WikiLeaks vs. Donald Rumsfeld's Lies: An Eyewitness Account

The new memoir by former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld has drawn wide criticism for his failure to accept any blame on the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascoes, and his claims that when he and others promoted falsehoods about Iraq WMD they were merely minor "misstatements," not lies. But among his other misdeeds was offering misleading statements to the American public about the progress of the war in Iraq, often blaming journalists for being far too critical.

WikiLeaks' massive "war logs" release on Iraq last October exposed Rumsfeld in this regard over and over, but were quickly forgotten by mainstream journalists -- even though the material was not "political" or even from the media but rather from U.S. soldiers on the ground. That's one reason I cover them in-depth (along with all the other WIkiLeaks releases and current controversies) in my new book The Age of WikiLeaks.

There are far too many examples exposing Rumsfeld's guilt, but the best brief illustration comes in the following. When Ellen Knickmeyer covered the Iraq war, at its worst point, for the Washington Post, we profiled her at my old magazine Editor & Publisher, and I stayed in touch with her long afterward, and to this day, as she moved on. Among other things, she is filing pieces for the Foreign Policy site now.

Here's an excerpt from what Knickmeyer wrote at the Daily Beast shortly after the Iraq war logs emerged, as their import was being trashed by her former employer, the Washington Post, and many politicians and pundits. The headline told it all: "WikiLeaks Exposes Rumsfeld's Lies."

"In the dark morning hours of Feb. 22, 2006," she recalled, "a group of unknown attackers detonated bombs in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, bringing down the golden dome of a revered Shia Muslim shrine....During visits to Baghdad's morgue over the next two days, I saw Sunni families thronging to find the bodies of loved ones killed by the militias. The morgue's computer registrar told the grim-faced families and me that we would have to be patient; the morgue had taken in more than 1,000 bodies since the Samarra bombing, and was way behind on processing corpses."

Here's the thing, though: According to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commanders, it never happened. These killings, these dead, did not exist. According to them, reporters like myself were lying. "The country is not awash in sectarian violence," the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey said, on talk show after talk show, making the rounds to tell the American home-front not to worry. Civil war? "I don't see it happening, certainly anytime in the near term," he said, as he denied the surge in sectarian violence....

Donald Rumsfeld held a news conference at the Pentagon to say that U.S. press reports of killings--such as mine that estimated 1,300 dead in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, based on what I had seen at the morgue, interviews with Sunni survivors, U.N. and Iraq health officials--were calculated "exaggerated reporting.'" Iraqi security forces, he said, "were taking the lead in controlling the situation," everything he assured his listeners was "calming."

American journalists in Baghdad were under attack not just from Iraqi insurgents, but, at least verbally, from our own country's civilian and military commanders as well.

Of course, "calming" was a lie and many months of vicious sectarian violence continued. "Thanks to WikiLeaks, though," Knickmeyer concluded, "I now know the extent to which top American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world, as the Iraq mission exploded. The American troops, who were risking their lives on the ground, witnessed and documented it themselves... Despite the statements of the top U.S. commanders at the time, it wasn't the journalists in Baghdad who were lying."

Greg Mitchell's "The Age of WikiLeaks" is his eleventh book, also out as an e-book. He live-blogs WikiLeaks daily at The Nation.