The Pentagon Papers Donald Rumsfeld Doesn't Want You to See
When Donald Rumsfeld released his memoir Known and Unknown, he made a big deal out of putting thousands of documents from his archives online in a sop to transparency and accuracy. But he didn't put them all online. And we've found some of the papers that Rumsfeld would have preferred to toss down the memory hole.
The Rumsfeld Papers web site, which launched earlier this month as a complement to the memoir, is a collection of Rumsfeld's memos, speeches, and other documents going back to his days as an undergraduate at Princeton in the 1950s. The idea, according to a researcher he hired for the project, "to get more information in people's hands" because "he really thinks the free flow of information is critical to a vibrant democracy." Rumsfeld himself compared the digital archive to a sort of legit version of Wikileaks.
More power to him! Except Rumsfeld, of course, only posted the information that he wanted to flow freely. The other stuff—like his callous attempts to keep John Walker Lindh from getting speedy trial, his effort to whitewash the Pentagon's detainee policy, and the friendly op-eds he tried to plant in newspapers—he left out. Luckily, we were able to get a hold of some of the papers from his days as defense secretary that Rumsfeld reviewed and deliberately withheld from the archive.
Rumsfeld used the Freedom of Information to gather some, but not all, of his papers in researching the book. So we filed a FOIA request with the Pentagon asking for everything Rumsfeld asked for, and everything he received. Last week, we got a partial response, including roughly 100 pages of memos he wrote in 2002 and 2003 that the Pentagon handed over to him. We checked against the Rumsfeld Papers, and almost none of them were there. None of the missing memos are particularly damning, but they do show Rumsfeld's cavalier attitude to the legality and reality of the war he was busily conjuring prior to 2003. (Click on the images to see larger, readable versions. Or go here to read the entire document.)
"I don't really care what happens to Walker at this stage." Here is Rumsfeld in January 2002 arguing that John Walker Lindh, an American citizen who had been wounded in battle and captured in Afghanistan three months before, should be sent to Guantanamo Bay instead of handed over to the Justice Department for a civilian trial—even though the military had concluded he couldn't provide any more intelligence and wanted to get rid of him. "[T]he military doesn't want him anymore," Rumsfeld wrote. "We could put him in Guantanamo Bay until we are absolutely sure we are not going to get anymore information about him or from him." A few hours later, in another memo, Rumsfeld acknowledged that Lindh should eventually go to the Justice Department, but said he still wanted to hold on to him a little longer and couldn't understand why everyone wanted Lindh to get a speedy trial: "I am curious to know what the rush is."
"Perfectly legal, proper, and historically correct." On January 16, 2002, Rumsfeld ordered Jim Haynes, the Pentagon's chief lawyer, to draw up a memo explaining "why we are holding people, what we do with them, how we are treating them, how we categorize them, and why it is perfectly legal, proper, and historically correct." If that sounds like an attempt to backwards-justify an ad hoc detainee policy that had bee crafted with zero regard to the law, that's because it is. Despite Rumsfeld's smug certainty, Haynes ginned up a memo explaining exactly what Rumsfeld asked him to, but he hit a little snag from then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales: "Gonzales is concerned about the assertions...that the United States has determined that the detainees are not entitled to POW status, because of diplomatic sensitivities, and because some disagree with the conclusion." Denying Afghan prisoners the protections of the Geneva Convention was a cornerstone of the Bush Administration's detainee policy; for Rumsfeld to encounter his first resistance to the notion after he had decided that the whole thing was perfectly legal is telling. It's as though no one had bothered to actually write any of it down, and think about the law, until after it had already been crafted. The "perfectly legal" interrogations at Guantanamo didn't even begin until January 2002, the same month Rumsfeld requested his legal whitewash. The White House quickly resolved the Geneva Convention issue by ignoring it, and within months interrogators at Gitmo were up and running with a routing based on the infliction of "physical and psychological pain."
"Keep referring to our 'plan.'" Here's a 2003 memo to Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice offering some propaganda advice in fighting the accurate impression that they invaded Iraq without considering the consequences: "With opponents saying we had no 'plan,' it is important that we keep referring to our 'plan.'" More important than actually developing a plan to turn things around. At the time Rumsfeld wrote that, U.S. military casualties in Iraq totaled 486, roughly ten percent of what they would eventually reach.
"He asks that we help get it placed." These two memos, written during the run-up to the invasion, show just how similar the campaign to gin up support for war resembled a routine political campaign within the Pentagon. In September 2002, Rumsfeld asked Doug Feith to draw up a collection of "the things Saddam Hussein and his administration have been saying" for distribution to "members on the hill who are friendly." In other words, oppo research. In December 2002, Rumsfeld wrote to Lawrence Di Rita and Torie Clarke, his principal flacks, that former ambassador to Iraq Bill Eagleton was willing to help spin the press on Rumsfeld's 1983 visit to Iraq, during which he was photographed shaking Hussein's hand. "Eagleton was the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad when I was there in the mid '80s," Rumsfeld wrote. "[He can] put duress on a lot of these articles that are being sent around." Eagleton credited the U.S. with trying to reign in Hussein's use of chemical weapons at the time, presenting Rumsfeld as a force for peace rather than a supplier of U.S. weaponry. Handwritten at the bottom of the memo is note to Clarke, apparently from an aide, saying Eagleton would write an op-ed defending Rumsfeld but needed "help gett[ing] it placed." It doesn't appear that Eagleton ever wrote his op-ed.
"Speed up the vetting." Here's Rumsfeld urging, in 2002, that the CIA and NSA "speed up the vetting" on Iraqi opposition groups Rumsfeld wanted to arm and train. This is presumably the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmed Chalabi, who, had been vetted more closely, wouldn't have succeeded in feeding so many lies about Iraqi WMDs into the White House and media.
"They have an audit problem." Another memo on an Iraqi opposition group—still presumably the Iraqi National Congress—informs Paul Wolfowitz that, even though "they have an audit problem and...seem unwilling to tell [the State Department] how they are spending the money," the group was still receiving $6 million a year in U.S. funds.
You can read the whole batch of memos Rumsfeld deemed unfit for publication here.
Rumsfeld's office didn't respond to questions about why these documents didn't make the cut. In his defense, Rumsfeld describes the library as a "work in progress" and says more documents will be added over time. But there's no obvious reason why these memos—all of which were already in electronic format and fully declassified—couldn't go up on the site along with thousands of contemporaneous records that were posted. And these are only some of the documents that Rumsfeld got from the Pentagon and didn't post—the office of the secretary of defense is still processing our request and will release more records soon.
[Gawker intern Lindsay Maharry contributed to this post. Photo of Rumsfeld via Getty]