US troop death toll reached 2,000 on same day Rumsfeld wrote letter

Amidst a new batch of torture-related documents released to the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday, a letter bearing former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's signature stands out.

On October 25, 2005, Rumsfeld wrote to President George W. Bush, "Attached is an article on the subject of detainees that came from a staff reporter of the Wall Street Journal, which I think covers the subject pretty dam [sic] well."

The letter (pdf link) contains a copy of an October 5, 2005 editorial written by the Wall Street Journal's Robert L. Pollock titled "The 'Torture Narrative' Unravels."

"It's hardly a secret that Pfc. Lynndie England was sentenced last week for her role as 'leash girl' in the infamous abuses photographed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison in late 2003," Pollock wrote in 2005. "But it was also noticeable that the denouement of this spectacular story was relegated to the innards of newspapers that had once given it weeks of front-page treatment. That's almost surely because the trial of the last of the Maryland Army Reservists to face justice--like those of the others that came before her--offered no evidence to support claims that the abuses were caused by a Bush administration that had 'created the climate' or 'set the tone' for 'torture.'"

Pollock even specifically noted that Rumsfeld was in the hot seat.

"Almost immediately the leaked photos of Pfc. England and her compatriots generated calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation," Pollock continued. "So-called torture memos were unearthed, in which administration lawyers had discussed the range of permissible interrogation techniques--for al Qaeda suspects in the wake of 9/11. And by one of the greatest leaps of logic ever seriously entertained in our national discourse, those memos were said to have caused the behavior of soldiers in Iraq who knew nothing beyond the limits outlined in the Army Field Manual. Ted Kennedy, for one, offered up a useful reminder of why Americans have never wanted him to be president by declaring that 'Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management, U.S. management.'"

Pollock's conclusion: "Let me add some final words on how the Abu Ghraib scandal has affected America's image in Iraq. It hasn't been helpful, of course. But--having traveled there three times in the past 2 1/2 years, most recently in August--I can attest that the dominant image of the American soldier in the minds of most Iraqis is that of liberator, as depicted in the sculpture shown here by a craftsman from Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. Americans can be proud of the way their young men and women have performed in Iraq and elsewhere in the war on terror. And they can be proud of the way the military has meted out justice for those few abuses that have occurred."

Although some observers might find it bizarre that Rumsfeld would send an op-ed still pushing the "US troops will be viewed as liberators" meme in October of 2005, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, said as much to Bush in September of 2008.

Weeks before Rumsfeld wrote Bush, Sen. Jefferson Sessions (R-AL) cited the WSJ editorial during a debate on the floor about adding an amendment prohibiting torture to the 2006 Department of Defense appropriations act.

Referring to Abu Ghraib, Sessions said, "Those guards, have all been tried and convicted. The Wall Street Journal, just a couple of days ago, published an op-ed entitled 'The `Torture Narrative' Unravels.' It noted that the trial and conviction of PFC Lynndie England, who was sentenced as the 'leash girl' for her activities there, 'was relegated to the innards of newspapers.' That did not make any big news--the Army's professional, proper response to a lack of discipline."

"The op-ed goes on to note that 'by one of the greatest leaps of logic ever seriously entertained in our national discourse, those memos'--that were written by the Department of Justice in analyzing what the President's proper powers were with regard to the detaining of enemy soldiers, who are not lawful combatants--that it was 'one of the greatest leaps of logic ever seriously entertained in our national discourse' to say that memos as part of a discussion in the Department of Justice of the United States had anything to do with those soldiers in Iraq carrying out that abuse," Sessions continued. "But that is what was alleged. It was during a campaign season, I understand, and it resulted in calls for the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld and, I guess, to call for the removal of the President of the United States before the election."

Sessions was just one of five senators to vote against the McCain-sponsored amendment, S.AMDT.1977, which "prohibits torture by confining military interrogations to the techniques in the U.S. Army Field Manual on Interrogation."

The same day Rumsfeld wrote that letter, the media reported that the death toll for US troops in Iraq had reached the 2,000 mark. An article on reported, "The chief spokesman for the American-led multinational force called on reporters covering not to look at the 2,000th death since March 2003 as a milestone, describing the number as an 'artificial mark on the wall.'”

Things got worse for the Secretary of Defense shortly after he wrote that letter. As more torture allegations continued to mount, reports surfaced that the Pentagon was secretly paying Iraqi newspapers off, and US casualties continued to dominate news reports, progress in Iraq began to be seen as pessimistic by both parties. Rumsfeld was able to stick it out for another year or so, before suddenly resigning after the November 2006 elections.