Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation

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At least six retired U.S. military generals have separately called for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to step down. Madeleine Brand speaks with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams about the heat surrounding Rumsfeld for his handling of the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq, and the week's other major political stories.


From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up: A priest feels the absence of God in the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. First, though, another general is publicly urging Donald Rumsfeld to step down as Secretary of Defense. This time, it's retired Army Major General John Batiste. He's joining five others who've broken the tradition of the military staying out of politics. Batiste says Rumsfeld violated the principles of war planning with the Iraq invasion and needs to be held accountable.

NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams is here to talk about this story and the week in politics. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: well, how is the White House reacting to this mounting pressure from the generals? Is it steeling itself against critics? Or is conceding anything?

WILLIAMS: No, so far not conceding much. Watching closely. It's very interesting. You know, this pressure actually has been building on Defense Secretary Rumsfeld for some time, especially with the notion that things were not going well in Iraq; should things have been done differently? President Bush, when he was asked about who might be pushed out of his administration, has been pretty much clear that Secretary Treasury--excuse me, yeah--the Secretary of the Treasury John Snow is someone who has served well but is on the way out. Contrary to that, when he speaks about Donald Rumsfeld, he speaks about Rumsfeld playing a key role in terms transforming the military, that he's an important part of an ongoing war in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan.

But what we've seen from the generals this week is generals coming out, many of them retired, who--you know, it's striking, Madeleine--are accusing Rumsfeld of arrogance, imperiousness, not listening, not putting enough soldiers in place to get the job done, impacting the current nature of the Army because of lower reenlistment recruitment rates. But nonetheless, what you hear from the White House is they're sticking by their man, Donald Rumsfeld. And I sense that there's a feeling that if Rumsfeld goes, it would be an admission of failure on the part of the Bush administration.

BRAND: Hmm. And accusations are flying between the White House and the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the Scooter Libby case. And that's the one--the case is looking into leaks by White House officials to the media.

WILLIAMS: Wow, this is a very interesting story, Madeleine. What you have is a situation where, you know, Scooter Libby--I guess it was late last week--his defense team was--you know, the release of information came from the special prosecutor that Libby had said that the president, President Bush, through Vice President Cheney, had authorized him to discuss the National Intelligence Estimate with a reporter for the New York Times as part of an effort to let Americans know that there was justification for going to war in Iraq and not--as the former ambassador Joe Wilson had said--that there was no evidence that Iraq was seeking to obtain uranium from Niger in Africa.

And then subsequent to that, there's been now a correction issued by the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, that the Libby defense team leapt upon to the point of releasing it to reporters before they sent it to the court, which angered the judge in the case, Reggie Walton. But that report said that the special prosecutor had erred by saying that a key judgment--that Libby had be cleared to convey a key judgment to the reporter. To the contrary, they said it wasn't a key judgment. It was just something--additional information in passing that there were questions about Saddam Hussein truly going after, aggressively, uranium from Niger.

BRAND: Now, what's a key judgment?

WILLIAMS: Oh, a--good question, Madeleine. Key judgment is something in the National Intelligence Estimate that comes with the confirmation or support from most of the 16 or so intelligence agencies involved. And so, that would have added weight as opposed to something that's simply mentioned. A key judgment would mean it's just about confirmed.

BRAND: Okay. In related news, the White House is also upset by this Washington Post article claiming that when President Bush said in 2003, we have found the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the administration actually had intelligence contrary to that.

WILLIAMS: They did, and--now, it's interesting. Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, this week said it was reckless reporting. But what you have is a Washington Post story, which said that there was a secret fact-finding mission by the Defense Intelligence Agency. And they filed a report that indicated--two days before the president was to go on to say that we have found weapons of mass destruction--two days before, here is a report that says, nope, there--this--these biological weapons labs were not for biological weapons. Maybe for the production of hydrogen. In one case, they call it the biggest sand toilets in the world, but not for WMD. Nonetheless, the president goes on and says it.

Now, the White House has come back and said, oh, there were other reports in the interim, but The Washington Post hasn't pulled back. But you can see, Madeleine, the whole notion of weapons of mass destruction, justification for the war, continues to dominate, even obviate, anything that this White House does.

BRAND: Big problem for the president. Thank you. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams.

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