The Rumsfeld Tapes
by Jeff Elliott
A critical section edited out by the Pentagon
Bob Woodward's new book, "Plan of Attack," became the latest expose of the Bush White House to hit the best-seller lists, joining works by former Administration insiders Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke. It has not been a good year for Bush on the literary front; currently a third of the Times non-fiction list is made up of books that bash the President for one thing or another.
But Woodward's book is unique in the pack. He is a seasoned journalist who had unprecedented access to secret documents and was able to interview all of the key players, including hours with Bush himself.
Why did the White House invite Woodward inside to prowl the closets for skeletons? Probably because they expected him to paint flattering portraits. After all, the last work by the famed Watergate reporter was almost fawning; "Bush At War" portrayed the president, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others like heroes in a Hollywood action movie, barking out crisp, smart dialogue as they confidently manage crisis after crisis. (In fact, the book was made into a movie for the Showtime cable channel.)
"Bush at War" covered just the hundred days following 9/11, from a nation paralyzed with fear and despair to a swift victory over the Taliban and the routing of al-Qaeda (or at least, for the time being).
The new book follows that by tracing the 500-day slog leading to the invasion of Iraq, and how a handful of obsessed men were determined to commit America to an unnecessary war for reasons of ideology and revenge. One book is about triumph; the other is about pigheaded will.
Woodward frequently mentions in interviews that the White House endorses his book because Bush again appears to be a resolute, unflappable leader. But that doesn't mean the White house is happy with what else it contains. Just as the Bush Administration had tried to cast doubt on the credibility of O'Neill and Clarke, it was eager to discredit Woodward's accuracy, particularly after he appeared on 60 Minutes. On the news program the author revealed that the White House had secretly diverted over $700 million from the Afghanistan budget to pay for preparations to attack Saddam, and that the Saudi ambassador was given a pre-war briefing using a top-secret map specifically marked as forbidden to be seen by foreign nationals. These were very serious charges that could even lead to impeachment.
The Administration's response to the 60 Minutes broadcast was to immediately release its own transcripts of Woodward's two interviews with Rumsfeld. But in the Pentagon's version, there was a critical section removed: Gone was the discussion of Rumsfeld telling Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar in January 2003 that he could "take [it] to the bank" that Iraq would be invaded. In the Pentagon transcript there was no indication that a section had been edited out.
Rumsfeld was asked about it at a press conference the next day. He said that only "some banter.. and some discussion about a totally unrelated topic, and some items that were agreed between us to not be in there" were not in the transcript. He also told reporters that he wasn't sure about the map: "General Myers may have shown him a map; I'm not certain of that, but he may have." Rumsfeld was sure that Bandar couldn't have been told that war was a certainty: "To my knowledge, a decision had not been taken by the president to go to war at that meeting," Rumsfeld said at the April 20, 2004 press conference. But he insisted that the transcript was complete, "except for where I said 'ah' or 'uh' or something like that ... or where the transcription was in error."
The Washington Post, where Woodward is a senior editor, quickly released the missing part of the interview. "We're going to have to clean some of this up in the transcript," Rumsfeld said at the end of Woodward's questioning in the deleted secton. "We'll give you a -- I mean you just said Bandar and I didn't agree with that so we're going to have to -- I don't want to say who it is but you are going to have to go through that and find a way to clean up my language too."
Rumsfeld also suggested at the press conference that parts of the interview may have been off the record. Woodward was quick to respond in a Post article: "As the transcript shows, it was not off the record. I was surprised that it was deleted because it obviously dealt with a critical issue and was important corroborating information for the book."
The Rumsfeld tapes
occasion, the Albion Monitor has published speeches or debates that deserve a wider audience. Our very first issue included a revealing 1994 House speech by Rep. Bob Dornan, a Congressman whose extremist views were not given much attention at the time. Most recently we presented the complete October, 2002 Senate colloquy on Iraq, where Senator Robert Byrd famously predicted that giving Bush authorization for an Iraq war would be "another Gulf of Tonkin" mistake by Congress.
Here we present the full transcripts of Bob Woodward's two interviews with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The section edited out has been restored -- and hopefully, to its original place in the interview.
Even if the section about Prince Bandar had not been crudely scissored out, the Rumsfeld interviews would still be worthwhile reading for the insights it yields. At the very beginning he is testy and aggressive, causing Woodward to gently chide the Secretary of Defense, "I have good relationship with President Bush and he wants me to do this, I think, as you know." By the end of the first session, Rumsfeld appears desperate to find a way to avoid answering tough questions by shifting the interview to abstracts:
"Let's talk process," Rumsfeld said abruptly.
"My focus is the President," Woodward continues. "Did you locate a rough time or moment when he decided to go to war?"
Rumsfeld ducks again: "Oh hell, I remember precisely. I don't know the date but I remember the event."
"Tell me what," Woodward prompts.
"I don't want to get into this. We've got to talk process. You're way over time. We've got to end this. I'm trying to think how we do this," says Rumsfeld, grasping for a way to avoid answering directly.
The second interview finds Rumsfeld both more prepared and more relaxed. He readily admits that he does not remember certain events, and asks Woodward outright if he has obtained details from other players. Rumsfeld also reveals he is equally concerned with the president's body language as well as his thinking.
We have made several small cuts in the interviews, and edited out a section in the October 23 interview to make it more readable. This long-ish passage concerns the exact timeline for "the ultimatum period" of late 2002- early 2003. This deleted section is clearly marked, and can be read via a link provided at that location.
Bob Woodward questions or comments are indicated in italics. Comments from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita are found on the Sept. 20 transcript, and Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, Lt. Gen. John Craddock additionaly makes remarks on Sept. 23.
The original Pentagon transcript for
September 20 and September 23 are currently available in the original format, as is the
April 20, 2004 press conference where Rumsfeld is asked about the Woodward interviews.
Comments? Send a letter to the editor.
April 26, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net)
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.