Donald Rumsfeld to Diane Sawyer: 'Would've Been Better Off If I Had' Resigned Post-Abu Ghraib

Former defense secretary says harsh interrogation helped "in saving lives."

ByABC News
February 7, 2011, 7:36 PM

Feb. 8, 2011— -- Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declares that his biggest regret in office was not convincing President Bush to accept his resignation after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and said the country and the Pentagon probably "would've been better off" if he had left office in 2004.

In an exclusive interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Rumsfeld also said the enhanced interrogation techniques he approved for use on the so-called "20th hijacker" -- including forced stress positions and removal of "comfort items" -- produced invaluable intelligence.

For that, he said, he has no regrets about the tactics he approved to gain intelligence from Mohammed al-Qahtani.

"Oh I don't have any regrets at all," he told Sawyer.

But does have a big regret stemming from his time in office - staying in office during what he calls a period of "damaging distraction," as photos of abused detainees at Abu Ghraib circulated around the globe. He twice wrote letters of resignation to the president, but was convinced to stay on both times.

"That was such a stain on our country," he told Sawyer. "To think that people in our custody were treated in that disgusting and perverted and ghastly way -- unacceptable way."

"There wasn't an easy target," he added. "And so I stepped up and told the president I thought I should resign. And I think probably he and the military and the Pentagon and the country would've been better off if I had."

Watch Part Two of Diane Sawyer's Exclusive Interview With Donald Rumsfeld on ABC's "World News With Diane Sawyer" on Tuesday, Feb. 8.

Click here read more about Part One, which aired on "World News" Monday, Feb. 7

Rumsfeld asserts that the harsh interrogation tactics he authorized for use against high-value terrorism suspects helped U.S. authorities save lives, including in the case of Mohammed al-Qahtani.