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Donald Rumsfeld, former defense secretary and Iraq war architect, dies at 88

Rumsfeld served as defense secretary to Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, serving as both the youngest and oldest person to hold the position.
/ Source: NBC News

Donald Rumsfeld, who served twice as the U.S. defense secretary under two presidents and oversaw the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, died on Wednesday, his family said in a statement. 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 statement said.

"History may remember him for his extraordinary accomplishments over six decades of public service, but for those who knew him best and whose lives were forever changed as a result, we will remember his unwavering love for his wife Joyce, his family and friends, and the integrity he brought to a life dedicated to country."

Rumsfeld served as defense secretary to Presidents Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977 and George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006, serving as both the youngest and second-oldest person to hold the position. He also served as Ford's White House Chief of Staff and an ambassador to theNATO under both Ford and President Richard Nixon.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Armed Forces Full Honor Review in Honor of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon Dec. 15, 2006, in Arlington, Virginia.Charles Ommanney / Getty Images

Rumsfeld worked for decades in public service but may be best remembered for his insistence that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction and his push for the U.S. invasion of the country in 2003.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, Rumsfeld was the architect of the Pentagon's war on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, who was ousted by the U.S. years later. The abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and those locked up at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, were among his controversies.

A 2008 senate report said Rumsfeld contributed to the abuse by authorizing aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay on December 2, 2002, according to Reuters. Although he rescinded the authorization six weeks later the report said word of his approval continued to spread within U.S. military circles and encouraged the use of harsh interrogations techniques in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld was born in Chicago in 1932 and went on to attend Princeton University on academic and military scholarships, graduating in 1954. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1954 to 1957 as an aviator and flight instructor, and continued serving until 1975.

He served as an Illinois congressman for four terms before resigning in 1969.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com.