Donald Rumsfeld’s legacy is defined by the disastrous Iraq War and America’s disgraceful use of torture

Donald Rumsfeld
Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld listens to questions during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on what military leaders knew about the combat death in Afghanistan of U.S. Army Ranger and former football star Pat Tillman, in Washington, August 1, 2007.

  • Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s powerful defense secretary, died at 88 on Wednesday.
  • His legacy will always be tied to the Iraq War and torture.
  • Rumsfeld helped push the false notion Iraq had WMDs – the basis for the 2003 invasion.
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In the days leading up to Donald Rumsfeld’s death, the US targeted Iranian proxy fighters along the Iraq-Syria border with airstrikes in what the Pentagon said was a “defensive” response to drone attacks on American forces in the region.

The fighting between the US and Iran-backed militias is intrinsically tied to Rumsfeld’s legacy. The 2003 US invasion of Iraq and removal of its dictator created a power vacuum that Iran took advantage of, using it as an opportunity to prop up Shiite Islamist militias and political parties that vie for power in Iraq and counter America’s agenda and troops.

As former President George W. Bush’s secretary of defense from 2001 to 2006, Rumsfeld was one of the main architects of the 2003 Iraq War and a proponent of the torture methods that damaged America’s global standing. He played a central role in selling the false notion that Saddam Hussein was actively developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that posed a direct threat to the US. Later, Rumsfeld referred to his baseless assertions about WMDs in Iraq as “misstatements.”

In one of his most infamous statements about the war, Rumsfeld once dismissed looting that occurred shortly after the invasion by simply stating: “Stuff happens.”

The war was a costly disaster for Rumsfeld’s political career and in far more reverberating ways, with the conflict claiming many Iraqi and American lives while undermining US credibility worldwide.

The “global war on terror,” which the Iraq invasion was fundamentally linked to and began while Rumsfeld was Pentagon chief, has also been an exorbitantly expensive debacle. It’s claimed over 800,000 lives, displaced at least 37 million, and the US government places the price-tag around $6.4 trillion, according to the Brown University’s Costs of War project, which estimated that as many as 308,000 people directly died as a result of the war’s violence.

The 2003 Iraq invasion also helped catalyze the rise of the Islamic State or ISIS, a terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for devastating attacks across the globe. ISIS was initially founded as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” in 2004. By 2014, ISIS declared a caliphate as it controlled a large swath of territory across Iraq and Syria. ISIS lost its territorial holdings and has seen top leaders killed, but is still viewed as a threat by the US and its Western allies.

“ISIS, al-Qa’ida, and Iran and its militant allies continue to plot terrorist attacks against US persons and interests, including to varying degrees in the United States. Despite leadership losses, terrorist groups have shown great resiliency and are taking advantage of ungoverned areas to rebuild,” the US intelligence community said in its annual threat assessment released in April. The US maintains a presence of roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq as part of the international coalition continuing to fight the remnants of ISIS.

Rumsfeld in his 2011 memoir said he had no regrets about the 2003 Iraq War because it helped take out Saddam Hussein, which he said helped stabilize the Middle East. History tells a different story.

“While the road not traveled always looks smoother, the cold reality of a Hussein regime in Baghdad most likely would mean a Middle East far more perilous than it is today,” Rumsfeld said. “Our failure to confront Iraq would have sent a message to other nations that neither America nor any other nation was willing to stand in the way of their support for terrorism and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.”

Years before the 2003 invasion, Rumsfeld served as the Reagan administration’s special Middle East envoy. At the time, he met with Hussein and offered the Iraqi leader assistance – even though the US knew that Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran amid a devastating conflict.

Rumsfeld was also a documented proponent of enhanced interrogation techniques – or torture.

In one memo that Rumsfeld signed as defense secretary approving the use of torture on detainees, he wrote a handwritten note asking why they would only be required to stand for four hours.

A December 2008 Senate report also concluded that Abu Ghraib torture scandal was a product of the interrogation techniques approved by Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials.

