Donald Rumsfeld, a full-blown imperialist, a neocon hawk, and an unrepentant war criminal, died on June 29, 2021. The Onion - an American satirical website - carried an apt title: “Weapon of Mass Destruction Found Dead at 88”. Rumsfeld enjoyed a long, blood-stained career. In 1971, Rumsfeld - a four-term congressman protecting the interests of the wealthy suburbs north of Chicago - got a job as special adviser to President Richard Nixon. He was appointed NATO ambassador in 1972, after Nixon’s re-election. A survivor of the Watergate scandal, Rumsfeld became chief of staff to Gerald Ford. Appointed defense secretary in 1975, he worked to strengthen the Pentagon and re-establish the military might the US lost as a result of its defeat in Vietnam.
Jobs in the state sphere went hand in hand with a thriving engagement with the business world. Rumsfeld became the CEO at the drug giant Searle and scored big profits for the company through brutal job cuts. Rumsfeld helped develop and implement a new imperialist strategy in the 1990s, as one of the founders of the right-wing think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), along with Paul Wolfowitz and the Reagan administration’s Richard Perle. PNAC’s aim was to promote a hawkish foreign policy, in which the US would finally overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome” by being unafraid to conduct “pre-emptive war” against so-called rogue states like Iraq. Under the strategy, USA would no longer be afraid to “go it alone,” without the partnership of other nations or international bodies like the United Nations.
In 1998, the group wrote an open letter, declaring: “We urge you to seize that opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the U.S. and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.” Rumsfeld was successful. That year, Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act,” which opened the doors for interventionism five years later during George W. Bush’s administration. The Bush government had been trying to find a narrative for launching war on Iraq since it came to office. The September 11 attacks provided it. For Rumsfeld - serving the second time as the chief of Pentagon - and his colleagues at the PNAC, the 2001 terrorist attacks were perceived as an “opportunity” to expand American influence anywhere in the world in the name of the “war on terror.”
After what seemed at the time like a rapid and decisive victory in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld could barely wait to move the “war on terror” to its long-awaited target - Iraq. USA’s corporate class was troubled by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s erratic acts, which had blocked the path for a sustained plunder of the Arab country. George Shultz, former president of the Bechtel Group of San Francisco, was Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan. In November 1983, Shultz received an intelligence report detailing almost daily chemical weapon attacks by Saddam Hussein against Iran. No action was taken against Hussein, perhaps due to the very close relationship Bechtel was trying to develop with Hussein.
Rumsfeld - at that time Reagan’s envoy - even personally went to Baghdad, shook the hand of Hussein and expressed his firm support for Iraq’s war of unprovoked aggression against Iran. Later, in December 1983, Rumsfeld proposed that Bechtel work with Hussein to build an oil pipeline from Iraq to Jordan. But Hussein dropped the deal because he felt that Bechtel was charging exorbitant prices, demanding twice what the actual construction would cost. In 1988, after Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons, Bechtel won a contract with Hussein to build a chemical plant in Iraq. However, the company was forced to halt construction after Iraq invaded Kuwait because Hussein began arresting Bechtel employees. Now, Rumsfeld could not remain calm as major contracts with Hussein were lost to companies from France, Russia, and China.
So Rumsfeld and his corporate friends, including Shultz from Bechtel, demanded that “Hussein must go.” In January 2003, Rumsfeld declared that Hussein “has large, unaccounted for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, including VX, sarin, mustard gas, anthrax, botulism and possibly smallpox.” “And he has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons,” he said. The whole commotion about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was no more than a coup de théâtre. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) intelligence briefing of September 5, 2002, showed the falseness of this discourse. The briefing noted: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely - perhaps 90% - on analysis of imprecise intelligence.” Nonetheless, Rumsfeld - as the lead liar - kept peddling this fictitious story.
In March 2003, the Bush administration attacked Iraq and heavily bombed water production facilities. In April 2003, the administration awarded Bechtel a $680 million contract to rebuild Iraq’s water systems. Needless deaths of ordinary people were the natural result of this corporate pillage. USA’s massive bombing raid - named “Shock and Awe” - began on the Dora Farms complex, near Baghdad. The US intelligence agencies thought that Hussein was visiting his sons Uday and Qusay at the farm. Four 2,000-pound bombs were dropped by aircraft while 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at the farm from four US warships. All these weapons were made by Raytheon, one of the world’s largest arms dealers.
Hussein had not visited the farm since 1995 and was not there that night. The bombs killed one civilian and injured 14 others, including a child - according to the International Red Cross. Rumsfeld was unapologetic about this early “error”. “One has to take account of the realities that you find in the world”, he said matter-of-factly. “And to not do that would be a terrible mistake”. To put it plainly, bombing and killing civilians based on faulty intelligence was worth the price. Rumsfeld’s nonchalant attitude toward the Iraq war never changed. On May 4, 2003, as the fabrications about WMD were being exposed, he said, “I never believed that we’d just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country.” 23 days later, he became ever more wooly, “They [Iraqis] may have had time to destroy them, and I don’t know the answer.”
As one of the primary architects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rumsfeld will always be remembered for the scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. He authorized the use of torture, refused to treat many as Prisoners of War (POWs), put them in cages and moved them around naked. If this was not enough, he approved interrogation techniques that included the use of dogs, removal of clothing, hooding, stress positions, isolation for up to 30 days, 20-hour per day questionings, denial of bathroom access, deprivation of food, sleep and rest, sexual humiliation, and the use of water-boarding, wherein the interrogator induces the sensation of imminent death by drowning. In a torture memo, Rumsfeld lamented how prisoners are allowed to stand for four hours: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
According to Marjorie Cohn, “Even though Rumsfeld didn't personally carry out the torture and mistreatment of prisoners, he authorized it. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, a commander can be liable for war crimes committed by his inferiors if he knew or should have known they would be committed and did nothing to stop of prevent them. The U.S. War Crimes Act provides for prosecution of a person who commits war crimes and prescribes life imprisonment, or even the death penalty if the victim dies.” Unfortunately, Rumsfeld did not face any legal actions for his barbaric policies - he died unpunished.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.