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Steady Hand in Rough Seas
Last uploaded : Monday 17th May 2004 at 21:59
Contributed by : Robert Andrews


One morning in early 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office called me at home. Get here fast, the aide told me, and be able to explain the Git-mo hunger strike. At the time, I was Mr. Rumsfeld's assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the secretary's staff had to take on unprecedented tasks in the war on terror. Among other things, my office was responsible for detainee policy?which translated into converting the refugee shelters at "Git-mo," or Guantanamo Naval Station in Cuba, to a detention facility for al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters captured in Afghanistan.

From the start, Mr. Rumsfeld let me know he held me personally responsible for the smallest detail: from establishing criteria for holding or releasing detainees, to their treatment and interrogations, to building more permanent and healthful quarters for detainees and the military police security forces.

And also from the start, Mr. Rumsfeld held himself responsible. Only grudgingly did he concede he could not have the two-star general in charge of Guantanamo report directly to him, thus bypassing layers of the chain of command. This didn't prevent Mr. Rumsfeld from a vigorous "hands-on" leadership. One day, still smarting and wrung out from one of his characteristically tough inquisitions, I stood to leave. He raised a hand. In a considerably more sympathetic tone, he explained it was his style, when facing a significant challenge, to keep the issue in his hands, to work it and shape it until he was confident those in the chain of command understood what he wanted and that they would carry out their duties in a professional manner.

On the morning I got the call about the hunger strike, it turned out only two of the several hundred detainees had refused their morning ration. Nevertheless, it precipitated an intensively detailed investigation before Mr. Rumsfeld let me and my people off the hook. Later, outside Mr. Rumsfeld's office, I remarked to a friend that subjecting a detainee to the grilling we had just received would probably have probably resulted in a complaint from any number of human-rights organizations.

It has been several years since I got Mr. Rumsfeld's tutorial. We now are in a larger and bloodier war than Afghanistan. But I doubt Donald Rumsfeld has changed his style. From what I have seen, he has remained almost obstinately consistent?a steady hand in ever-rougher seas.

Those who committed the outrages at Abu Ghraib Prison not only betrayed their service and their country. They also betrayed a good and honorable man.

We are grateful to Robert Andrews for permission to reprint this article from the Hudson Institute website, and which first appeared in the Washington Times on May 10, 2004.


Robert Andrews is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former Green Beret and CIA officer. Previously, Andrews acted as assistant secretary of Defense for special operations.


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