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Donald Rumsfeld Under Fire

May 6, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: The Rumsfeld story. Kwame Holman begins with the furor in Congress.

KWAME HOLMAN: During debate today on a resolution condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, Democrats in the House of Representatives attacked the Bush administration for its handling of that situation, and, one by one, several called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to resign because of it. Georgia’s John Lewis:

REP. JOHN LEWIS: It is time for the secretary of defense to go. He must leave.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jim McGovern of Massachusetts:

REP. JAMES McGOVERN: And if he does not do so, President Bush should fire him. No other action, no other words would send as strong a signal to the world that the United States is serious about fixing what is wrong in Iraq.

KWAME HOLMAN: Charles Rangel of New York:

REP. CHARLES RANGEL: And if the president doesn’t fire the secretary, if he doesn’t resign, I think it’s the responsibility of this Congress to file articles of impeachment and force him to leave office.

KWAME HOLMAN: Sam Johnson of Texas was the lone Republican to come to Rumsfeld’s defense.

REP. SAM JOHNSON: It’s a war against terrorism. We’ve got to support our troops. Our secretary of defense is doing a super job. The question is: Are we here in the United States of America as citizens going to support him to the hilt?

KWAME HOLMAN: Most House Republicans instead focused their anger on Pennsylvania’s John Murtha. A decorated Vietnam War veteran, Murtha is the senior Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Committee, and long has been known as a leading supporter of the armed forces. But in this morning’s edition of the Capitol Hill newspaper, “Roll Call,” Murtha is quoted as describing the ongoing conflict in Iraq as “unwinnable,” and saying the administration doesn’t know what it’s doing there. Arizona Republican J.D. Hayworth:

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH: I rise really more in sorrow than in anger to see the headline in today’s “Roll Call” newspaper that a senior member from the other side of the aisle now calls our war effort in Iraq “unwinnable.”

Mr. Speaker, our troops in uniform don’t wear their political registrations on their sleeves. They’re Americans representing all of America. I would caution those, even as I embrace the right to dissent, I would caution those who choose to blame America first, even in the wake of the challenges we see now with the abuses that are being found out and the people are going to be punished and brought to justice.

REP. JACK KINGSTON: This is not the time for our country to be sending mixed signals abroad that we are a divided country and that some of us want to cut and run.

KWAME HOLMAN: John Murtha later clarified his position during an appearance with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He said the Pentagon either must find a new approach, or withdraw the troops from Iraq.

REP. JOHN MURTHA: Our troops are suffering because of the lack of planning by those people over there at the Pentagon.

KWAME HOLMAN: As to whether Rumsfeld should resign:

REP. JOHN MURTHA: This is the first time in my history with him that he has not responded in the way he should have, so I’m not willing now to say he should go.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Minority Leader Pelosi said she’s made up her mind.

REP. NANCY PELOSI: I think that Mr. Rumsfeld should resign.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the Senate side of the Capitol, Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin also called today for Rumsfeld’s resignation. Arizona Republican John McCain said he wouldn’t presume to tell the president what to do concerning Rumsfeld, but said the secretary has much explaining to do. Rumsfeld will have that opportunity tomorrow, when he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the morning, and the House Armed Services Committee in the afternoon.

JIM LEHRER: Now two views on what should become of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He was assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. James Woolsey was director of the CIA during the Clinton administration, and is currently a member of the Defense Policy Board which advises Secretary Rumsfeld.

Mr. Korb, do you believe Rumsfeld should go?

LAWRENCE KORB: I think so. I think he owes it to the men and women in the armed forces because he didn’t ensure that they were properly trained and equipped to do a lot of things over there, including run the prison. I think he owes it to them because he didn’t get out ahead of this story and react — waited until the news media broke it and by doing so he endangered them over there by giving more fuel to the insurgents.

I think he owes it to the president who he serves for not making him aware earlier of how serious this was in allowing him to get out ahead of it.

And most of all, I think he owes it to the country because we’re engaged right now in this war against terrorists, to win the hearts and minds of people in Muslim world. And unless somebody of Secretary Rumsfeld’s stature goes, they will not think we’re serious about these horrible things that happened in the Abu Ghraib Prison.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mr. Woolsey, should he go?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: No, I don’t see it that way. First of all, this is a terrible set of events. The United States is just not about putting dog collars on prisoners and sexually abusing them and the rest, and the people responsible for it ought to be punished severely.

But the way I see the sequence of events here, there were two investigations started by the army; one ran in September and one ran in October last year, and the second one began to uncover some of these problems. Most of these abuses at Abu Ghraib apparently occurred in late October/early November.

Then they gathered some information and it was enough to keep the wheels of investigations going. Another one started when these pictures showed up in January, and that was General Taguba investigation. And there’s another one, a criminal investigation which in March resulted in six individuals being essentially brought before an Article XXXII proceeding, which is like a grand jury; it’s the military’s way of saying we’re moving toward indicting these people. All this had happened by mid to late March.

