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First Person

Errol Morris turns camera, questions on Donald Rumsfeld

Former statesman’s memos are focus of latest documentary, ‘The Unknown Known.’

Larry Busacca

After Rumsfeld’s autobiography, Known and Unknown, was published, I became aware that there are all these “snowflakes,” or memos, that he had written over the course of a very, very long time. He started writing them in the ’60s. The snowflakes really interested me; in fact, they are the reason I made this movie.

I sent Rumsfeld a copy of [my 2003 documentary about Robert McNamara] The Fog of Warand made it clear that I didn’t intend to make a sequel. I didn’t see McNamara and Rumsfeld as being the same sort of people, even though they had occupied the same post: secretary of defense. Rumsfeld told me he didn’t like The Fog of War. I don’t know if he ever saw it, but he said to me he didn’t like it, and that McNamara had nothing to apologize for.

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There is so much in this movie revealed about Donald Rumsfeld, but it’s not about his engagement with history; it’s about his disengagement. In the movie he says he never read the so-called “torture memos,” which were, in fact, memos that authorized torture. Do I believe him? Here’s the really scary part. I do. It’s as if he’s just disconnected from the reality of what he’s done.

I know that he sees himself as right. He has an unflappable belief in his own rectitude and probity. I think we have a picture of what happened during the Bush administration, and many people are angry about it. I felt that my job was not to be angry at Donald Rumsfeld but to try to capture who I think he is, to capture something about him that I think is real. And I think I have. It may not be what everyone expects, or wants to hear, but I think that it’s it.

— As told to Rachel Deahl (Interview has been edited and condensed.)

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SEE IT The Unknown Known opens Friday, April 4, at Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Theatre. Morris will appear at the 3 p.m. screening on Sunday, April 6. 617-734-2500; coolidge.org

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