Rumsfeld defends his war legacy in Venice Festival film

Thu Sep 5, 2013 3:56pm EDT
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By Michael Roddy

VENICE (Reuters) - Errol Morris is not at all certain why former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld agreed to let him make a documentary portrait of the man who oversaw the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, but he is convinced of at least one thing.

Rumsfeld, he said, has no regrets about the campaigns.

"Rumsfeld never came even close to calling these wars a mistake, an error of judgment, let alone saying 'I am sorry'," Morris told Reuters on Thursday after the screening of his film "The Unknown Known" at the Venice Film Festival.

Rumsfeld may have expected to receive something less than a sympathetic hearing from the film maker. Both the Afghan and Iraqi wars stirred controversy over their conception and conduct. Critics have focused often on the figure of Rumsfeld, who argues that he took necessary action in a time of crisis.

Morris's film takes its title from a famous Rumsfeld dictum about what is known and what is not known, the uncertainties of intelligence. It is one of an unprecedented two documentaries in competition for the Golden Lion trophy for best picture to be awarded on Saturday night.

Asked why Rumsfeld, who had a deeply combative relationship with the press, agreed to make the film, when a lawyer for Rumsfeld had assured Morris he would not, the filmmaker said: "I don't think there are simple answers to those 'why' questions.

"Why did he agree to talk to me, why did he agree to make the movie?" Morris offered no answer to his own questions, although he had won an Oscar for his 2003 documentary "The Fog of War" about Vietnam-war era defense secretary Robert McNamara.

Rumsfeld never opened up to him the way McNamara did, Morris said, even though McNamara also never apologized, on film, for the Vietnam War, and its nearly 60,000 American war casualties.   Continued...

Director Errol Morris arrives for a photocall for the movie "The Unknown Known" during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice September 4, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi