Rumsfeld heckled, grilled on Iraq intelligence at speech
By Peter Spiegel, Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times. Times
staff writer Julian Barnes contributed
Published May 5, 2006
WASHINGTON -- When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld goes on the
road to deliver a speech, it's usually in front of a relatively
respectful crowd: U.S. troops stationed overseas, the Council on
Foreign Relations and the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation
have been among his audiences this year.
An audience Thursday in Atlanta turned out to be a bit different.
Rumsfeld was interrupted three times by anti-war protesters and
was forced to defend himself against charges by a former high-ranking
CIA analyst that he lied to push the United States into war in Iraq.
Rumsfeld sought to make light of the flak during his address to
the Southern Center for International Studies, a non-profit educational
group, telling the audience that the protesters were just a few
"close personal friends" of Peter White, the center's
Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran who once gave President George
H.W. Bush his morning intelligence briefings, engaged in an extended
debate with Rumsfeld after asking why the defense secretary had
insisted before the Iraq invasion that there was "bulletproof
evidence" linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda.
"Was that a lie, Mr. Rumsfeld, or was that manufactured somewhere
else? Because all of my CIA colleagues disputed that, and so did
the 9/11 commission," McGovern said during a question-and-answer
session. "Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not
At the start of the exchange, Rumsfeld remained unflappable, insisting,
"I haven't lied. I did not lie then," before launching
into a vigorous defense of the administration's prewar pronouncements
on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
But he became tongue-tied when McGovern pressed him on claims that
he knew where unconventional Iraqi weapons were located.
"You said you knew where they were," McGovern said.
"I did not. I said I knew where suspected sites were,"
McGovern then read from the defense secretary's past statements.
As U.S. troops approached Baghdad in March 2003, Rumsfeld had said
about weapons of mass destruction: "We know where they are.
They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south
and north somewhat."
That led Rumsfeld to briefly stammer. He recovered after admonishing
a security guard who was trying to push McGovern away from the microphone.
Rumsfeld insisted U.S. troops believed they would encounter chemical
or biological weapons.
He went on to field a dozen other questions, including from a woman
whose son was killed in Iraq and who asked about help for the children
of slain service members. Rumsfeld asked her to submit her name
to Southern Center officials. "And I'm so sorry about your
son," he said.
In an interview after the speech, McGovern, 66, who lives in the
Washington, D.C., area, said he obtained a ticket for Thursday's
address through an acquaintance who had forwarded him an e-mail
invitation. The invitation directed him to a Web site that asked
for detailed information about his background.
"I filled it all out and, lo and behold, there was a ticket
in the mail," he said.
White, the center's president, said he had sent invitations to
a wide range of civic and business groups, noting that the Pentagon
had put no restrictions on who should be included.
McGovern said his question was prompted by Rumsfeld's response
to one of the three antiwar protesters who interrupted the defense
secretary's prepared address, accusing him of lying about prewar
"That charge is frequently leveled against the president for
one reason or another, and it is so wrong, so unfair and so destructive
of a free system where people need to trust each other and government,"
Rumsfeld said after the protester had been whisked out of the room.