Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who oversaw Iraq war, dies at 88

Key Points
  • Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has died at the age of 88.
  • Rumsfeld, who served in the Republican administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, oversaw the Pentagon's response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Fmr. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dies at 88
Fmr. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dies at 88

WASHINGTON — Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has died at the age of 88, according to a statement released Wednesday by his family.

"It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico," the statement read, without specifying when Rumsfeld died.

"History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country."

Rumsfeld, who served as the secretary of Defense in the Republican administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, oversaw the Pentagon's response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Following the attacks, Rumsfeld directed a U.S. military attack on Afghanistan that led to the toppling of the Taliban, who harbored Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders.

Two years later, Rumsfeld oversaw the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a move aimed at removing then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

He also warned of a growing arsenal of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but no such weapons were ever discovered.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (L) waves next to U.S. President George W. Bush during the Armed Forces Full Honor Review in Honor of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon in Washington December 15, 2006.
Larry Downing | Reuters

Rumsfeld, who initially earned praise for leading America's military into conflict, was later criticized as the nation grew weary of the Iraq War.

In 2004, Rumsfeld was blamed after photographs emerged of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners detained at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Rumsfeld had personally authorized harsh interrogation techniques for detainees and later oversaw the opening of the detention camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where foreign terrorist suspects were tortured.

Rumsfeld resigned as Secretary of Defense in 2006 and was replaced by then-CIA Director Robert Gates.

In his memoir, "Known and Unknown," Rumsfeld defended his handling of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and later wrote in "Rumsfeld's Rules," a collection of guidelines he used during his career, "If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much."

Before leading the Pentagon, Rumsfeld served as President Richard Nixon's ambassador to NATO. Under Ford, Rumsfeld served first as White House chief of staff, then as secretary of Defense, the youngest person ever to lead the nation's largest federal agency.

The U.S. Navy aviator briefly ran for the Republican U.S. presidential nomination in 1988.

In the years following six decades of public service, Rumsfeld served as chief executive of two Fortune 500 companies.

In January, he penned a letter alongside the nation's nine other living secretaries of Defense warning that the U.S. military should have no role in determining the outcome of a U.S. election.

The letter came as then-President Donald Trump refused to concede to Joe Biden in the 2020 election and made baseless claims about widespread voter fraud.

The former Defense secretaries, who collectively oversaw America's military forces for nearly 50 years, argued that "the time for questioning the results" of the U.S. presidential election had passed.

"Our elections have occurred. Recounts and audits have been conducted. Appropriate challenges have been addressed by the courts. Governors have certified the results. And the electoral college has voted. The time for questioning the results has passed; the time for the formal counting of the electoral college votes, as prescribed in the Constitution and statute, has arrived," wrote Defense secretaries Mark Esper, James Mattis, Ash Carter, Chuck Hagel, Leon Panetta, Dick Cheney, William Cohen, Robert Gates, William Perry and Rumsfeld in an op-ed published Jan. 3 in The Washington Post.

"Each of us swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We did not swear it to an individual or a party," penned the former Defense secretaries.