Donald Rumsfeld’s Widow Problem

What happens when you call the former Secretary of Defense a liar.

Ashley Joppa-Hagemann remembers the third time her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Jared Hagemann, 25, tried to kill himself this year, facing another combat tour with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Special Operations unit. He stood in front of her holding a gun to his head with “this look of desperation in his eyes,” she told the Tacoma News Tribune.

“It was as if he was asking me, ‘Please, let me go.’ ” He succeeded on the fourth try, and was found dead June 28 on base training grounds with a gunshot wound to the head.

Recently, at a JBLM book-signing event, Joppa-Hagemann hoped to talk to a man she thought would be interested to hear about her husband’s suicide. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was inking his memoir with the fittingly enigmatic title Known and Unknown, in which he in part tries to make amends for some callous moments, such as saying—after fallen Baghdad was looted of millions in money and treasure—”Stuff happens.”

All seemed to be going well until Joppa-Hagemann got to his signing table at the base PX. Rumsfeld began to pen his autograph when the widow brought up the possibility he had misled his soldiers and the American people. That quickly brought the MPs and security guards, who gave the widow the bum’s rush.

The military isn’t saying much about the confrontation, other than that Joppa- Hagemann and companion Jorge Gonzalez, director of Coffee Strong, a local antiwar veterans group, caused a disturbance and were peacefully escorted out. The disturbance? The widow called the ex-secretary a liar.

According to an account later posted on Gonzalez’s Coffee Strong website, Joppa-Hagemann “introduced herself by handing a copy of her husband’s funeral program to Rumsfeld, and telling him that her husband had joined the military because he believed the lies told by Rumsfeld during his tenure with the Bush Administration. She then recounted her husband’s painful story of eight deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, his battle with PTSD, and eventual suicide, for which she blamed the military and Rumsfeld himself, whose only response [to her comments] was to callously quip, ‘Oh yeah, I heard about that.’ Despite Rumsfeld’s sarcasm, Joppa-Hagemann tried to further make her case that Rumsfeld and the Pentagon were to blame for not providing necessary care for soldiers and veterans scarred by combat. But that was spoiling Rummy’s otherwise nice day of back pats and kowtowing. She and Gonzalez were ‘dragged,’ they say, from the Post Exchange by five or six security agents and military police officers, and told not to return.”

It could be Rumsfeld is touchier than usual these days about criticism, having had so much of it heaped on him in recent years, first by war doubters, now by legions of book critics. Legendary journalist Bob Woodward says the ex-defense secretary-turned-author misleads readers and ducks responsibility for Iraq, while strange bedfellows like John McCain and the ACLU have joined forces to challenge Rummy’s version of events.

Joppa-Hagemann went the critics one better, boldly telling Rumsfeld to his face what she thought of him and his book of self-justification, which, as some critics have hinted, should be filed under either fiction or true crime.

“All I could do,” she said afterward, “was just really be happy at that moment that I got to tell Donald to his face that he was a liar.”

Unlike the defense secretary, she knew how to declare victory and go home.

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