Donald Rumsfeld Sad About Torture, Opponents of Torture

Donald Rumsfeld Sad About Torture, Opponents of Torture

Are you a small business owner looking (now that our economy is in Recovery) to hire an actual destroyer of human beings for your growing Torture of Humans business? In today’s competitive atrocity market, run-of-the-mill teenage terrorists with their scrotum-fuses and YouTube videos probably won’t get the job done (though they are notoriously cheap workers). You’ll likely need a death-monster with exceptional organizational skills, a man who knows desks and flow charts as well as he knows piles of nekkid prisoners. Might your reviewer suggest Donald Rumsfeld, with his résumé/memoir Known and Unknown? He might.

Of all the members of the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld is probably the best-qualified to write an actual book. His speeches and press conferences showed him to be a master of a strange sort of poetry, one closer to Zen koans than normal Pentagon briefings. You can find all sorts of examples in the collection Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Rummy is an intriguing poet. He’s philosophical and insists on Making You Think, but he writes plainly and readably. So many memorable phrases too!

Consider these two gems:

The Unknown

As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things we know we know.

We also know

There are known unknowns.

That is to say

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also known unknowns,

The ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Needless to Say

Needless to say,

The president is correct.

Whatever it was he said.

Feb, 28, 2003, Department of Defense briefing

There is no poetry in Known and Unknown. Rumsfeld seems to be experimenting with a new-ish genre very popular with political folk, the “I’m really a pretty good guy” memoir. Or maybe it’s the “ain't my fault bitchez" memoir. Either way, it's all for freedom!

As you might suspect, Rumsfeld has much to say about Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Various pundits are beside themselves that he doesn’t say Sorry, which is completely baffling because What Did You Expect, etc.

Rummy on Abu Ghraib:

The acts were inexcusable. The photographs threatened to weaken public support and call into question the legitimacy of our ongoing efforts on the eve of the transition to Iraqi sovereignty.

Interesting to compare the length of those two sentences. Throughout the book, Rummy says he was outraged by the torture itself, but curiously he writes far more about the effect the release of the photographs had on public support for what he calls “the Iraqi liberation.”

I shared the sense of outrage, but the reaction to Abu Ghraib in some instances seemed exacerbated by motivations other than getting to the bottom of what had transpired and bringing to justice those who had engaged in the illegal acts. The shameful abuse at Abu Ghraib would be exploited by many: America’s enemies, of course, who skillfully used the outcry for their propaganda purposes; Arab governments that had an interest in making their populations think of the Iraqi liberation dangerous and chaotic; opponents of the war, who used the abuse to justify their position that the efforts in Iraq were immoral; and, most obviously, political opponents of President Bush seven months before the 2004 election. In some quarters, the reaction quickly veered into overstatement.

THAT’S what matters here, you see. Not the torture itself, but the effect it had on George W. Bush’s reelection chances. This is a slight improvement (?) over what the war-humpers were saying at the time, which your reviewer remembers as, “Well, torture by American soldiers might be bad, BUT AT LEAST WE’RE NOT SADDAM.” Now the standard seems to be, “Torture is bad but at least we’re not opponents of torture! Overstatement is the greatest terrorist."

Known and Unknown has all the stuff you crave: Rummy’s first go-round as Secretary of Defense in the Ford administration; the famous meeting with America’s (at that time) good buddy Saddam Hussein in 1983; Rummy’s work in the Reagan administration organizing Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation (the chapter on that is titled, funnily enough, “Into the Graveyard of Empires”); his efforts to re-structure the Pentagon; all the wacky characters in the Bush administration (Colin Powell comes off badly, John Bolton well); eternal detention; torture, war, death, torture and so on.

His grand theme is twofold: 1) that all the horrors and crimes you associate with him really weren’t that bad, and 2) he’s not responsible for the horrors and crimes you associate with him.

Gitmo, Iraq, Afghanistan ... it’s a good thing all of that unpleasantness went away when Rumsfeld was chucked out of his job.

Wait, what?

Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld, Sentinel HC, 832 pages, $18.55.

Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld., compiled and edited by Hart Seely, Free Press, 128 pages, $9.99.


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