Byrd: Reckoning with Iraq's legacy

BY MATTHEW BYRD | APRIL 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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If you get the chance, take the trip to FilmScene, the independent movie theater on the Pedestrian Mall, and shell out the cash to see The Unknown Known, the latest documentary by Errol Morris which examines the career of former Secretary of Defense and Iraq War architect Donald Rumsfeld.

The film itself is somewhat weak, giving only a cursory overview of Rumsfeld’s career and ideological motivations. Morris’ previous exploration of Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was a much more interesting and penetrative examination of hubris, American foreign policy, and the politics of war.

The Unknown Known does, however, provide yet another opportunity to see, up close and personal, the utter drivel that defined both the (horrendously weak) case that defined the Iraq War and the bombastic yet sophomoric rhetoric espoused by administration officials during this time (whether it was Rumsfeld’s “Unknown Known” nonsense or Bush’s “Axis of Evil” proclamation). Rumsfeld provides the usual smokescreens to cover up lying about Iraqi WMDs, the horrors of Abu Ghraib, the creation of the torture regime based in Guantánamo Bay, and all the other evils that emerged in the Bush years.

Watching this snake oil salesman attempt to con his way out of responsibility for what Rachel Maddow brilliantly described as “the original sin of the 21st century,” it’s almost impossible to dwell on the fact that Rumsfeld and his confederates have never faced any form of accountability for their actions.

In the years since ignominiously leaving the Pentagon, Rumsfeld has written a memoir and enjoyed the fancies of a comfortable retirement. Bush’s National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who pushed the war and parroted the lie that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, was rewarded with membership in the posh Augusta Golf Club and tours the speaking circuit for generous fees. George Tenet, the head of the CIA who personally shilled the administration’s WMD case by essentially suppressing the evidence refuting it, also wrote a memoir and was rewarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, the main saber-rattler against Saddam and one of the more strident supporters of torture, wrote a memoir (surprise, surprise) and spends his spare time being sought after by the major TV networks for his opinion on the current president’s foreign policy. And the grandmaster of deceit himself, former President George W. Bush, published the requisite memoir, and paints stunning watercolors of his Texas home and fellow former/current world leaders.

That these people, who lied to the American people about WMDs, who used an atmosphere of fear and paranoia that arose from 9/11 to prop up support for a war of aggression, who created an apparatus of torture and surveillance that betrays the very foundations of American democracy, who are responsible for the deaths of 4,500 Americans and around 100,000 Iraqis and the complete collapse of Iraqi society (with large swathes of the country now under jihadi control) have been punished with a severity reserved for a child who has spilled his glass of milk.

It doesn’t matter that the invasion was 11 years ago or that the war has been over for three years. The war and its effects were a crime perpetrated upon the people of Iraq and the United States, and the culprits have not been held accountable. It is far past due time for some sort of truth and reconciliation committee, similar to South Africa’s post-apartheid assembly, to investigate and dole out, if not punishment, a semblance of responsibility for these crimes. This shouldn’t be the job of Errol Morris. It should be the job of Congress.

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