations that are compromised because I think if they did have their own children in those operations that they would be very careful about not releasing classified information and not putting the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.

ARONOFF: Speaking about leaking classified information, what about WikiLeaks? You didn’t have any WikiLeaks to deal with when you were in office, but obviously you’ve followed this. What is your main take away on this – first regarding the content and second the act itself?

RUMSFELD: Well, clearly, as you know the laws in the United States do not leave government many options in terms of dealing with the media organizations that carry classified information. Some other countries have laws where they are able to deal with that, in our country we can’t so we have to try to use persuasion. We do have laws against people providing that information to a news organization. In this case there’s apparently a person who’s been retained and detained and a prosecution is being prepared, and it’s against federal law. To the extent an individual does that they ought to be punished by federal law. Now, what’s the effect of it? Well here we are in the 21st Century, the information age and the digits are out there and it’s apparently possible for people relatively easily to compromise those digits and that information to the great detriment of our country. I think one of the effects is that people are going to be very reluctant to put things on paper, I think people are going to be very reluctant to communicate honestly and accurately what they really believe unless it is something that is politically correct, unless it’s something that is going to be seen in the world and the media as being perfectly understandable. And of course what people in government have to have is the honest opinions of people and the honest opinions may not always conform to what policy is or to what preference is at any given time. And people have to be willing to communicate that or else decision makers aren’t going to be able to make good decisions.

ARONOFF: Unfortunately we are just about out of time, let me get one more question in. Define the war we are in today. Who is the enemy? What is the optimum outcome?

RUMSFELD: The enemy today are radical Islamists. It is not the Muslim faith, it is not Muslims generally, it is a small minority of Muslims who are determined to kill innocent men, women and children in an effort to impose their view on how the world ought to operate and to damage the nation state concept. Now, for whatever reason, the government of the United States today is unwilling to say that, they’re unwilling to identify the enemy. I don’t see how you can win in the competition of ideas if you’re not willing to, on the one hand, describe honestly what the ideas of the enemy are and then simultaneously talk about the virtues of free political systems and free economic systems that we benefit from. All anyone has to do is look down from outer space on earth and the countries where people are doing well are countries that have freer political systems and freer economic systems. And the countries where people do not have opportunities are the ones that have repressive systems and command economies and dictatorial systems. The enemy wants to impose that on us and on the rest of the world and they are perfectly willing to kill any number of innocent people to achieve it.

ARONOFF: Well I had a lot more questions but we are going to have to leave it at that.

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