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Hannity

Exclusive: Donald Rumsfeld Describes Highs and Lows of Long Political Career

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," February 8, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: Welcome to the special edition of "Hannity." And I am joined tonight for the entire hour by America's longest-serving Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He is the author of the brand new book, it is called "Known and Unknown." It hit book shows all around the country earlier today, in it he describes the highs and lows of a long and dramatic career and discloses some behind the scenes details that may shock you.

Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being with us. Good to see you again, again.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Thank you so much.

HANNITY: You know, as I read this book in its entirety, I was standing back and just looking at the big picture. You met and knew JFK who you called the most charismatic president you had ever met, right?

RUMSFELD: Indeed.

HANNITY: JFK, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Clinton, the two Bushes.

RUMSFELD: Eisenhower.

HANNITY: Eisenhower, OK, Eisenhower. We got them all.

RUMSFELD: Jimmy Carter.

HANNITY: And I was thinking as I was reading this because it serves -- I wanted to just get your thoughts, you called JFK the most charismatic president ever that you've met.

RUMSFELD: He really was. He was young, he had energy, he offered hope and it was a time in our country's history when -- that he was the right person to be there in terms of inspiring. And then his life was gone, so soon.

HANNITY: One interesting comment about Bill Clinton in this -- and you are very appreciative of it -- and it was either Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo.

RUMSFELD: Abu Ghraib.

HANNITY: -- and the abuse scandals. And he said, apparently pulled you aside and said anyone who's making that allegation is not a right-thinking person. And you felt very appreciative of it.

RUMSFELD: I did. We were at the World War II memorial for the dedication. And he walked across a tent, you know, 30, 40 feet across there, and stuck out his hand and said, you will get through this. No one right thinking person would have any -- even begin to think that you could even know what was going, you know, 5,000 miles away on the midnight shift in Abu Ghraib. And of course he was right.

But nonetheless, it was a terrible time for our country. I was such a revolting, disgusting, deviant behavior that took place there. And it was harmful to our military.

HANNITY: We are going to get to all the specifics of that but very few people have had this experience, I wanted to get it from you. You really appreciated the fact that George W. Bush asked you to be secretary of defense, a job you had held when it was 24-years prior.

RUMSFELD: Yes.

HANNITY: Youngest and oldest secretary of defense in history and longest serving. But the fact that he was his own man is what you pointed out in the book.

RUMSFELD: Well, he was and he is. He and his father I guess have a terrific relationship. But George W. Bush is George W. Bush. He's not George Herbert Walker Bush and it's admirable. He was a good president and an honorable man. And I respect him.

HANNITY: How do you feel about him now? Do you still have contact with him?

RUMSFELD: Occasionally on the phone. I talked to him not too long ago. And he's made a judgment that -- he wrote a book and he's made a judgment that he's not going to participate heavily in current events which I think is probably a good idea for a former president.

HANNITY: How well do you know the current president? You did write about Barack Obama that once he assumed the responsibilities of being commander in chief in 2009 he found that making policy was much different from making speeches. And you're referring to Guantanamo and his first promise that he would close it.

RUMSFELD: You know, during the campaign, he and his opponent both were quite critical of the Bush administration. And president, now president but candidate Obama was critical of Guantanamo. He was critical of indefinite detention for unlawful combatants. He was critical of military commissions.

And here we are two plus years later, and all of those things are there, not because anyone wants him to be there but because they were the best solutions. And the structure that President Bush and his administration put in place, it seems to me, is today accepted as a good structure, as things that were needed. Not things that we wanted but given the nature of terrorism in the world, things that were needed.

HANNITY: Yes. All right. We're going to continue. We have playing more coming up with the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He gives us his inside story about his 1983 meeting, one of the few people to actually sit and meet with Saddam Hussein. Also the very personal side of the secretary. And also, leading the Pentagon after 9/11 and how those attacks changed the secretary of defense's life. That and much more, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: The infamous Iraqi leader approached me confidently.

Saddam wore military fatigue with a pistol on his hip. It was December 20th, 1983, the only time I met the man who would become known as the butcher of Baghdad.

Saddam stopped a few feet in front of me and smiled. I extended my hand which he clasped. The cameras rolled. My trip to Baghdad that winter as President Reagan's envoy, my official title was personal representative of the president of the United States in the Middle East, was the highest level contact by any U.S. official, with Iraq's leadership in 25 years. None of us in the Reagan administration harbored illusions about Saddam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANNITY: And that was Donald Rumsfeld on his 1983 meeting with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. That meeting would later become the subject of fierce criticism from the American Press Corp, when the Bush administration announced its intention to topple Saddam's regime.

We continue now with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. You are one of the few people that I know in the world that ever, from America, that ever got a chance to meet with him. And what was that like?

RUMSFELD: Normally, when one thinks about relationships with other countries, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And we had a situation where the two powerful countries Iran and Iraq, were at war with each other. And we were cross ways with both countries. Iran had taken hostages, our American people in the embassy. And it seemed logical to President Reagan and Secretary Schultz and to me, that we ought to at least try to develop a better relationship with Saddam Hussein.

