- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld planned to raid a terrorist camp in northeastern Iraq at the same moment Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was delivering his later-discredited indictment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program to the United Nations in 2003.

President Bush called off the raid, siding with the State Department.

According to his memoir, “Known and Unknown,” Mr. Rumsfeld lost an argument to Mr. Powell over whether U.S. and Kurdish militia forces should strike a terrorist base in Khurmal affiliated with the suspected terrorist group Ansar al-Islam while Mr. Powell was presenting the case for the Iraq War to the U.N.

The disclosure provides evidence that a terrorist group in northern Iraq had a makeshift chemical-weapons facility, though Mr. Rumsfeld is careful to say that the evidence collected from the site is not conclusive.

In the memoir, Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges that much of the pre-Iraq War intelligence was wrong. But he also does not say he regrets the 2003 invasion that led to the ouster of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

At a Feb. 3, 2003, National Security Council meeting, two days before Mr. Powell’s presentation on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction before the U.N. Security Council, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “We should hit Khurmal during the speech … given that Colin will talk about it.”

Mr. Rumsfeld recounts that Mr. Powell objected. “That would wipe out my briefing,” Mr. Rumsfeld quotes Mr. Powell as saying. “We’re going to get Khurmal in a few weeks anyway,” Mr. Powell added, according to Mr. Rumsfeld.

Peggy Cifrino, a spokeswoman for Mr. Powell, said: “General Powell said he might have been concerned that bombing Khurmal at a time when he was making the case to the U.N. Security Council might suggest the war had already started. He was not clear that anything of significance was there, either.”

In the first days of the war, U.S. military and intelligence operatives did raid the Khurmal site and, according to Mr. Rumsfeld, found “clear signs of chemical-weapons production.”

They included “chemical hazard suits, manuals to make chemical weapons in Arabic, and traces of the deadly toxins cyanide, ricin and potassium chloride,” according to Mr. Rumsfeld.

But the U.S. forces did not find anyone in the senior leadership of Ansar al-Islam, such as Abu Musab Zarqawi, who would later go on to lead al Qaeda’s wing in Iraq.

“Ironically, had Powell not objected to the [Defense Department] and CIA proposal to attack the Khurmal site before he gave his presentation to the U.N., we might have been able to gather the conclusive evidence of an active WMD facility, that he said existed in his U.N. speech,” Mr. Rumsfeld says in his memoir.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Rumsfeld praised Mr. Powell as a “seasoned and experienced government leader.” He also said the discussion at the National Security Council was a “legitimate debate.”

“Our view was we should send in a ground force before the war and find out precisely what was going on,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “Colin Powell felt it would weaken his speech at the U.N. The minute he announced the Khurmal facility existed, the people [there] were evacuated.”

In the interview, Mr. Rumsfeld also said that he thought it was proper for the American people and Congress to review from time to time the extraordinary powers Mr. Bush and later President Obama have asserted to fight the global war on terrorism.

“I think that our respect for a free press and for freedom of movement and free speech are fundamental in the United States,” he said. “They are ingrained in the American people. We do need to be sensitive to it. We do not want to become inured to the kinds of things we have had to fashion to protect the American people.”

In his memoir, Mr. Rumsfeld said he anticipated after Sept. 11 that the administration’s policy of asserting the right to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects who had been rounded up overseas would become controversial.

But he also notes that Mr. Obama has asserted many of the same powers that the Bush administration did.

“To the disappointment of some of the president’s supporters, his administration has kept in place the most contentious and widely derided Bush administration policies,” the memoir states.

Those policies include not designating detainees as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, keeping the Guantanamo Bay detention facility open, trying many detainees via military commissions, continuing and expanding the use of unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against terrorism suspects, and maintaining electronic eavesdropping of terrorism suspects.

In the interview, Mr. Rumsfeld said these policies should be credited for preventing another mass-casualty terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11.

At the same time, Mr. Rumsfeld said that he would be open to the idea of sunsetting and debating the Sept. 14, 2001, congressional resolution known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which the Bush and Obama administrations have asserted provides legal justification for the war on terrorism.

“It seems to me, I think it is useful for our country to re-examine the way we are living our lives, the laws we have and the deterrence we want to have and the investments we make,” he said in response to a question asking whether he would support reopening the resolution.

“The extent we do that from time to time, that is perfectly rational,” he said.

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