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2009-05-19

"Open the Gates that the Righteous Nation May Enter": Rumsfeld Used Biblical Quotes in Top-Secret Iraq War Briefings for Bush

Guests

Robert Draper, GQ Magazine correspondent and author of the article 'And He Shall Be Judged', appearing in the June issue of GQ Magazine. Robert Draper is also author of the book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush.

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GQ Magazine has revealed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly gave President Bush top-secret briefings adorned with Biblical quotes during the early days of the invasion of Iraq. One briefing paper showed an image of a US soldier in Baghdad below the Biblical quote, "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: GQ Magazine has revealed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly gave President Bush top-secret briefings adorned with Biblical quotes during the early days of the invasion of Iraq. One briefing paper showed an image of a US soldier in Baghdad below the Biblical quote, "Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." Another briefing paper included a photograph of a US tank next to the quote, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." A third briefing paper showed US tanks entering an Iraqi city alongside the quote, "Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith." Some Pentagon officials were concerned, if publicly disclosed, the briefings could be interpreted as a suggestion the Iraq war was a battle against Islam. One Pentagon official warned the fallout, quote, “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”

Well, GQ Magazine correspondent Robert Draper joins me now from Washington, DC. His article is called "And He Shall Be Judged," appears in the June issue of GQ. Robert Draper is also author of the book Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

, Robert. Talk about these Biblical quotes on top of these top-secret briefing papers that Rumsfeld gave to Bush.

ROBERT DRAPER: Sure, Amy. This was a worldwide intelligence update that was created by the Director of Intelligence at the Pentagon for the eyes of the Secretary of Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commander-in-Chief. Rumsfeld would see them at 7:30 each morning in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. And the intelligence briefing paper would include sensitive material relating to the conduct of the war in Iraq, to the possibility of other terrorist attacks, to the reaction around the Arab world. So it was a very, very important document with very, very limited distribution.

But the Director of Intelligence had decided on his own to supply this cover sheet that would accompany photographs with these Biblical quotes. Now, Secretary Rumsfeld is, himself, not the kind of person who wears his religion on his sleeve, but he seemed to appreciate these. The general who created them told other people that he would continue to produce these, because his seniors, meaning Secretary Rumsfeld, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers and President Bush, appreciated them. And Secretary Rumsfeld would indeed bring this intelligence briefing paper with that cover sheet over to the Oval Office every morning during the time of the invasion and subsequent to it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain, Robert Draper, who actually wrote these, put the quotes together.

ROBERT DRAPER: Sure. It’s a fellow named Glen Shaffer, who is a Christian and the Director of Intelligence, the J2 Director of Intelligence. And in the run-up to war, to alleviate stress, as he told me, he would write these sort of humorous passages on the cover sheets. But as the war began and casualties mounted, he thought that was no longer appropriate and thought, instead, that in this solemn time that Biblical passages might be.

Now, there were some who were involved in the preparing of these intelligence documents who took umbrage and suggested to General Shaffer that it was highly inappropriate to be marrying intelligence data with Biblical references. In particular, there was a female Muslim analyst who was quite offended by it.

But General Shaffer continued to do so and told me that he had no — had had no intention of discontinuing them, unless Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld ever told him to stop, which he did not.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the concern that the mixing of Crusades-like messaging with war imagery had become routine, and it was not only Rumsfeld who liked them, according to Shaffer. He said “my seniors” — the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, and the Commander-in-Chief — like them.

ROBERT DRAPER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about George Bush’s response?

ROBERT DRAPER: We don’t know. General Shaffer could only deduce that, because he wasn’t in the room in the Oval Office when Secretary Rumsfeld would come over there to give the intelligence briefing. And, of course, it’s a matter of ongoing inquiry, in a very broad sense, of what the President knew about a variety of things, what kind of information he digested when it was given to him, how he processed these things. So, we don’t know.

However, it’s true that President Bush, unlike Secretary Rumsfeld, is an openly religious man, a man given to quoting scripture. And one would think that if Secretary Rumsfeld himself was not openly religious, would not have had these Biblical passages resonate, that he might deduce that his superior, the Commander-in-Chief, would.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about turf wars, and you talk about Donald Rumsfeld having to take total control. For example, when Condoleezza Rice appointed Robert Blackwill to the Iraq Stabilization Group in 2003 to oversee Iraq’s reconstruction efforts, basically Donald Rumsfeld hit the roof or did not want State to trump Pentagon.

ROBERT DRAPER: Yeah, he didn’t. Yeah, basically, Secretary Rumsfeld was very protective of what he believed to be Department of Defense turf. And the creation of new agencies or the establishment of new personnel or committees to help oversee the conduct of the war, he thought was an impingement of his turf. And he would sometimes fight it directly, but more often what he would do was simply not staff or at least bring senior staff to some of these meetings, in sort of an effort to, as one administration official put it to me, throw sand in the gears.

AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Katrina, Robert Draper, a very damning segment of your article about Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush. What happened in those days leading up to and right after Hurricane Katrina?

ROBERT DRAPER: Yeah, this is sort of a little-known fact, that Secretary Rumsfeld played an obstructive force in the response to Hurricane Katrina. In the days following landfall, there was great concern that lawlessness was prevailing over New Orleans. To some degree, that was a perception that was unfounded, or at least it was hyperbolized by the media. Nonetheless, the perception was important, because it prevented relief workers and bus drivers from coming into a city that they believed was in a state of anarchy.

So, President Bush and the people around him wanted very much for there to be control, a show of control in the city. And there were already 50,000 National Guard members being dispersed throughout the area, but they weren’t where they needed to be and, in any event, were overtaxed. And so, the belief was, held by many, that active-duty troops needed to be there to supplement the National Guard. The Secretary Rumsfeld was adamant in his belief that active-duty troops should not be used for this domestic crisis. And he didn’t explicitly say that to the President; instead, he would make arguments about how there were unity of command issues or there was an insurrection issue. These, according to attorneys involved in the response to Katrina, were really sort of sideshows and that, in fact, if active-duty troops had come in to lend logistical support to the National Guard, that the Guard then could focus on law enforcement duties.

But Secretary Rumsfeld, in any event, day after day, refused to supply those active-duty troops, and finally it required a direct order from the President on a Saturday, several days after landfall, basically saying to the Secretary, “Don, do it.” And it was only at that point that he finally did put boots on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Draper, your book is called Dead Certain. Was President Bush that different from Donald Rumsfeld?

ROBERT DRAPER: Well, they did have certain things in common. Certainly their behavior toward the media was the same. Both of them tended to either circumnavigate or steamroller the media. Both of them, I think, evidenced a certitude and tended not to be moved by opposing points of view.

But I think that there were a lot of people in the West Wing who were concerned that President Bush’s legacy, and in real time, his policies, were being damaged by Secretary Rumsfeld and frequently urged that the President remove him. He didn’t listen to their advice, or if he did — or he listened to it but didn’t act on it, owing to a variety of circumstances at different times, either because he didn’t think it was a good idea to replace the civil commander in a time of war or thought it would appear to be a politicized decision coming close to the midterm elections.

But basically, the genesis of this story, Amy, was that so many people in the Bush administration had said that though they still revered their boss and believed he would be acquitted by history, that they thought that his greatest mistake was not getting rid of Secretary Rumsfeld earlier.

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Draper, I want to thank you for being with us, correspondent for GQ Magazine. His piece is called "And He Shall Be Judged.” Again, on the morning of Thursday, April 10th, 2003, is where the article begins, and it begins with a quote on a top-secret document that says — well, it comes from the Bible, from the Book of Psalms — "Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him to deliver their soul from death."

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