Nearly 2,000 documents from Donald Rumsfeld's tenure in politics, dating back to his early days as a congressman in the 1960s, will be available for public consumption on Tuesday, the day his memoir, "Known and Unknown," hits bookshelves.
The extensive archival collection took four years to digitize and compile and was paid for by the former defense secretary himself. It will be featured on www.rumsfeld.com. Users will not only be able to search for documents by category or timeframe, they will also be allow to click on documents that Rumsfeld cites in his book -- all 1,300 of them.
Rumsfeld, a controversial figure who started his public service career as a congressman in 1963, has always had a keen interest in keeping close track of his documents.
He kept a detailed record of every vote he cast in Congress, and dictated notes on the decision behind that vote.
In the White House, first as President Gerald Ford's Chief of Staff and then President George W. Bush's defense secretary, Rumsfeld continued those record-keeping methods, carefully maintaining all his memos and notes from presidential briefings.
The archives specifically focus on three aspects of Rumsfeld's public service career: His voting record in Congress, his time in the Ford and Nixon administrations, and the Sept. 11 attacks and the eventual U.S. attack on Iraq, which has made Rumsfeld one of the most controversial public figures in recent decades.
The collection includes a diversity of documents, from Rumsfeld's own reflective memos, to more formal, contextual papers about policy.
The idea of compiling a public archive was conceived by Rumsfeld himself, said Victoria Coates, senior research associate at the Rumsfeld Foundation, and he personally reviewed every document that is placed on the website.
"He really thinks the free flow of information is critical to a vibrant democracy," Coates said, and placing many of his documents in full view was "another way to get more information in people's hands."
While one of Rumsfeld's reasonings behind opening up his personal documents to the public was to allow people to judge his record for themselves, it also sheds light on little-known details of the career of the oft-secretive Rumsfeld. For example, as a Republican congressman from Illinois and then as Ford's chief of staff, Rumsfeld was heavily involved in the civil rights bill, and the archive features a 35-page document from 1964 detailing his views on the subject.
Rumsfeld was also a chief supporter of the Freedom of Information Act and publicly backed its primary author, Rep. John E. Moss of California.
It is ironic though, that as defense secretary, Rumsfeld often came under fire from liberal groups for keeping a tight lid on information, especially that related to the U.S. war on terrorism.
Considered one of the architects of the Iraq war, the controversial Rumsfeld took much heat for the war, with many calling for his resignation.
Since excerpts from Rumsfeld's memoir leaked last week, he's taken some fresh heat, especially from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his decisions in Iraq. Used to the controversy, Coates said Rumsfeld is prepared for criticism that may come from the public release of his documents.
"It's not something he shies away from," Coates said. "If anyone wants to take issues with individual documents, they're welcome to."