Rumsfeld offers warning in farewell ceremony (Roundup)
By Mike McCarthy Dec 15, 2006, 23:12 GMT
Washington - In an emotional farewell address US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed concern that Americans have grown complacent in the war on terrorism because terrorists have not struck US soil since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
'That we have been successful - I would add fortunate - to have suffered not one single attack here at home since September 11th, 2001, has contributed to a misperception in some quarters that the threat is gone,' he said. 'It is not.'
Rumsfeld, 74, said goodbye to hundreds of soldiers and guests who attended the event outside the Pentagon, including President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, just more than a month after Bush announced he was replacing his embattled military boss.
Rumsfeld will stay on the job until Monday, when his successor, former CIA director Robert Gates, will be sworn in and take over the job.
Rumsfeld stepped down after Bush's Republican Party was defeated by Democrats in the November 7 election that was largely viewed as a referendum on the conflict in Iraq. Rumsfeld, the architect of the war, has faced calls to resign since the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse ordeal became public in 2004.
Rumsfeld has been blamed for mishandling the war in Iraq and not properly planning to stabilize the country since the April 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. Nearly 3,000 US soldiers have died in Iraq.
Bush, Cheney and the top military officer, General Peter Pace, praised Rumsfeld for his determination and effort to make the United States safer, for ousting Saddam and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
In an emotional moment, Rumsfeld said his thoughts will always remain with the American solders sent into battle, those who have lost their lives and their families.
'I will remember the fallen,' he said. 'And I will particularly remember their families and the - from whom I have drawn inspiration.'
Rumsfeld has been the most controversial and longest serving defence secretary since Robert McNamara, who ran the US military effort in Vietnam in the 1960s. Rumsfeld also served as defence secretary under former president Gerald Ford.
'Don Rumsfeld has been at my side from the moment I took office,' Bush said. 'We've been through war together. We have shared some of the most challenging moments in our nation's history.'
Rumsfeld's departure comes as Bush conducts a comprehensive review of his strategy in Iraq as it continues to slide toward a full-blown sectarian civil war. The war has lost the support of the American public and has been largely behind Bush's low job approval ratings.
Last week, Rumsfeld told a group of soldier that his greatest regret memory during his tenure will be the Abuse Ghraib scandal, which sparked international outrage and badly damaged US credibility when photos emerged showing US soldiers physically abusing and sexually humiliating detainees in the prison outside Baghdad. Ten US soldiers have been convicted.
Rumsfeld apologized over the affair but Bush did not accept his offer to resign.
'Clearly the worst day was Abu Ghraib and seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened,' Rumsfeld said December 8.
Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during the farewell ceremony that Rumsfeld always accepted responsibility for the affair.
'Secretary Rumsfeld accepted the responsibility and not once, in public or in private, did I ever hear this man try to shift responsibility to anyone else but himself,' Pace said. 'He's a man of integrity.'
Rumsfeld has been known for being highly intellectual, demanding, and for an abrasive management style that often left his his top generals disgruntled.
'He pushed us hard. The only person he pushed harder than us was himself,' Pace said. 'The man's work ethic is simply incredible, and he brought to this building and to this department a sense of urgency that quickly filled us all.'© 2006 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur