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Architect of Iraq war, US’ Donald Rumsfeld dies at 88

Rumsfeld played a leading role ahead of the war in making the case to the world for the March 2003 invasion.

July 1, 2021 at 10:54 am

Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary who was the main architect of the Iraq war, died on Tuesday at age 88, Reuters reported his family saying in a statement yesterday.

“It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather,” the statement said. “At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico.”

Rumsfeld, who ranks with Vietnam War-era defence secretary Robert McNamara as the most powerful men to hold the post, brought charisma and bombast to the Pentagon job, projecting the Bush administration’s muscular approach to world affairs.

With Rumsfeld in charge, the US toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein but failed to maintain law and order in the aftermath, and Iraq descended into chaos with a bloody insurgency and violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. US troops remain in Iraq until today.

Rumsfeld played a leading role ahead of the war in making the case to the world for the March 2003 invasion. He warned of the dangers of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction but no such weapons were ever discovered. As a result, his name is forever associated with the widespread use of torture that has dogged America’s reputation ever since and the establishment of the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.

Rumsfeld was known for imperious treatment of some military officers and members of Congress and infighting with other members of the Bush team, including Secretary of State Colin Powell. He also alienated US allies in Europe.

In 2004, Bush twice refused to accept Rumsfeld’s offer to resign after photos surfaced of US personnel abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. The scandal triggered international condemnation of the United States.

The United States faced global condemnation after the photos showed US troops smiling, laughing and giving thumbs up as prisoners were forced into sexually abusive and humiliating positions including a naked human pyramid and simulated sex. One photo showed a prisoner forced to stand on a small box, his head covered in a black hood, with wires attached to his body.

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Rumsfeld personally authorised harsh interrogation techniques for detainees. The US treatment of detainees in Iraq and foreign terrorism suspects at a special prison set up under Rumsfeld at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, drew international condemnation, with human rights activists and others saying prisoners were tortured.

Rumsfeld became a lightning rod for criticism and, with the Iraq war not progressing as America had hoped and public support eroding, Bush replaced him in November 2006.

Many historians and military experts blamed Rumsfeld for decisions that led to difficulties in Iraq. For example, Rumsfeld insisted on a relatively small invasion force, rejecting the views of many generals. The force then was insufficient to stabilise Iraq when Saddam fell.

Rumsfeld also was accused of being slow to recognise the emergence of the insurgency in 2003 and the threat it posed.

The US occupation leader under Rumsfeld, L. Paul Bremer, quickly made two fateful decisions. One dissolved the Iraqi military, putting thousands of armed men on the streets rather than harnessing Iraqi soldiers as a reconstruction force as originally planned.

The second barred from Iraq’s government even junior members of the former ruling Baath Party, essentially emptying the various ministries of the people who made the government operate.

Rumsfeld also oversaw the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to oust the Taliban leaders. As he did in Iraq two years later, Rumsfeld sent a small force to Afghanistan, quickly chased the Taliban from power and then failed to establish law and order.

During his time away from public service, Rumsfeld became wealthy as a successful businessman, serving as chief executive of two Fortune 500 companies. In 1988, he briefly ran for the Republican US presidential nomination.

Rumsfeld also served as a Navy pilot, US NATO ambassador and was elected to the US House of Representatives. He and wife Joyce had three children.