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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

07 May 2004

Rumsfeld Takes Responsibility for Abuses in Iraq, Apologizes

Says investigation will bring out the facts of the case

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
Washington File Security Affairs Writer

Washington -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had been summoned by members of Congress to address the ongoing furor over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody, apologized to the victims on May 7.

Rumsfeld, sworn in under oath as part of his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said anyone involved in the kind of behavior depicted in a series of graphic photographs circulating in the media and on the Internet will be brought to justice.

The secretary admitted that a number of government officials, himself included, were blindsided by the effect of the photographs --- which are part of a criminal investigation and were never meant to be released to the public.

The photos taken at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq portray hooded, naked Iraqi prisoners posed in various humiliating positions in the presence of uniformed American soldiers. Rumsfeld said he and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers had only seen the disc of the color photos on May 6 and described them as "hard to believe."

Rumsfeld revealed that "there are a lot more photographs and videos" and if they were to be released "obviously it's going to make matters worse."

The secretary acknowledged that the abuse scandal broke "on my watch as secretary of defense."

"I am accountable...I take full responsibility," he said.

To the Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the armed forces, Rumsfeld said: "I offer my deepest apology."

Rumsfeld said he feels awful about what happened to the detainees. "They are human beings, they were in U.S. custody, our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't. That was wrong."

General Myers reminded senators that the initial investigation into prison abuse in Iraq found problems only at Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld emphasized that swift correction had been taken.

Rumsfeld admitted that he failed to grasp the importance of sharing information about the abuse. "I failed to recognize how important it was to elevate a matter of such gravity to the highest levels" to include the president and members of Congress, he said.

Committee members described acts depicted in the photos variously as atrocious, deplorable, depraved, and despicable, to mention only a few characterizations. Many spoke at length, as did the secretary and chairman, about how the abuse represented a violation of American values.

Anyone involved in carrying out such brutal, cruel and inhumane behavior toward Iraqi detainees must be brought to justice, according to the secretary. Rumsfeld and acting Army Chief of Staff Les Brownlee pledged to find out what happened, why it occurred, and to take measures to ensure it never does again. Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker, who also appeared before the committee, said every allegation will be investigated thoroughly.

The issue of whether the secretary should resign, despite an expression of confidence from President Bush, also came up during the early afternoon hearing. Asked about it, Rumsfeld said he has thought about it, but the answer revolves around his continued effectiveness. "Needless to say, if I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute," he said, "I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it."

Asked by Democratic Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana if he might be willing to step down in an effort to limit the damage the scandal has had on the reputation of the United States or as a demonstration of how seriously the U.S. government takes the situation, Rumsfeld replied: "That's possible."

Hecklers interrupted the hearing early on to display banners and tee-shirts calling for Rumsfeld to be fired. The secretary coolly sipped from a glass of water until those who were chanting that he was a war criminal were removed from the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona pressed the panel of civilian and military leaders on the issue of who was in charge of the interrogations when the abuse allegedly occurred. Air Force Lieutenant General Lance Smith, deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), said the brigade commander for the military intelligence brigade had that responsibility. He also said the brigade commander had tactical control over the guards.

Rumsfeld said the guards are at the prison to guard the prisoners and not to conduct interrogations. He also said the Geneva Conventions apply to all those held in detention "in one way or another."

Rumsfeld also denied that there had been any effort to cover up the abuse in Iraq. The U.S. Central Command went public in January with the information that there were allegations of abuse and that they would be investigated, he said.

Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia said he is concerned that Rumsfeld's sworn testimony is "only the beginning of a long and painful process." The secretary indicated on several occasions during the hearing that the facts are still being investigated. During the hearing he announced the creation of a special commission to investigate all the aspects of the situation.

Rumsfeld also raised the possibility of compensating some of the victims. He sought to delineate the number of detainees who have already been processed in Iraq. He said 43,671 were captured; 27,796 were released; 4,054 were transferred. About 11,800 are still being detained, the secretary said, including 3,842 who actually fall into a separate category because they are members of the Mujaheddin e Kalq organization.

It is critical now to process those who remain in detention as quickly as possible, Rumsfeld said. He also stressed the importance of identifying the individuals still being held and alerting family members so that the process is more transparent and less mysterious.

For those who asked critically why he had not yet read an Army report about the scandal, Rumsfeld pointed to the two-foot high report and said he had read the 50-to-70 page executive summary, as well as a number of annexes. He also said he was fully briefed on its contents.

Myers denied that he sought to suppress the television broadcast of the photos in conjunction with a recent report about the abuse. Instead, he said, he called CBS television network to ask that they not show the photographs at a very difficult time in Iraq when he thought it might cause specific harm to troops serving there. The chairman said he did not discuss his efforts to delay the airing of the photos with Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney or President Bush. He also said he knew eventually the photos would be broadcast, but he hoped it would not occur at what he and CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid felt it was "the worst of all possible times."

A number of committee members expressed concern that the firestorm produced by the scandal will erode public support for the conflict in Iraq. Myers, who has just returned from Europe, says coalition partners he spoke with are undeterred and remain steadfast about seeing the mission through to its conclusion.

Some members raised the idea of possibly tearing down the infamous Abu Ghraib prison so abuse will never occur there again. Rumsfeld said that was for the interim government of Iraq to decide. While acknowledging that it would not be a bad idea to destroy the prison, he said, "it's really up to the Iraqis."

The entire panel appeared before the House Armed Services Committee for further questioning later in the day.

Rumsfeld's Senate and House statement as submitted for the record may be viewed on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/speeches/2004/sp20040507-secdef1042.html.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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