Human rights groups and civil liberties groups like the ACLU filed unsuccessful lawsuits against Rumsfeld over his involvement in America’s use of torture. Such organizations pointed to this legacy as they reacted to the news of Rumsfeld’s death.

“Rumsfeld may be dead, but other senior Bush administration officials are alive and well and available for criminal investigation into torture,” Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington irector at Human Rights Watch, said in a tweet.

Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, tweeted that the “top of every obituary” should state that he “gave the orders that resulted in the abuse and torture of hundreds of prisoners in US custody in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.”

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US Navy says it will not take further action against retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher for his remarks on how a captured enemy fighter died

Edward Gallagher
U.S. Navy SEAL Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher (R), with wife Andrea Gallagher, leaves court after being acquitted of most of the serious charges against him during his court-martial trial at Naval Base San Diego in San Diego, California , U.S., July 2, 2019.

  • Retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher was cleared after being accused of murdering a prisoner of war.
  • But in May, he said that he and other SEALs killed him by practicing medical procedures on him.
  • The Navy said it would not take action against him because it could not corroborate this story.
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The US Navy said Tuesday that it does not plan to take action against retired Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher after he said in May that he and other SEALs used a dying enemy fighter for medical practice with no intention of saving him. The Navy said it could not corroborate his claims.

Gallagher was charged with killing a severely wounded Islamic State prisoner in Iraq in 2017 by stabbing the captured enemy fighter in the neck, but he was acquitted in a high-profile war crimes trial in 2019.

He was convicted of posing for a photograph with the captive’s corpse and demoted, but President Donald Trump intervened on his behalf, restoring his rank and stopping the Navy from taking away his SEAL trident.

The results of the trial aside, Gallagher told Dan Taberski, the host of the podcast “The Line,” in early May that “the grain of truth in the whole thing is that that ISIS fighter was killed by us and that nobody at that time had a problem with it.”

“We killed that guy. Our intention was to kill him. Everybody was on board,” he said. Asked about his statement that the intention was to kill the fighter, Gallagher responded that he and the others intended to “do medical scenarios on him until he died.”

“He was going to die regardless. We weren’t taking any prisoners,” Gallagher explained to Taberski. “That wasn’t our job.” He added that “everyone was like, let’s just do medical treatments on him until he’s gone.”

Gallagher said that when he cut an emergency airway in the prisoner’s throat to insert a breathing tube, he was not doing the procedure to save his life, but rather he was, in his words, “practicing to see how fast I could do one.”

Citing records, Navy Times reported in 2019 that after 20 minutes of treatment, the prisoner’s body “ended up inexplicably spangled with medical devices.”

Denying allegations that he killed the prisoner, allegations which were at the heart of his trial, Gallagher told Taberski “that dude died from all the medical treatments that were done,” further stating that there were “plenty of medical treatments that were done to him.”

In a later an interview with Military.com in June, Gallagher appeared to backtrack, stating that although he and his teammates used the dying prisoner as a training tool for medical procedures, nothing was done to accelerate his death or that was not in his medical interests.

After Gallagher’s May podcast appearance, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Navy was “looking into” the situation.

“The Navy reviewed the matter and will not pursue further action,” Navy spokesperson Cmdr. Courtney Hillson said in a statement Tuesday.

She said that “after a review conducted by the Navy, it was determined that Gallagher’s statements were not corroborated and no substantive information was found to merit an investigation based on those statements.”

Hillson also said that matters pertaining to the medical treatment and death of the prisoner were “already investigated and/or adjudicated at Gallagher’s court-martial,” so legally under the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Navy would be unable to try Gallagher for the same alleged crimes again.

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Why ISIS operates like a venture capital firm

Isis
A mural with the ISIS logo in a tunnel reportedly used as a training centre by the group, on the southern outskirts of Mosul in Iraq, March 1, 2017.

