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Abu Ghraib was darkest hour, Rumsfeld says

Published Dec. 9, 2006

In an emotional farewell at the Pentagon on Friday, Donald Rumsfeld said the worst day of his nearly six years as secretary of defense occurred when he learned of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

Speaking to a gathering of employees 10 days before he is to leave office, Rumsfeld defended his record on Iraq and Afghanistan and warned of "dire consequences were we to fail" in the war.

He also said he might write a book about his tenure at the Pentagon, and he predicted that his successor, Robert Gates, would do a good job. He declined to say what advice he had offered Gates, who was confirmed by the Senate this week.

Rumsfeld choked up briefly while recalling a woman in Alaska giving him a bracelet in August as a reminder of the sacrifices by soldiers of the Army's 172nd Stryker Brigade, whose yearlong tour in Iraq was extended by four months to help try to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad. Showing it on his wrist, Rumsfeld recalled that he told the woman he would wear the green bracelet until the 172nd came home.

In a question-and-answer session billed as a town hall meeting, he was asked what were his best day and his worst day.

"Clearly, the worst day was Abu Ghraib, seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened," he said without hesitation. The scandal in the spring of 2004 involving an Iraq prison triggered worldwide condemnation and prompted Rumsfeld to twice offer his resignation to President Bush. Bush rejected those offers.

"I guess my best day, I don't know, may be a week from Monday," he said with a grin, referring to the day Gates takes over.

Asked how he wants history to remember him, he said simply, "Better than the local press."

He spoke at length about his hopes that the United States not let Iraq and Afghanistan collapse.

"We have every chance in the world of succeeding in both those countries, but only if we have the patience and only if we have the staying power," he said. Asked about the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's recommendations for a change in approach to the Iraq war, Rumsfeld said none of the suggestions were new.

He said the Pentagon had sent its advice to the White House on possible new approaches in Iraq.

With troops from each military service and a few civilian Pentagon employees seated behind him on stage in the Pentagon's main auditorium, Rumsfeld spoke to an audience of several hundred people. With a big smile, he strode into the room to a cascade of applause and a few approving yelps.

"I suspect this will be among my last public remarks as secretary of defense," he said.

His last full day will be Dec. 17.