Matt Latimer’s Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor has been mined heavily for its disclosure of Bushisms about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin, but David Corn surveys its revelations about the Pentagon under Donald Rumfeld. Latimer, who wrote speeches in the Pentagon from 2004-06 before making the “big time” in the White House, lavishes praise on Rumsfeld. But, in Corn’s view, he presents Rumsfeld’s Pentagon as a “dysfunctional world run by toadying sycophants and bureaucratic bunglers.” He has unflattering things to say about Rumsfeld’s two closest aides, Doug Feith and Stephen Cambone:
Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the leading advocates of the Iraq war, was kind of a weirdo. At one point, he whistled Latimer into his office and asked him if he would write speeches for him. Feith was upset with his own speechwriter. In particular, he was incensed with the opening line of congressional testimony his writer had drafted for him. The offending sentence: “Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify today.” There was nothing wrong with the line, Latimer notes in the book, leaving the impression that there was something wrong with Feith.
Stephen Cambone, Latimer writes, had to be promoted out of his job as Rumsfeld’s special assistant because he was detached, disdainful and non-communicative — that is, he did not have the people skills to be a bridge between Rumsfeld’s office “and the rest of the building.” Yet instead of booting him out of the Pentagon, Rumsfeld named him to one of the department’s most important positions: undersecretary of intelligence. Why did Cambone thrive in Rummyland? Cambone, Latimer notes, mastered the technique of repeating whatever Rumsfeld had said “back to him as if it were Cambone’s idea.”
Latimer’s observation of the prisoner abuse scandal was also very revealing:
At one point, Latimer and his fellow speechwriters were ordered to write a report on the Abu Ghraib controversy — what had happened and what the Pentagon was doing about it. “We were also asked,” he recalls, “to put in an appendix that absolved three people being criticized in the press as architects of the detainee issue: DoD general counsel Jim Haynes, Steve Cambone, and Doug Feith. I think the exoneration idea came from Haynes, Cambone, and Feith. It was a long, convoluted digression that basically said that no one was responsible for any of the abuses that took place. And even if someone was responsible, it wasn’t them.” This “detainee book” was never released to the public.
Throughout this period, the public affairs office under Larry DiRita (now head of public relations for Bank of America) focused on blaming the abuses in Abu Ghraib on a handful of enlisted personnel–Rumsfeld’s “bad apples.” It used this classic sleight of hand to distract attention from Rumsfeld and the leadership figures who were in fact responsible. Haynes has gone on to serve as chief corporate counsel at Chevron, Cambone to a leading position in the U.S. arm of the British defense contractor QinetiQ, and Feith to a job at the Hudson Institute, a right-wing think tank, after Georgetown failed to renew his teaching contract. It would be good to get that “detainee book” and have a look at it. The key problem Latimer faced, of course, was that Haynes, Cambone, and Feith were the font of detainee policy within the Pentagon, and also the key points of coordination with the White House, particularly through Vice President Cheney’s office.