  • Even with its physical “caliphate” destroyed in Iraq and Syria, ISIS has an operational presence in at least 20 countries.
  • ISIS is better understood as a group of organizations in which the leaders provide resources to the affiliates with the most potential.
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Even with its physical “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria in tatters, the Islamic State is still managing to wage a global insurgency, maintaining an operational presence in at least 20 separate countries.

The organization’s global diffusion recently led a group of leading terrorism experts to describe ISIS as an “adhocracy,” better understood as a group of “structurally fluid organizations in which ‘interacting project teams’ work towards a shared purpose and/or identity.”

By maintaining this structure, the group’s leaders seek to harness the benefits of a transnational network spanning multiple regions and continents.

“All politics is local,” as the famous saying goes. But in the 21st century, all conflict is global, and organizations like ISIS are well-positioned to leverage the capabilities of its affiliates worldwide.

Another way to think about the Islamic State is as a venture capital firm. It is the investor that provides much-needed resources to the affiliates – or “provinces,” in the organization’s lingo – with the best potential for a high rate of return.

ISIS then gains an “equity stake” and can tout the success and momentum of its new startups. Armed groups that are sponsored by ISIS central in this way reap the benefits its operational and organizational capabilities, including financing, training, weapons, propaganda support and strategic direction.

ISIS Somalia bombing
Civilians evacuate the scene of an explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia, October 14, 2017.

Nowhere has this venture capitalist approach been more successful than in sub-Saharan Africa. A United Nations report from last year identified the Islamic State’s affiliate in Somalia as the “command center” for a “triad” of jihadist organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique, thereby linking its operations in East, Southern and Central Africa.

The conditions in the region – generally characterized by weak security forces, porous borders and high availability of small arms and light weapons – make it relatively easy to improve the capabilities of armed groups. What this means is that even a modest investment by ISIS can serve as a force multiplier for some jihadist groups and have an outsized impact on the battlefield.

At the same time, ISIS involvement inevitably transforms the character and nature of affiliates, as evidenced by the beheadings committed by the Islamic State’s Central Africa Province, which mirror ISIS core’s brutal calling card.

Sub-Saharan Africa has long been in the crosshairs of groups waging global jihad. And with other areas of the world receiving the lion’s share of attention from Western counterterrorism forces, both al-Qaida and ISIS have taken advantage of the opportunity to grow their presence in the region.

Of the 10 countries with the most significant increase in terrorist attacks last year, seven were in sub-Saharan Africa, including Mozambique, Mali and Congo, where affiliates of both al-Qaida and ISIS remain active.

Jacob Zenn, a scholar of African jihadist groups, has highlighted the importance of sub-Saharan Africa as a region where ISIS can achieve “breakout capacity,” or the ability to generate and maintain a high operational tempo of attacks.

ISIS provinces in West Africa and Central Africa respectively have the potential to conquer and hold territory in the Sahel and along the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast, in a manner similar to what ISIS core was able to achieve in Iraq and Syria during its peak.

The Islamic State’s shifting attention to sub-Saharan Africa should be seen as part of a deliberate strategy in a region where it is far easier to work across borders than in other parts of the world.

Mozambique violence
A destroyed home in the village of Aldeia da Paz, outside Macomia in Mozambique, August 24, 2019.

Throughout this process, what were once perhaps purely local groups can take on a transnational dimension to varying degrees. Even as they remain primarily driven by parochial concerns and grievances, ISIS affiliates can evolve to become more global in nature.

Several African jihadist groups have noticeably changed the way they fight after becoming ISIS affiliates, in some cases involving both tactical improvement and strategic evolution. These groups are now capable of launching more complex operations and are featured more prominently in ISIS propaganda.

The Islamic State Central Africa Province, or ISCAP – also known locally by other names, including Ahlu Sunna Wa-Jama, Ansar al-Sunna and al-Shabab – has transformed considerably since it was formally recognized by ISIS in April 2019. Around the beginning of 2020, insurgents in Mozambique began operating in larger units and staging more sophisticated attacks against higher-profile targets, like district capitals.

