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Retired Maj. General: 'We need a new secretary of defense'

Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack says the defense secretary is "hamstringing" America's generals.


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(CNN) -- Retired Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack Jr. is the second general who served in Iraq under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to call for Rumsfeld's resignation.

Swannack commanded the elite 82nd Airborne Division during its mission in Iraq.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr spoke with the general about his reasons and why he's speaking out now. (Watch Swannack accuse Rumsfeld of micromanaging -- 1:29)

Starr: Gen. Swannack, let's just walk through some key points here. What are your thoughts that you want to articulate on this issue?

Swannack: Well specifically, Barbara, I agree with our national security objectives and the decision to remove Saddam Hussein, which was to create a stable Iraq and that subsequently will contribute to the stability of the Middle East.

Starr: OK, and how do you feel about this emerging issue about the management of the war in Iraq?

Swannack: Well I don't agree with Secretary Rumsfeld's management of the war. Specifically, I feel he has micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there to achieve our strategic objectives.

I really believe that we need a new Secretary of Defense because Secretary Rumsfeld carries way too much baggage with him. And I'll speak briefly about that. But it goes back to insufficient forces to attack north to Baghdad and subsequently fight the insurgency.

And I believe he has culpability associated with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and so rather than admitting these mistakes, he continually justifies them to the press and all you all in the press corps and that really disallows him from moving our strategy forward.(Watch why Rumsfeld isn't expected to bow to pressure -- 2:39)

Starr: Let me ask you to be more clear, what do you mean by culpability in Abu Ghraib?

Swannack: Well, I believe the issue borders around specific instructions to go against and interrogate Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan that leaked over into combat operations under the Geneva Conventions in Iraq.

And I believe that there was a misunderstanding of those instructions for Afghanistan and subsequently what happened in Iraq to prisoners of war.

I believe those instructions lead directly back to Secretary Rumsfeld and he is culpable then for what happened at Abu Ghraib.

Starr: Do you believe he directly ordered it?

Swannack: I do not believe that he directly ordered it. I believe that it was -- that he, and through the Pentagon, issues were given -- directions were given to ratchet up the interrogation on terrorists. In this case they were war criminals ... prisoners of war in Abu Ghraib, and that's where I believe leading back to those initial instructions, that Secretary Rumsfeld is culpable.

Starr: Now I need to ask you to explain one last thing, because a lot of people in the United States look at this number of retired generals who are articulating their views and you called it, I believe, micromanagement, and you do not agree with his management of the war. And people then have what I suspect is a legitimate question. Why did then, to the public's knowledge, no generals speak up about this while they were on active duty?

Swannack: Well I believe you'll find any general and any leader serving our military to be loyal up the chain of command but also loyal down the chain of command and that loyalty goes, you know, through peace and through war and it's justified in both environments.

However, I just had to go ahead and speak out recently because of my belief that he just controls our generals far too much; it's almost like he hamstrings our generals. What our generals really need from the Pentagon and from Secretary Rumsfeld is only the strategic objectives they're supposed to achieve, the policy decisions necessary to bring about those objectives and then funding for the war. And I believe he oversteps his bounds and has been detrimental to our generals leading the war.

Starr: From what you saw in your time on active duty, do you think even at the highest levels of the U.S. military, the highest ranking generals that deal with him directly -- do the generals feel comfortable giving Rumsfeld their views?

Swannack: I don't think our generals feel comfortable providing Secretary Rumsfeld their honest beliefs. I think it almost boils down to explain the party line and stay loyal to me or you might end up like General Shinseki did, at odds with Secretary Rumsfeld.

Starr: What does this mean? Is there something that needs to happen on both sides of the equation, the civilian leadership side, but also is there something then that needs to happen with senior military leaders? Is something wrong here?

Swannack: I just believe it's out of kilter right now. I believe we've got a great military. I believe that our military civilian leadership, the civilian leadership of the military, is exactly the right thing to do.

However, if you understand what Secretary Rumsfeld has done in his time in the Pentagon, he personally is the one who selects the three star generals to go forward to the president for the Senate to confirm. That's a huge function that he has taken on and so in that I believe underwritten is absolute loyalty to Secretary Rumsfeld and that's where we get in trouble in my opinion.

Senior leaders see their advancement only at the favor of Secretary Rumsfeld, not because of the good job they do, not because of the potential they have, more so the favor of Secretary Rumsfeld; that's where we get amiss in this whole thing.

Starr: I just wrap up by saying people say, "Well if all these generals felt this way, did they ever tell anybody they felt this way?"

Swannack: I told folks of my disfavor with Secretary Rumsfeld.

Starr: While you were on active duty?

Swannack: While I was on active duty, yes.

Starr: Is there anything, sir, I'm not asking you that you wish to add in?

Swannack: The only other thing that I would like to add: I respect Secretary Rumsfeld. He served our nation well, but I just believe he needs to change because of the reasons I've mentioned. He's got too much baggage, he's hamstringing our generals.

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