In the real world of international affairs, sometimes you deal with people that are less worse than the others. And so, I did go to meet with Saddam Hussein.

And he was in his fatigues with a pistol at his hip, a fairly typical Middle Eastern dictator. We had a good visit and shortly thereafter, we did re-establish relationships with Iraq which had not existed for many years since the Middle East war.

HANNITY: And he gave you a strange gift too?

RUMSFELD: He did. He gave me a video of his neighbor Syria and Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current Syrian leader. And sitting in a grandstand watching people -- women, young women -- bite off the heads of snakes. And Syrian soldiers stab -- I can't remember, dogs or rabbits to death. And he was obviously wanted me to have a sense of what he thought of Syria.

HANNITY: That was a way to tell you?

RUMSFELD: I suppose. It was an unusual gift.

HANNITY: You know what's interesting is, and I know that you are going to be asked extensively and exhaustively about the issue of weapons of mass destruction as you go out and you write about this. But we had video of the Kurds where they used chemical weapons.

RUMSFELD: Absolutely.

HANNITY: We had video when he came to power, remember when he came to power? There's actual video of this, he called out people by name. Those people were never seen or heard from again.

RUMSFELD: No.

HANNITY: And they were murdered.

RUMSFELD: Yes.

HANNITY: So, as people, you know, say, well, Mr. Secretary, you got it wrong on weapons of mass does destruction.

RUMSFELD: Yes.

HANNITY: What do you think about the media as it relates for that side of Saddam that they don't want to bring up? We've shown that video on this program.

RUMSFELD: Well, you're quite right. As we talk about it in the book, Saddam Hussein had used chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds. He had used chemical weapons against the Iranian neighbor. He had invaded Kuwait. He had killed hundreds of thousands of people in that country. We have a video of Saddam Hussein's people pushing people off the tops of buildings, cutting off tongues, breaking hands and arms. It was a brutal, vicious regime. And the world is clearly better off without it.

HANNITY: How did we get it wrong on weapons of mass destruction? At one point, when it was clear we didn't have them, you had stated publicly that yes, but I know where they are. And you discussed this in the book that you had misspoke. But, how did we get it so wrong? Number one, do you think he had them and shipped them out in the lead-up to the war?

RUMSFELD: I don't know for sure. We know he had them. We know the United Nations inspectors knew that he had large quantities. And he could not -- it would not or could not show that he had disposed of them. The assumption therefore was that they still existed.

HANNITY: Right.

RUMSFELD: Our intelligence community, the CIA and the entire community concluded that he had them. So too did the intelligence communities of other nations. And it was a perfectly rational, reasonable judgment in my view.

Now, as I explained in the book, the CIA had suspect sites where they believed they were located. And that is what I meant when I said, we know where those sites are. Only, I said I know where they are, instead of where those sites are and that was too bad.

There were people who speculated that they were moved to another country. They were speculated -- people speculated that he had actually destroyed some and maintained the people. Charles Duelfer, the inspector who went in after the war concluded that he had the capability of rapidly increasing his chemical and biological weapons.

HANNITY: There are a couple of points where you did have some disagreements. You were asked I guess at one point to write a memo, I think it was called a Parade of Horribles.

RUMSFELD: I just did it. I wrote it.

HANNITY: You wrote a memo, what if things don't happen? And one of the things you brought up was, what if we don't find weapons of mass destruction? And you also apparently had a conversation with the president about the idea of mission accomplished and the speech that he read. And you felt that it was setting the wrong tone. And as it turned out, it was not helpful.

RUMSFELD: Well, on the latter point, the president's speech was fine. He did not say mission accomplished.

HANNITY: But there was a sign.

RUMSFELD: The sign behind him said mission accomplished. And as I indicated in the book, he felt badly about that, because he knew and we talked about the fact that there was still a lot of very hard work ahead.

So, I think that that was unfortunate from his standpoint that whoever put that sign up there, put it there.

HANNITY: Yes. What about Abu Ghraib? You've mentioned it earlier. And what about Guantanamo and the debate that came up? Because you are very defensive about, both. You claim you did not know about Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, I think the chapter title was, you know, basically the inferring, it is not a bad place to live.

RUMSFELD: The least worse place.

HANNITY: The least worse place.

RUMSFELD: Yes. Well, with respect to Abu Ghraib, I mean, anyone who saw those photos and saw what those people did to prisoners in our custody, had to be just revolted by the disgusting deviant behavior that took place.

It was a stunning, shocking thing. It was harmful to the American military. It was helpful to the enemy because they could go out and use it to recruit. And I just felt terrible about it.

And now, Guantanamo Bay, quite a different thing. It is an exceedingly well run prison. And the folks down there have done and are doing an excellent job. The heartbreaking thing with respect to Guantanamo is not that there is anything wrong with that, it is one of the finest prison systems in the world. What is awkward is the fact that for whatever reason the administration was incapable of persuading people that that was a first class operation, that they were not torturing people, they were not hurting people. And it was then and it is today, a fine operation. And the men and women who operate it for the United States military deserve a lot of credit and they've taken a lot of heat, unfairly.

