Former US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld dies aged 88

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Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the main architect of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, has died, according to a statement by his family released Wednesday. He was 88.

"It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the passing of Donald Rumsfeld, an American statesman and devoted husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. At 88, he was surrounded by family in his beloved Taos, New Mexico," the Rumsfeld family said in the statement.

The cause of the former defense chief's death was multiple myeloma, according to Keith Urbahn, a spokesman for the family.

Rumsfeld first served as defense secretary in the Gerald Ford administration during the early 1970s, and then headed the Pentagon again under then President George W. Bush in the early 2000s.

While the veteran politician's two stints at the helm of the Pentagon made him both the youngest and the second-oldest secretary of defense, it was the second term that defined Rumsfeld's legacy.

Rumsfeld oversaw two conflicts during his tenure in the position -- Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan conducted less than a month following the 9/11 terror attack on American homeland in 2001, and the Iraq War launched in 2003.

Despite having Bush's support, Rumsfeld ultimately resigned in November 2006 under pressure from both U.S. and other NATO-member retired military leaders over his role in the Iraq War, for which Washington's excuse that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of massive destruction was never proven on a factual basis.

In his 2011 memoir, "Known and Unknown," Rumsfeld, having retired from public service for over four years, still expressed no regrets over the decision to invade Iraq. "Ridding the region of Saddam's brutal regime has created a more stable and secure world," he wrote.

Many have also urged that Rumsfeld should be held to account for the notorious detainee abuse scandal in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Meant to be classified but leaked in 2004, a report by then U.S. Army Major General Antonio Mario Taguba found that between October and December of 2003, there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" by U.S. soldiers and members of the intelligence community against prisoners detained at Abu Ghraib.

In June 2008, Taguba accused the Bush administration, of which Rumsfeld was a member, of committing war crimes.

Despite the criticism that long outlived Rumsfeld's years in Washington, Bush lauded his former defense secretary as an "exemplary public servant and a very good man" in a statement on Wednesday.

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