U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced tough questioning during an appearance before a foreign affairs group in the southern United States on Thursday. Several anti-Iraq war hecklers were ejected from the room, and the secretary had a sharp exchange with a man in the audience who is a former intelligence analyst.
During the question-and-answer period, a man who was identified as Ray McGovern, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, challenged Secretary Rumsfeld on the justification for the war in Iraq.
McGovern: "Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary, that has cause these kinds of casualties?"
Rumsfeld: "Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then."
The audience at the Southern Center for International Studies in Atlanta was generally supportive of Secretary Rumsfeld as he tried to deal with the questions, and when three hecklers were removed from the room. Rumsfeld said his statements before the war claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction were based on intelligence reports that also convinced other governments.
Rumsfeld: "They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears there were not weapons of mass destruction."
McGovern: "You said you knew where they were."
Rumsfeld: "I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were."
McGovern: "You said you knew where they were, near Tikrit, near Baghdad and north, east, south and west of there. Those are your words."
At that point, security guards began to remove the man from the room, but Secretary Rumsfeld told them to let him stay. A Defense Department transcript of an interview Secretary Rumsfeld gave to ABC news in March of 2003 indicates that he did say the U.S. government knew where Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were.
The exchange continued with a new allegation from Ray McGovern, who has become an anti-war activist with numerous opinion articles published in recent years, following a 27-year career with the CIA.
McGovern: "I'd just like an honest answer."
Rumsfeld: "I'm giving it to you."
McGovern: "I'm talking about lies and your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaida and Iraq. Was that a lie, or were you misled?"
Rumsfeld: "Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the pre-war period. That is a fact."
McGovern: "Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule, that's where he was."
Rumsfeld: "He was also in Baghdad."
McGovern: "Yeah, when he had to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren't idiots. They know the story."
Secretary Rumsfeld responded that U.S. forces in Iraq during the war used chemical suits because they also believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, because of the intelligence reports and because he had used such weapons before. He also said allegations that officials lied to justify the war are 'untrue,' and that such charges are 'destructive' of the trust needed in a democracy.
According to a prepared text released at the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld's speech in Atlanta included an appeal for Americans to persevere in what he calls the "'long war' against violent extremism." He said the country also needs to embrace new partners and adjust long-standing alliances. As examples, the secretary cited the changing U.S. defense relationships with Japan and South Korea, and he expressed the concern that declining defense budgets in Europe will undermine NATO's effectiveness, just as it is trying to expand its role in the world.