Some recent evidence suggests ISCAP is now focusing more on winning the hearts and minds of the local population in northern Mozambique. A series of attacks in March 2020 saw insurgents deliberately avoiding civilian casualties and distributing war booty – stolen food, medicine and fuel – to local residents.

In a sign of ISCAP’s growing strength in Mozambique, its fighters seized the port city of Mocimboa de Praia – a strategic target – in August 2020. Two months later, ISCAP fighters launched cross-border attacks from northern Mozambique into southern Tanzania.

The devastating attack on the town of Palma in March, which killed dozens of people, had some of the hallmarks of classic ISIS attacks, included the beheading of foreigners and the targeting of Western economic interests. It forced the suspension of French oil giant Total’s $20 billion liquefied natural gas project and related offshore exploration activities near Palma.

Cabo Delgado Mozambique displaced persons
People who fled insurgent attacks in the northern part of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, February 24, 2021.

ISIS has provided training and funding to ISCAP and a recent report in The Wall Street Journal suggests that “battle hardened Arab Muslim volunteers” are embedded in units in both Mozambique and Congo.

Indeed, the events of the past two years suggest that, as Tomasz Rolbiecki, Pieter Van Ostaeyen and Charlie Winter recently pointed out, the Islamic State’s African affiliates are “no longer a sideshow to its operational core in Syria and Iraq.” In fact, ISIS core is “dependent now more than ever on the military activities of its affiliates” on the continent.

With a war chest possibly consisting of upward of $100 million, ISIS will maintain the ability to consistently seed new ventures and enhance existing ones, particularly those displaying progress.

The international community will need to pay close attention to see where the Islamic State is funding new affiliates, and where already existing branches or provinces are displaying improved skills and capabilities in an effort to blunt the impact of what has been, at least to date, a highly effective approach to keeping the “caliphate” alive.

Colin P. Clarke, PhD, is the director of policy and research at the Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security consultancy headquartered in New York City.

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US deploys Green Berets to defeat ISIS-linked insurgents accused of beheading children on a new front in south Africa

Army Special Forces Green Berets Chinook helicopter helocasting
US Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Berets observe a CH-47 Chinook helicopter conduct hoisting operations during helocast training at Eglin Base Air Force Base, Florida, February 6, 2013.

  • US Army Special Forces will train Mozambican marines for the next two months to counter al-Shabab’s spread.
  • It comes after the US listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization last week because of its links to ISIS.
  • The violence in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado has caused 2,000 deaths and displaced 670,000 people.
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The elite Green Berets have been deployed to help defeat Islamic State insurgents accused of beheading children as young as 11 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique.

US Army Special Forces soldiers are to train Mozambican marines for the next two months to counter the rapidly escalating insurgency from ISIS-linked terrorist group al-Shabab.

It comes after the US officially listed the group as a foreign terrorist organization last week because of its links to ISIS, who it pledged allegiance to in 2018 and who claimed its first attack in June 2019.

Mozambique, in southern Africa, represents the worrying spread of Islamic insurgency on the continent. Other nations facing ISIS-linked violence include Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, and Libya.

The deployment of the Green Berets is “to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism,” the US Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, said, The Times reported.

According to an Insider report last month, the Green Berets are called on to deploy worldwide, build lasting relationships with local groups friendly towards the United States, and then teach those groups how to kill effectively. The SF soldiers then begin going on missions with the locals and fight side-by-side.

The situation in the northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, which began in 2017, became even more urgent last year, with up to 3,500 fighters regularly engaging with the military to capture key towns.

At least 2,000 civilians have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and 670,000 have been displaced, Save the Children added. Around a million people are also in need of food aid, the UN estimated.

‘They took my eldest son and beheaded him’

Cabo Delgado
Elsa, 28, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, stands with her family in a displacement camp in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique on January 26, 2021.

Children as young as 11 years old have been executed, according to Save the Children, that has spoken to displaced families that have described horrific executions by the Islamic insurgents.

One mother, Elsa, 28, whose name has been changed, told Save the Children: “That night our village was attacked and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children.

