Rumsfeld telling an audience at the National Defense University in 2002 that the U.S. faced attacks "vastly more deadly" than September 11. (Photo: Getty Images)

Secretary of Indefense: Rumsfeld a Slippery Subject in New Documentary

In the opening shot of Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known, Donald Rumsfeld doesn’t look well. His face has the clammy plastic sheen morticians are paid to produce. We soon come to understand that he is alive and well, but this gray mausoleum of a documentary is about death anyway.

The title refers to the most famous of Mr. Rumsfeld’s contributions to the dictionary of American Orwellianisms. During a February 2002 briefing at the Department of Defense, then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld addressed the problem of the lack of evidence of Iraqi W.M.D.s.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Reporters in the room didn’t have time to cogitate on that before Mr. Rumsfeld’s curt, grinning retort from the podium: “Last question.”

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