In the days after the attacks of September 11th, then-President George W. Bush raised eyebrows when he referred to the war on terror as a “crusade.” Today we are getting our first look at some top-secret briefings on the Iraq War.
According to GQ magazine, these classified documents included biblical passages on the cover pages. It claims former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld delivered them by hand to the White House each morning.
Robert Draper is a correspondent for GQ. He broke this story about the intelligence reports for the June 26th issue of GQ, which is on newsstands next week. He spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Tuesday.
Kiran Chetry: How were you able to get your hands on these classified documents?
Robert Draper: I can't tell you, but they were provided to me by a government official who did not have a specific bone to pick with Secretary Rumsfeld, wasn't a disgruntled employee, wasn’t marginalized by him or anything like that.
Chetry: These were given to just a select group of people and some in your reporting were quite surprised and troubled by the biblical passages on the cover sheets. These were top-secret documents known as the “Worldwide Intelligence Update.” You have some of them in the magazine:
On April 1, 2003 – From Proverbs: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.”
On April 8, 2003 – From Isaiah: “Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.” This phrase is accompanied by pictures of tanks rolling into Baghdad.
On April 10, 2003 – From Psalms: “Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him.”
Chetry: You say they were often delivered by Rumsfeld himself. How were they received by the president and those around him?
Draper: We don't know. The president would receive them every morning. Secretary Rumsfeld would see them at a 7:30am briefing. He would then bring them over to the Oval Office. Difficult to say how the president reacted, but given the context as you've described it… what had happened after 9/11 with the president referring to the war against terror as a crusade, it was a sensitive manner, a number of people within the Pentagon were quite concerned if something like this leaked out in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq or thereafter that it would be received quite poorly in the Muslim and Arab world.
Chetry: The other thing was that those who knew Secretary Rumsfeld said he was not quite so open. In fact, he talked publicly about how he doesn't talk publicly about his religion. Yet he used these biblical passages some would say cynically to, what, prey on the fact that our president at the time was very spiritual and open about his religion?
Draper: Well, it's inarguable that the president is a religious man. He quoted from the Bible frequently. As you say, Secretary Rumsfeld himself was not the kind of fellow that wore his religion on his sleeve. But… it's difficult to define the motives of the secretary and why, given the sensitivity of this issue, he would allow these cover pages to be made.
Chetry: Let's get to some other things. You say he gets blamed for the delayed response and threw up road blocks to getting boots on the ground after Hurricane Katrina. You recount a situation that the president was furious about. The president said, “Rumsfeld, what the hell is going on there? Are you watching what's on television? Is that the United States of America or some Third World nation I'm watching? What the hell are you doing?” How much blame does Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary, get for the botched response to Katrina?
Draper: He doesn't get any blame for that response. The problem though is in the days following landfall, they needed a lot of boots on the ground to supplement the National Guard troops who were already there. They needed them because there was a perception that New Orleans had gotten out of hand, that it was in a state of lawlessness. That perception was to some degree unfounded but the problem is that relief workers and bus drivers wouldn't come into New Orleans to bring people out because they were afraid they would drive right into a state of anarchy. They needed therefore active duty troops to help quell any kind of lawlessness. Rumsfeld was quite unwilling to do so.
Chetry: The obvious question is why did the president keep him around so long when there were a lot of signs and a lot of people in the president's circle and out who were questioning Rumsfeld?
Draper: That question was asked over and over within the West Wing. There were a variety answers at a variety of times. The president didn't want to switch civilian commanders during wartime. He did not want near the midterm elections to make it appear he was politicizing the matter. The retired generals had come out at a certain point objecting to Rumsfeld. He didn't want to appear he was being dictated by them. All of that being said – the president was aware there were plenty of people in the West Wing and beyond who thought Rumsfeld should go. For these and other reasons the president kept him on.
Chetry: Until the day after the midterm elections when with Republicans lost control.