Rumsfeld to Personally Sign Condolence Letters
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not personally sign his name on letters of condolence to families of troops killed in Iraq but instead had it done by a machine, an action lawmakers said on Sunday showed insensitivity and was inappropriate for leadership during war.
Rumsfeld acknowledged that he had not signed the letters to family members of more than 1,000 U.S. troops killed in action and in a statement said he would now sign them in his own hand. “This issue of the secretary of Defense not personally signing the letters is just astounding to me and it does reflect how out of touch they are and how dismissive they are,” Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Hagel noted that the families of the troops killed in Iraq have received letters signed by Bush. “My goodness, that is the least we can expect the secretary of Defense … If the president can find the time to do that why can’t the secretary of Defense?” said Hagel, who has been a sharp critic of the way Bush has handled the Iraq war.
Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island said family members of those killed, “would like to think that at least for a moment the secretary thought about individually this young man or this young woman.”
“I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action,” Rumsfeld said in a statement on Sunday.”
“While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter.”
The Pentagon has acknowledged that Donald H. Rumsfeld did not sign condolence letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq, but it said that from now on the embattled defense secretary would stop the use of signing machines and would pick up the pen himself. In a statement provided to Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, Rumsfeld said: “I wrote and approved the now more than 1,000 letters sent to family members and next of kin of each of the servicemen and women killed in military action. While I have not individually signed each one, in the interest of ensuring expeditious contact with grieving family members, I have directed that in the future I sign each letter.”
The controversy arose when soldier-turned-writer David H. Hackworth penned a column on Nov. 22 reporting that two Pentagon-based colonels told him that Rumsfeld “has relinquished this sacred duty to a signature device rather than signing the sad documents himself.” After checking with various families of the dead, Hackworth wrote that “one father bitterly commented that he thought it was a shame that the SecDef could keep his squash schedule but not find the time to sign his dead son’s letter.” Hackworth wrote that a Pentagon spokesman, Jim Turner, dutifully told him that “Rumsfeld signs the letters himself.” Now, that assertion turns out to be inoperative.
Of all the reasons to criticize Rumsfeld, this has to be by far the silliest. Sadly, it will likely have the most traction with the public. Did Robert McNamara personally sign all the letters from Vietnam? Or the various Service Secretaries during World War II? I hardly think so.