ATLANTA — Already under fire from some retired military brass who want him to resign, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was greeted at a speech in Atlanta by unusually hostile anti-war protesters.

“This man needs to be in prison for war crimes,” shouted Gloria Tatum, 63, of nearby Decatur, Ga., before being hauled away by security officials.

Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and noted critic of the war in Iraq, waited patiently in line to question Rumsfeld, then let loose.

“Why did you lie to get us into a war that caused these kind of casualties and was not necessary?” McGovern said.

“I did not lie,” shot back a feisty Rumsfeld, who waved off security guards ready to remove McGovern from the hall at the Southern Center for International Studies.

With support for the war in Iraq low, it is not unusual for top Bush administration officials to encounter protests and hostile questions. But the outbursts Rumsfeld confronted Thursday seemed tougher than usual.

Three protesters were escorted away by security as each interrupted Rumsfeld’s speech by jumping up and shouting anti-war messages. Throughout the speech, a fourth protester stood in the middle of the room with his back to Rumsfeld in silent protest. Officials reported no arrests. The protesters said afterward they had purchased tickets for the event in order to confront the defense secretary.

Rumsfeld also faced tough questions from a woman identifying herself as Patricia Roberts of Lithonia, Ga., who said her son, 22-year-old Spc. Jamaal Addison, was killed in Iraq. Roberts said she is now raising her young grandson and asked whether the government could provide any help.

Rumsfeld referred her to a Web site listing aid organizations and offered his condolences.

President Bush seldom faces such challenges. Demonstrators usually are kept far from him when he delivers public remarks.

Rumsfeld has been interrupted by anti-war demonstrators in congressional hearing rooms as he has delivered testimony to lawmakers in recent months, and at some speeches around the country.

More than half of Americans say the war in Iraq was not worth the cost financially or in loss of life, recent polls have found. Just over one-third of those surveyed say they approve of Bush’s handing of the war. Public sentiment about the war has been at those low levels since fall.

In a March poll, just over one-third of the public said Rumsfeld is doing an excellent or pretty good job, while six in 10 said fair or poor.

In the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration repeatedly spoke of evidence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had acquired weapons of mass destruction. No such armaments have been found. Officials also spoke about connections between Saddam and al-Qaida that critics say remain unproved.

In recent weeks, at least a half-dozen retired generals have called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, saying he has ignored advice offered by military officers and made strategic errors in the Iraq war, including committing too few troops. But he has received strong backing from Bush, who has said repeatedly he will keep Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

Responding to one protester who accused him of lying, Rumsfeld said: “People need to trust each other and their government. The idea that people in government are lying is fundamentally destructive of that trust.”

In his speech Rumsfeld said the United States needs to emphasize more flexible partnerships with foreign militaries and rethink the role of long-established alliances like NATO.

He called such changes “necessary adjustments, based on the new realities and the new threats that have emerged since the end of the Cold War.”

He also said, “We need ways to make sure we’re better understood in the world than we are.”

Rumsfeld also likened the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to the Cold War.

“There is no question our country is facing difficulties in Iraq and difficulties in Afghanistan,” he said.

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