WASHINGTON—Embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday apologized for the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers, refused to yield to calls from Democrats that he resign and prepared lawmakers for more reports of mistreatment and criminal behavior by military personnel.
In two tense congressional hearings that attracted Pentagon brass and war protesters, Rumsfeld warned that unreleased videos and photos depict far worse treatment of Iraqis than the widely distributed pictures of naked detainees in humiliating poses that spawned worldwide outrage recently.
"There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman," he said. "There are many more photographs and indeed some videos. Congress and the American people and the rest of the world need to know this."
The hearings were a rare exercise by the Republican-controlled Congress in holding the Bush administration accountable for a mistake. With concern over Iraq rising, the hearings signaled lawmakers' determination to exercise tougher oversight of the management of the war.
"Our central task here today is to get at the facts in this difficult situation, no matter where they lead, no matter how embarrassing they may be," said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rumsfeld expressed his "deepest apology" to mistreated Iraqis at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison and said he took "full responsibility." But he said he had no intention of quitting.
"The key question is ... whether or not I can be effective. Needless to say, if I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute. I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it," Rumsfeld said.
More Democrats, including Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, called for Rumsfeld's resignation, but Republicans stood by him, as President Bush had on Thursday, and his job appeared secure for now.
Over the past 10 days, photographs of U.S. soldiers mocking naked Iraqis, tugging at one with a leash and bullying hooded prisoners have flashed across the globe, infuriating the Arab world, angering U.S. allies and embarrassing Bush.
An internal Pentagon investigation catalogued alleged abuses ranging from beatings to sexual assault. Some of them may be depicted in the photographs and video that haven't been made public. Investigators are also examining the deaths of 14 prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, two of which have been ruled homicides.
On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said prisoners in U.S.-controlled detention centers in Iraq had experienced widespread abuse, beyond the known cases in Abu Ghraib. The human rights watchdog group Amnesty International also said Friday in a letter to President Bush that the abuses at Abu Ghraib amounted to war crimes. The group said it had documented abuses by U.S. personnel against detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan dating back two years.
"We're talking about rape and murder here, we're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Of Rumsfeld, Graham said, "He failed us in some ways," but he warned against changing secretaries of defense in the middle of a war.
The Pentagon first announced an investigation into prison abuses last January. So far it has resulted in six people being charged with criminal offenses. Six soldiers have been reprimanded.
Rumsfeld said the Bush administration was seeking ways to compensate detainees. "It's the right thing to do," he said.
He also said he would name a special committee of former government officials to examine how the Pentagon has investigated the abuses and whether further investigations are warranted. He said the group would report back in 45 days.
Its members will include former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger; Tillie Fowler, a former Republican congresswoman from Florida; and Gen. Chuck Horner, commander of Central Command Air Force during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
As Rumsfeld testified before the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who voted for the resolution authorizing war in Iraq, scolded Rumsfeld for keeping Congress in the dark about the severity of the abuse.
"I sent those kids off to get killed," he said. "I share in that responsibility. I also share in the responsibility to fix these things, but we can't fix these things if we're not told about them."
One of Rumsfeld's testiest exchanges occurred when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pressed him to describe who was in charge at Abu Ghraib. When Rumsfeld suggested that the answer be given by Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, the deputy commander of Central Command, McCain interrupted:
"No, Secretary Rumsfeld, in all due respect, you've got to answer this question," McCain said. "This is a pretty simple, straightforward question. Who was in charge of the interrogations? What agencies and what—or private contractors were in charge of the interrogations? Did they have authority over the guards? And what were the instructions to the guards?"
When Smith tried to answer, McCain interrupted again: "Mr. Secretary, you can't answer these questions?"
Rumsfeld said the responsibility rested with officers who oversaw detentions and with military intelligence officers in charge of interrogations. "And the responsibility, as I have reviewed the matter, shifted over a period of time," he said.
Rumsfeld and the other witnesses, however, left a number of questions unanswered, including whether the abuses were in part the result of orders or suggestions from military intelligence or CIA officers to prison guards to "soften up" prisoners for questioning, as an Army investigation indicated. It also isn't clear why military intelligence officers were put in command of military police, contrary to Army regulations, or whether civilian officials at the Pentagon issued any guidance on how to interrogate suspected terrorists or other prisoners.
"I think the people who carried out these abuses were doing what the military intelligence folks suggested or prompted be done in order to, quote, `soften up' prisoners for intelligence purposes," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Later, at the House hearing, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., suggested that some senior official at the Pentagon should leave to demonstrate U.S. willingness to show accountability.
But Rumsfeld, already in his sixth hour of testimony, responded wearily:
"I don't believe that it would be right for me to run around looking for scapegoats so you can toss someone over the side. That isn't the way we do business in this country."
Rep. Heather Wilson, a conservative Republican and former Air Force officer from New Mexico, lectured Rumsfeld on the damage done to America, comparing it to the horror that arose after the U.S. slaughter of civilians at My Lai during the Vietnam War.
"What it brought to mind for me was My Lai, and that incident had a profound effect on your generation of people in the Army and on American support for the war and on the world's view of America. And I don't think we can underestimate the importance of this hearing today or of the military and the Defense Department's response to what has been uncovered for how America will be perceived for the next 20 years," Wilson said.
Smith told the House committee that a Nov. 19 order effectively had put the prison under control of the 201st military intelligence brigade. Smith said that order has since been rescinded and the prison is now under the command of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had run the detention center in Guantanamo, Cuba.
Rumsfeld testified alongside Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also with Rumsfeld were Smith, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, and Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee.
At the hearings, Army officials outlined steps to prevent more abuses. Brownlee said the Army is retraining some military policemen to act as correctional officers, and that mobile training teams have deployed to Iraq to review "all aspects of detainee and confinement operations" in the region.
Further, the chief of the Army Reserves has ordered his inspector general to assess training for reservists on the laws of war, prisoner treatment, ethics and leadership, Brownlee said.
The improvements will be initiated before any soldiers deploy to the region, Brownlee said.
An extensive Army report on the abuses found that the reservist military police unit primarily responsible for the abuses, the 372nd Military Police Company, hadn't received any specific training on how to handle prisoners, nor did its soldiers develop any standardized methods of handling them.
Brownlee said the "majority of the abuse cases" indicate that the underlying cause was "an individual failure to basic standards of discipline, training and Army values" and "leadership failures to provide oversight and enforce standards."
"The reported acts of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib are tragic and disappointing, and they stand in sharp contrast to the values of our Army and the nation it serves," he said.
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-RUMSFELD
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 2004507 USIRAQ RUMSFELD