A question for Rumsfeld: “Why did you lie?”

At a speech in Atlanta, a member of the audience forces Rumsfeld to answer the kinds of questions the press seldom asks.

Topics: Iraq war, War Room, Donald Rumsfeld,

What has Stephen Colbert wrought?

Donald Rumsfeld was interrupted by protesters several times today as he tried to deliver a speech in Atlanta. The interruptions were brief, but then a critic, former CIA employee Ray McGovern, managed to engage the defense secretary in an extended question-and-answer session about the war. It was the kind of confrontation Rumsfeld seldom faces on the Sunday talk shows he frequents, and it left him, at one point, both stammering and speechless.

Think Progress has the video. Here’s the transcript:

Question: So I would like to ask you to be upfront with the American people: Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary, that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, I haven’t lied … I’m not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

Question: You said you knew where they were.

Rumsfeld: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were and —

Question: You said you knew where they were: Tikrit, Baghdad, northeast, south, west of there. Those are your words.

Confronted with his own words — McGovern was quoting from Rumsfeld’s March 2003 appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” during which he said unequivocally that the United States knew where Saddam’s WMD were — Rumsfeld appeared flummoxed. He stammered, “My words — my words were that –,” and then it’s unclear what happened next. CNN’s camera remained focused on Rumsfeld rather than McGovern, but it appears from Rumsfeld’s words that somebody tried to take away McGovern’s microphone or remove him from the room. To his credit, Rumsfeld stopped whatever it was from happening.

Rumsfeld: No, no, wait a minute, wait a minute. Let him stay one second. Just a second.

Question: This is America.

Rumsfeld: You’re getting plenty of play, sir.

Question: I’d just like an honest answer.

Rumsfeld: I’m giving it to you.

Question: Well we’re talking about lies and your allegation there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaida and Iraq.

Rumsfeld: Zarqawi was in Baghdad during the prewar period. That is a fact.



Question: Zarqawi? He was in the north of Iraq in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That’s also —

Rumsfeld: He was also in Baghdad.

Question: Yes, when he needed to go to the hospital. Come on, these people aren’t idiots. They know the story.

Rumsfeld: Let me give you an example. It’s easy for you to make a charge, but why do you think that the men and women in uniform every day, when they came out of Kuwait and went into Iraq, put on chemical-weapon-protective suits? Because they liked the style? They honestly believed that there were chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons on his own people previously. He’d used them on his neighbor … and they believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.

Question: That’s what we call a non sequitur. It doesn’t matter what the troops believe; it matters what you believe.

And with that, the moderator cut off McGovern’s questioning, saying that he had to turn to other audience members with questions as a “courtesy” to all of them. Good thing, too, because you certainly wouldn’t want to be “rude” in a situation like this.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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