“We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”

Impoverished Mozambique, in southern Africa, had been relying on foreign mercenaries, mainly from South Africa, who have also been accused of human rights abuses.

An Amnesty International report found that both sides committed war crimes, with government forces responsible for abuses against civilians, something it has denied.

Mozambique violence
The remains of a burned and destroyed home is seen in the recently attacked village of Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia, Mozambique, on August 24, 2019.

Cabo Delgado has a population of 2.3 million, most of whom are Muslim, and is one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique with high illiteracy and unemployment rates, according to the BBC.

Al-Shabab, not to be confused with the Somalian al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group of a similar name, means The Youth in Arabic.

It has found ready recruits among the unemployed young people from the area, al-Jazeera reported.

Although a ruby deposit and gas field were discovered in Cabo Delgado in 2009 and 2010, creating dreams of a better life for locals, these were soon undermined by violence and extreme flooding, the BBC noted.

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7,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to regroup in key areas, general warns

iraq coronavirus
An Iraqi policeman directs traffic during COVID-19 testing at the capital Baghdad’s Shorja market on February 22, 2021.

  • ISIS is using lull period caused by the pandemic to regroup, a Kurdish general told the Times.
  • Siwan Barzani said that coalition forces had been forced to suspend training due to COVID-19
  • All the while, ISIS fighters have been infiltrating the civilian population and building up their base again.
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Thousands of Islamic State jihadists are using lull period caused by the coronavirus pandemic to regroup in key areas and are threatening a new wave of attacks, a Kurdish general has warned, according to the Times. 

Siwan Barzani, a commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, stationed near the northern city of Arbil in Iraq, told the Times last week that as coronavirus spread throughout the world in March, coalition forces were forced to put much of their activity on hold.

They had to suspend joint raids with Iraqi forces and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces of northern Syria and are now only operating their aircraft at about 80 percent capacity, Barzani said.

On top of this, the United States completed a reduction of its forces in Iraq to 2,500 troops last month – about half the level of less than a year ago. British troops have also been sent home after Camp Taji’s military base, north of Baghdad, was handed over to Iraqi security forces last year. Only 100 British troops remain.

Officials, former fighters, and residents now fear the drawdown is creating a security vacuum in the country, Reuters reported last month. 

ISIS fighters have been exploiting the opportunity to reorganize in Iraq and are, as per the Times, emerging from hiding among civilians to start operating in the country’s mountainous regions again.

“When the liberation started for the whole area, they shaved their beards and posed as civilians, but they were waiting for the opportunity, and slowly they went back to rejoin them,” Barzani said, according to the Times.

“They reorganized themselves quicker because of the pandemic and because there were less Coalition operations. That was something that was good for them but bad for us, of course,” he added.

Barzani estimates that there are now more than 7,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq.

The group is said to have already ramped up its attacks.

According to the Associated Press, at least 20 men and women were killed in the al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria last month. The killings are largely believed to have been carried out by ISIS fighters who are punishing perceived enemies and trying to intimidate those that might not agree with their extremist ideologies. 

“Al-Hol will be the womb that will give birth to new generations of extremists,” Abdullah Suleiman Ali, a Syrian researcher who focuses on jihadi groups, told AP.

“There are several reasons behind the increase of crime, including attempts by Daesh members to impose their ideology in the camp against civilians who reject it,” Ali added.

The jihadist group has also said it was behind a double suicide bombing at a busy second-hand clothes market in Baghdad last month, which injured more than 100 people and killed at least 32.

It was the biggest suicide attack in Baghdad for three years.

At its peak of power in late 2014, ISIS controlled around 42,400 square miles (110,000 square kilometers) in Iraq and Syria, and eight million people were under its rule.

But while the jihadist group might not have control over territories, their dangerous ideologies remain widespread.

Colonel Wayne Marotto, the global coalition spokesman, told the Times: “We’ve defeated them territorially, but we haven’t defeated them ideology-wise and they are resilient, and right now what they’re doing, it’s almost like an insurgency.”

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