I think that Secretary Rumsfeld was seeing this process work, and the problem was very — the one that Larry alluded to — is I think a matter of not informing the president, the Congress, ultimately the public, because this was obviously going to be a huge matter. But I think it was a failure of political judgment or public relations judgment not a failure to do his job and see that the investigations got done and the people got punished.

JIM LEHRER: Just bad PR?

LAWRENCE KORB: I think it’s more than that. We didn’t prepare adequately for what would happen after add Saddam fell. You sent reservists over there who by the army’s own admission were not properly trained for the work that they were doing.

JIM LEHRER: To run the prison?

LAWRENCE KORB: To run the prison. They were not properly trained for it. You had a bifurcated chain of command where you had the military police and the military intelligence both reporting separately. Nobody seemed to know who was in charge. This unit was documented – as Jim mentioned – these reports early last fall, they had poor morale, poor training. Nothing was done about it.

Secretary Rumsfeld said he hadn’t even read the report. To me that was startling that he admitted that he hadn’t read the report. The chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff had not read the report. And so I think it’s more than just bad PR, I think it’s a lack of attention to detail.

JIM LEHRER: What was your reaction when you heard that Secretary Rumsfeld had not read the report and neither had General Myers?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: He said he read an executive summary. I just whipped to it through it myself. It’s been sent to me by the Lehrer NewsHour. It’s some 60 pages. It’s easily read. I don’t understand that. I think this is important enough that back in March when this fully sort of came to light, it should have been something that he and his staff internalized and was made available to the president and to the leadership in the Congress. I think that’s a fair criticism of him.

JIM LEHRER: You suggested that he mishandled the public relations but the process…

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: And the politics.

JIM LEHRER: And the politics. But how do you explain. I mean, Donald Rumsfeld has been around for over 30 years in Washington and all of this. So what is the explanation?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, even Homer nods occasionally.

JIM LEHRER: You think that’s all it is?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: I think that Secretary Rumsfeld is a good secretary of defense. And I think the issues that Larry pointed out about having the reservists and the military police and the military intelligence and their not working together, not understanding one another — that’s all true. But the reason for that is the defense cutbacks in the 90′s beginning with the end of the Cold War that produced the situation where a lot of these army forces, such as civil affairs and MPs and prison people are in the reserves and they don’t train together with the active units. The army is too small. That’s another thing I would disagree with Rumsfeld on; I do think the army needs an increase and it’s needed an increase for some time.

JIM LEHRER: So you don’t believe that Rumsfeld bears any responsibility for what happened at the prison?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: “Any” is too strong. Once a structure under you makes a mistake it’s important to get it corrected and get it right. But it looks to me, unless we learn more, that this lack of meshing of the MPs and the military intelligence people and the failure of discipline and so forth was something that was down at the brigade level. Each of those is a brigade. Certainly the secretary is responsible for in a sense for everything that happens.

But this ought to be something that was overseen rather vigorously by a two-star general or a three-star general or someone somewhere in Iraq.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see this, Mr. Korb, as a symbolic responsibility by Secretary Rumsfeld, or should he have really had – I don’t mean hands on, actually issuing specific orders or whatever, but really had known what was going on in that prison?

LAWRENCE KORB: Well, I think he should have because as Jim mentioned, this was not the first report. There was a report done by another two-star general that was completed in November. They sent the general who is in charge at Guantanamo over there in the summer of 2003 and he also talked about the problems. These are two major generals that are talking about the problems.

It’s very interesting, if you read in Bob Woodward’s book when Rumsfeld says I’m in total control, I know everything that is going on here. And I think in terms of exercising control in the Pentagon and leadership, he probably is exercising the strongest control certainly since Secretary McNamara, so he can’t have it both ways.

He admits and the president admits that they knew there were problems last fall and winter, that there were problems. And knowing basically what this could do to our image in the Muslim world, I think he should have acted much more quickly.

Now to Jim’s point, Rumsfeld has been resisting the calls to increase the size of army. He ignored Gen. Shinseki’s advice about how many people we would need after Saddam –

JIM LEHRER: The general says at least 200,000 –

LAWRENCE KORB: And since we now know they were planning to go to Iraq in 2001, you could have easily begun training units. You could have called up units and provided more training for them.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: This is not one I would lay at Rumsfeld’s feet. This is a problem I would lay at the feet of the State Department and the CIA. We should have gone into Iraq with thousands and thousands of trained Iraqis operating with us. Congress set aside $97 million to do that in 1998, six years ago. It wasn’t done because the State Department and the CIA fought it all the way.

When we won in Normandy in 1944, we stood aside and let DeGaulle lead the victory parade through Paris. And that was entirely appropriate. We should have operated that way with the free Iraqis the way we operated with the free French. But the State Department and the CIA did not want to do that and that’s not the Defense Department’s fault.

JIM LEHRER: What about Larry Korb’s point that whatever else, removing Rumsfeld would send a message that dearly needs to be sent to the Arab world right now, that this is not going to be tolerated and a head has to roll?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: I think we have to understand exactly what happened and exactly who was responsible for this lack of coordination at the prison and maybe in some of the other prisons that produced this. I don’t think we know enough yet. I wouldn’t say this is an impossible decision but I don’t see it yet. I don’t think it’s fair to Rumsfeld to say off with his head immediately upon this surfacing. That’s very easy to do. This town likes to do that. I think it’s — he is too valuable a public servant, I think, to treat that way.

