Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a government hearing on combat deaths in Afghanistan
Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during a government hearing on combat deaths in AfghanistanReuters

Film director Errol Morris has been discussing his latest documentary, The Unknown Known, based on a series of talks with former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, at a Q&A session at the London School of Economics. Here are some highlights.

How would you characterise Donald Rumsfeld?
Narcissistic, self-satisfied and clueless. To me, that's the most shocking part of this movie, his utter cluelessness. You look for depth and it just ain't there.

What is the film about?
It's a movie about someone who has retreated into some kind of fantasy world and [talks] in meaningless expressions. I think that Donald Rumsfeld has this amazing gift of saying things that are seemingly profound which are unbelievably stupid.

Was it difficult to interview him?
The issue is a very simple issue. Were there WMD in Iraq? True or false? If you believe that there were, what evidence do you have to support your belief? What's your justification for your belief that Saddam Hussein is in possession of WMD or is selling them to terrorist organisations? He has deflected our attention away from those issues to something deeply irrelevant.

My first tendency when given these kinds of answers is to think, well, he's hiding something. I did an interview with The Guardian and was asked, "Did you find him insincere?" and my answer was that he was totally sincere. That's what is really disturbing. Insincerity would be a relief.

What was your technique to get at the psychological makeup of Rumsfeld?
I characterise this movie as history from the inside out. The normal way you do this is get 15 people to comment on Rumsfeld. I chose to interview one person [Rumsfeld] and use all his "snowflakes" - which is what he called his memos. By the way, none of them is in the public domain. They are being read for the very first time in this movie. It's about how Rumsfeld wants to see himself. How he envisions himself and his own policies.

What were Rumsfeld's conditions for making the film. Did he see any of your previous films or rough cuts?
This may come as a surprise but I don't think he cares about anything. If it were me, I would look at my previous work and make an assessment - should I talk to this person. I think the external world is not so interesting to him. That world of evidence - not so interesting.

Did you get a chance to ask him about the real reasons for the war?
Who the f**k knows the real reasons for war? I think there's a deep human need to come up with an explanation that makes sense of war. Rumsfeld to me is an introduction to the caprice of history: it's insanity. The fact that we expect someone to be doing something for reasons that could be simply articulated. Those reasons aren't there. Where did it all come from? A mixture of the Cold War, and a mixture of conservative opinion about the importance of military power.

Watch the trailer for The Unknown Known