HANNITY: All right. We'll going to come back, we'll continue with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. We'll talk about 9/11, his memories of America's darkest day. We'll also ask about his personal life a little bit, he talks at length about that in the book. And we will get into, well, some of the personalities that he might have had a little conflict with. That and much more, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD: I was still in my office, absorbing news of the attacks in New York, when I felt the building shake. The tremor lasted no longer than a few seconds. But I knew that only something truly massive could have made hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete shudder. The small round wood table at which we were working, once used by General William Tecumseh Sherman, trembled. Sherman had famously commented that war is hell. Hell had descended on the Pentagon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANNITY: And none of us will ever forget that terrible day, the attack on the Pentagon and suburban Washington that killed 184 people and wounded hundreds of others. Miraculously, within one year of 9/11, the damaged portions of the Pentagon were repaired and reopened under the leadership of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. The country responded with force, ousting the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.

And he continues now to talk about that and much more. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 9/11?

RUMSFELD: A day no one will ever forget. It was the worst attack on our country and on American people in our history. It was an attack against the Pentagon, our military power against the World Trade Centers, our economic power. And the estimate is that the third plane that went down in Shanksville, thanks to the heroism of some of the passengers was headed for either the White House or the capital building. It was terrible, terrible day.

HANNITY: You have in your office, I understand to this day, a piece of the plane?

RUMSFELD: I do. I picked up a piece of the plane shortly after it hit the Pentagon. I went out and stayed for a bit and on the way back in, I picked up a piece of the metal and have it in my office as a reminder.

HANNITY: You talked a lot about how difficult this was because this was a whole different kind of war that America is going to be engaged in. You don't even like the term war on terror?

RUMSFELD: It is not a bad term, but it is not perfect. When you say the word war, American people think of big armies, navies and air forces. They don't think of dealing with non-state entities like terrorist networks. They don't think of operating in countries that you are not at war with and the ungoverned areas that terrorists use to attack our country.

Furthermore, the word terror is a technique. It's a method of attacking our country. You could use tanks, or planes, or ships or terrorism. And so the war on terror, I felt was not perfect. Clearly, what it is, you've got a collection of radical Islamists, extremists who are determined to damage and end the nation state.

HANNITY: Has America forgotten -- for example, my biggest concern, and I want your thoughts about what's happening in Egypt right now. As we got the Muslim Brotherhood, their whole motto, their whole background, their whole history is dedicated to Islamic extremism. I believe the number of those that either sympathize with or organize with radicals is at a number or percentage that the world doesn't seem to want to deal with.

Am I right or is there far more moderate voices out there that can be appealed to?

RUMSFELD: Well, of course the Muslim faith is enormous. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

HANNITY: What I'm saying the numbers that believe in radicalism, I'm separating the two.

RUMSFELD: Exactly, the numbers who are radical Islamists is relatively small, it's a small fraction of that population. And I think that it being critical of our own administration, the Bush administration. We did not do a great job of engaging in the battle of ideas, the competition of ideas. And it is an ideological battle. And one of the reasons is I think people are sensitive of not wanting to be accused of being anti-a religion.

And the current administration, the Obama administration has taken it to an extreme. They're not even willing to even use the words. And they deny that that's the problem, that Islamist extremists are the problem, when in fact they are.

HANNITY: On 9/11, you were meeting with members of Congress. You write about that. And, you know, you were handed a note. And as you were absorbing what was happening, you felt the Pentagon shake. And you said, hell had descended on the Pentagon, is what you wrote.

RUMSFELD: And on the country. I was -- I was meeting with a group of congressmen and in the course of the discussion, they were worried about the Social Security lock box, which we've forgotten completely by today.

HANNITY: There is no lock box, Mr. Secretary. It doesn't exist.

RUMSFELD: That's right. That's my point. And they were worried about the political arguments that would be used against them if they increased the defense budget. And I made the simple comment at some point down the road, we've always found that some terrible event occurs and people will recognize the importance of being willing to make the kinds of investments and expenditures on defense that this country needs.

HANNITY: Do you think the country got war weary? Do you think America forgot? Because time sort of, you know, distant memories? Because when people talk about Iraq and Afghanistan now, there seems to a lot of consensus among a lot of people, there was a lot of demagoguing and hyperbole going on at the time, some of it leveled at you. Do you think people fully understand a nature of this treat? Or is this going to be something my children, your children, your grandchildren will live with the rest of their lives, Islamic, you know, terrorists?

RUMSFELD: Well, let there be no doubt, there are extremists out there, who are determined to do damage to the United States of America and to kill Americans, and to impose a caliphate over a large fraction of this globe. And they have weapons of increasing fatality at their disposal and their beck and call.

HANNITY: All right. We'll continue. We have much more. The rhetoric of Rumsfeld. We'll examine those famous words that draw both, well, commendation and criticism and also provided his memoir's namesake.

Plus, emotions run high in our exclusive footage of the former defense secretary's final trip to Iraq, we were there. You don't want to miss it, coming up.

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