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Retired CIA Analyst Ray McGovern Takes on Rumsfeld Over Justification for Iraq Invasion

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld comes under fire from retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern at a speech in Atlanta on Thursday. Rumsfeld was interrupted by protesters several times in his address. We speak with McGovern and play excerpts from the event. [includes rush transcript]

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Atlanta on Thursday to speak at the Southern Center for International Studies. Minutes after he began speaking, a protester held up a yellow banner that read “Guilty of War Crimes” and then began to shout. Moments later, Rumsfeld was interrupted several times by other members of the audience. By the end of his speech, security had escorted three protesters out of the building.

Rumsfeld then began taking questions from the audience. Ray McGovern, a retired CIA analyst who spent 27 years at the agency, questioned the Defense Secretary about the administration’s justification for the invasion of Iraq.

  • Ray McGovern questions Donald Rumsfeld

Ray McGovern joins us now from Atlanta, GA.

  • Ray McGovern, 27-year career analyst with the CIA. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. On Thursday, he traveled to Atlanta to speak at the Southern Center for International Studies. Minutes after he began speaking, a protester held up a yellow banner that read, “Guilty of War Crimes,” and then began to shout.

PROTESTER 1: You have personally ordered illegal war in Iraq! Now you’re planning a nuclear war in Iran!


JUAN GONZALEZ: Moments later, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was interrupted again by another member of the audience.

PROTESTER 2: You lied to the American people [inaudible].

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ah, come on! Sit down! You idiot! Get out of here!

PROTESTER 2: You lied! You lied about [inaudible]. You lied! You lied that Iraq’s oil would pay for the war! You’ve lied about everything!

JUAN GONZALEZ: And then, it happened again.

PROTESTER 3: Serial killer! This man needs to be impeached, along with George Bush! How can you sit here tonight and listen to this criminal? You’re a war criminal, Mr. Rumsfeld!

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Get out of here!

JUAN GONZALEZ: By the end of his speech, security had escorted three protesters out of the building. Then, Rumsfeld began taking questions from the audience. One of those who posed a question was Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years as a C.I.A. analyst.

RAY McGOVERN: And so, I would like to ask you to be up front with the American people. Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn’t lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The President spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people, and he went to the American people and made a presentation. 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.

RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I did not. I said I knew where suspect sites were, and we were —

RAY McGOVERN: You said you knew where they were, “near Tikrit, near Baghdad, and northeast, south and west of there.” Those were your words.

DONALD RUMSFELD: My words — my words were — no, no, no, wait a minute! Let him stay one second. Just a second.

RAY McGOVERN: This is America, huh? Go ahead.

DONALD RUMSFELD: You’re getting plenty of play, sir.

RAY McGOVERN: I’d just like an honest answer.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m giving it to you.

RAY McGOVERN: We’re talking about lies and your allegation that there was bulletproof evidence of ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Was that a lie or were you misled?

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

RAY McGOVERN: Zarqawi, he was in the north of Iraq, in a place where Saddam Hussein had no rule. That’s where he was.

DONALD RUMSFELD: He was also in Baghdad.

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

DONALD RUMSFELD: You are — 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 had used them on his neighbor, the Iranians. And they believed he had those weapons. We believed he had those weapons.

RAY McGOVERN: That’s what we call a non-sequitur. It doesn’t matter what the troops believe. It matters what you believe.

MODERATOR: I think, Mr. Secretary, the debate is over. We have other questions, courtesy to the audience.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responding to questions by retired C.I.A. analyst Ray McGovern at an event in Atlanta on Thursday. Ray McGovern joins us in our studio now from Atlanta. Some of the media said “alleged” former C.I.A. analyst. Ray McGovern has been with the agency for more than a quarter of a century and was one of the top briefers of Vice President George H.W. Bush. He’s now co-founder of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, VIPS. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ray.

RAY McGOVERN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, tell us about this event yesterday, a quite raucous event, interruptions and then your questioning. A very rare moment for one of the more insulated government officials to be questioned by, well, a former C.I.A. analyst.

RAY McGOVERN: Well, Amy, just listening to this little clip here, I find it scary. These were ostensibly educated normal people, and their reaction was very much like the one that Goebbels stirred up. You can see it was a very unfriendly audience to anyone who posed any kind of question to the Defense Secretary. So — and listening to it, I’m sort of scared, because if this is indicative of the brainwashing that has taken place, it’s going be a long, long struggle to speak truth to power, as Fannie Lou Hamer so famously said, and Damu Smith, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ray, let’s go through the questions and how the secretary responded to you. The issue — the last one, of Zarqawi, saying that there is a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

RAY McGOVERN: Yeah, that’s the best they could come up with after all of this misinformation, with Cheney saying there were contacts between Iraqis and people in Prague and so forth. Zarqawi was up in the north part of the country. He had no contact with Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein was not ruling that part of the area.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t the U.S.?

RAY McGOVERN: Yeah, the U.S. and the Kurds were up there. They could have got Zarqawi in an eyelash, in a moment, but they chose not to. So it was completely disingenuous, and for the people not to be able to listen to that, to hear it, but simply join in the applause for Rumsfeld was a bit disquieting.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And when Secretary Rumsfeld responds about the troops believing that there were chemical weapons, because they were wearing uniforms or chemical suits. Your response?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, talk about that disingenuity. I mean, sure, they wore chemical [suits], because Rumsfeld and his generals ordered them to. This proves nothing, other than they went through with this charade. The Australian troops wore no such protective covering, because they knew there were no weapons there. The Australians knew these weapons were a figment of the propaganda put out by our Defense Department, so they blithely went in there without any protective covering. So it was all a charade.

And I suppose the good news is that finally someone had a chance to ask Don Rumsfeld — if I were in Washington, I never would have got into a session where Rumsfeld spoke. I have to give him credit that he took questions and answers. But, you know, it’s really interesting that when I walked into the place, I wrangled a ticket very surreptitiously. I was met with this little blurb on Donald Rumsfeld, and as I read it, I had to chuckle. It says, “There’s going to be a question-and-answer period, but please adhere to these guidelines. Refrain from using the word 'lie' in relation to the war in Iraq. Do not question the secretary’s personal responsibility for torture. And please don’t discuss first use of nuclear weapons against Iran. If you violate these guidelines, you’ll be immediately removed from the auditorium, flown to an undesignated prison location somewhere in Eastern Europe and tortured. Thank you for your cooperation. The World Cannot Wait.” A wonderful, wonderful group. Those were the folks that spoke up and tried to brace Donald Rumsfeld with the lies and their charges of him being — and he is, arguably — a war criminal. And we shouldn’t shy away from saying that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Ray, when you were asking the questions, at one point off camera, you were saying, “This is America.” What was happening at that point?

RAY McGOVERN: Well, curiously enough, a very large man came down with a white coat on, and he stuck his elbow into my chest and started pushing me back. And I pushed back, literally and figuratively. And it was the moment of truth. Would Don Rumsfeld want me thrown out of there, having asked in a very civil manner simply pointed questions, or would he ask them not to remove me? He chose the wiser course. I first thought that this was him being gracious, but when I thought of the P.R. debacle it would have been for him to have me removed after simply posing these questions, which nobody else has the guts to pose him, that he chose the wiser course from a P.R. point of view, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Ray McGovern, I want to thank you very much for being with us, analyst with the C,I.A. for more than a quarter of a century and one of the top briefers of Vice President George H.W. Bush, co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

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