JIM LEHRER: Is it a fair statement to say, starting with you Secretary Korb, that this doesn’t happen very often, that members of cabinet are fired or actions or lack of actions? Secretary O’Neill got fired for what he said, not for what he did. So as a practical matter is something going to probably happen to Secretary Rumsfeld?

LAWRENCE KORB: I’m not saying he should be fired. I think he should resign for the good of the country and the good of the armed forces. That’s the point I’m making. It’s up to the president for who he wants to keep. But right now we have got ourselves in a situation for which he wears a lot of responsibility. In order to get out of this, for the good of the country, he ought to step forward.

It’s like Lord Carrington had told Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister that it made no sense for the Argentineans to invade the Malvinas – well, they did. Well, they said, I should go because I gave you bad advice, so I think really it’s up to him. This would be I think good for the country and rather than say, well, your head is off, no, I need to this do this because it’s good for the men and women that I’m responsible and for the country.

JIM LEHRER: You know Secretary Rumsfeld really well.

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: Moderately well.

JIM LEHRER: How likely is he to do this?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think there is anything on the public record now that suggests he should resign. Down the road, it’s possible. Down inside the army or the combatant commands, those who are responsible for overseeing this, there may well be more people whose jobs should be taken or should be criminally prosecuted but I don’t see it in his case at this point.

JIM LEHRER: What about Larry Korb’s point that this is less about the technicalities of responsibility and more about sending a message that if you are going — if the United States and the president want to put this behind them, something like this has to happen, and the secretary, if he realizes that and wants to do it, he could do it?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: It’s fine to send the message if the message is a fair one. I don’t believe it is yet apparent and I think it’s unlikely, frankly, to be apparent, that Don Rumsfeld personally made a bad judgment here, other than, as I said earlier, the political judgment or public relations judgment or whatever it was not to go to the president and the senior leadership of the Congress with this back in March.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t buy the Carrington analogy?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: This is not the result of bad advice that Don Rumsfeld has given the president. I don’t think that’s what has occurred here. I think that we still, unlike Congressman Murtha, whose judgment I value very highly and was very helpful to me when I was director of central intelligence, I don’t think we have lost in Iraq yet. I think things are beginning to work and hold on with the Shia and the Shia and the Kurds are 80 percent or so of the Iraqi population. If we can keep that together, we have still got a chance of bringing democracy and the rule of law to Iraq. It’s certainly not a sure bet. We have had two big setbacks recently — one the mess in Fallujah and the other this. But we’re not out of this fight yet and I don’t think we ought to act as if we were.

JIM LEHRER: Do you believe, Mr. Secretary, that Rumsfeld bears any responsibility for the post-war problems in addition to the prison problems?

LAWRENCE KORB: Oh, very definitely. When Gen. Shinseki under pressure from Sen. Levin were testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee said you need several hundred thousand troops to guarantee security after Saddam fell, he was disparaged publicly by Rumsfeld, and there’s a man who had been in Vietnam and actually lost his foot, led the peacekeeping in Bosnia, so he had the expertise. It seemed to me that Rumsfeld was trying to prove a point that you could win wars with less people. So he refused to go along with that.

There was no guidance, for example, given to the third infantry division that took Baghdad about what to do when Baghdad fell. There was no planning for that. That, to me, I think, shows that he bears responsibility. Remember, he also put Jay Gardner, Gen. Gardner, in charge of the first post-war phase and told Gardner not to pay attention to the reports the State Department had been working on for well over a year, he wasn’t even allowed to bring the State Department people with him when he went in and of course then Gardner was fired after a couple weeks.

JIM LEHRER: What about that, Rumsfeld has more on his negative plate than just what happened in the prison?

R. JAMES WOOLSEY: Keep in mind not only would the state and CIA not cooperate in training the Iraqis, as I said, but also the Turks didn’t cooperate in letting the 4th Division through. They would have had 25 percent more forces right there and an anvil on which the hammer of the 3rd Division and others could have broken a lot of the Sunni Baathists who were resisting still in Fallujah. It wasn’t Rumsfeld’s fault that the Turks decided not to go that way.

I think that the overall situation is one in which our army is too small. We didn’t have the Iraqis with us when we went in, that is the Iraqis who had been in exile, we didn’t have enough of them, and we had 25 percent of our forces not participating because they were on ships going all the way around to get back to Basra. And there were, definitely, some failures in the post-war circumstances, including the looting and the rest of it.

That did not go well, but a lot of other things, the lack of humanitarian crisis, the lack of the oil wells being burned, all of that, that people predicted, went better than people predicted. War is uncertain that way. I don’t see anything at this point that would suggest to me that Don Rumsfeld has fundamentally has done a bad job or that these issues ought to be laid at his feet.

JIM LEHRER: We ended it the way we started — on disagreement. Thank you both very much.