March 8, 2011 -- Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has released from his personal archives a bizarre and disturbing video he says he received as a gift from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 1983.
The choppy three-minute black-and-white tape, posted on Rumsfeld's website, shows what appear to be young Syrian soldiers biting the heads off of live snakes before roasting them over a fire and eating them. It also shows the stabbing and killing of a small animal, and men jumping from a moving truck before running through a door frame engulfed in flames.
"Such gifts can be unusual," wrote Rumsfeld, who had met with Hussein in his role as President Ronald Reagan's Middle East envoy. "But even so I was shocked by this one."
The performances in the film are part of a larger Syrian patriotic display that included marching battalions of bagpipe players and a parading of the Syrian flag before an audience of military and civilian dignitaries that included then-dictator Hafez al-Assad.
"Saddam's message was clear: The Syrian regime was barbaric," Rumsfeld wrote on his site. "Though his evidence was hardly convincing, his conclusion was a tough one to dispute."
The video is among the nearly 2,000 selected documents from Rumsfeld's tenure in politics that he has posted for public viewing in conjunction with his memoir, "Known and Unknown," released last month.
The extensive archival collection took four years to digitize and compile and was paid for by the former defense secretary himself.
Rumsfeld said he received the diplomatic video during his 90-minute meeting with Hussein on Dec. 20, 1983, well before the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq went south years later.
A declassified State Department cable on the encounter described a "vigorous and confident" Hussein giving a cordial greeting to Rumsfeld and sending greetings to President Reagan.
Rumsfeld, Hussein Cordial at 1983 Meeting
The two talked openly on a range of issues in the Middle East, including the status of Syria, which then did not have diplomatic ties with Iraq because al-Assad opposed Hussein.
Twenty years after their meeting, Rumsfeld helped orchestrate the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which knocked Hussein from power.
The 9mm Glock pistol Hussein had at the time of his arrest is now part of President George W. Bush's personal archive and museum in Texas.