Donald Rumsfeld death: Bush Defense chief who oversaw Afghanistan and Iraq invasions dies at 88

Iraq war architect served as defence chief for two presidents

John Bowden
Thursday 01 July 2021 02:23
Donald Rumsfeld says there are 'known unknowns'
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Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defence who oversaw the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under President George W Bush’s administration, died at the age of 88, his family said on Wednesday.

Mr Rumsfeld served as US secretary of defence under two administrations, and became the youngest-ever person to serve in the role when in 1975 he was confirmed during President Gerald Ford’s administration. Under Mr Ford, he oversaw the US’ transition from a drafted military to an all-volunteer system.

His most notable contributions to US foreign policy came under the second Bush administration, when in the days following the 11 September terror attacks Mr Rumsfeld directed not only the invasion of Afghanistan but was reported to have privately made a significant push to invade Iraq as well. He believed there was a link between the 9/11 attackers and Saddam Hussein’s government, although none was ever found. However, he remained a leading proponent of the administration’s so-called “war on terror”.

President George W Bush yesterday praised his “steady service as a wartime secretary of defence – a duty he carried out with strength, skill, and honour”.

George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon in 2008

The US invaded both countries under Mr Rumsfeld’s leadership of the Pentagon, and Mr Rumsfeld saw his reputation tarnished as he became the face of the administration’s efforts to prove that Iraq had a stockpile and was actively producing weapons of mass destruction, none of which were ever located. He also became known for an infamous press conference in 2002 during which the military official referred to “known knowns” and “unknowns” in a delivery that came to sum up the United States’ convoluted efforts in the Middle East.

Further tarnishing his record were the war crimes committed by US service members at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, for which Mr Rumsfeld publicly took responsibility as head of the Defence Department.

"These events occurred on my watch as secretary of defence. I am accountable for them,” he said at the time.

The scandal and his overseeing of the US’ detention of suspected enemy combatants, many of whom were subject to “enhanced interrogation” techniques commonly known as torture, led to human rights groups in the US and abroad, including the American Civil Liberties Union calling for him to face criminal charges, though a court ruled in 2007 that he could not be held liable.

In his later years following a resignation from the cabinet in 2006, Mr Rumsfeld penned a memoir, Known and Unknown: A Memoir, for which he donated the proceeds to veterans’ groups. He also founded The Rumsfeld Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that encourages younger Americans to enter public service.

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