WASHINGTON—President Bush went on Arab television Wednesday to call the treatment of some Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. captors "abhorrent" and vowed that those responsible "will be brought to justice."
"I want to tell the people of the Middle East that the practices that took place in that prison are abhorrent and they don't represent America," Bush said during a White House interview with al Arabiya Television. "They represent the action of a few people."
Bush's White House appearances on al Arabiya and al Hurra were part of a coordinated effort to limit damage to U.S. credibility in Muslim lands inflamed by pictures and stories detailing abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison near Baghdad. But lawmakers from both parties in Congress continued to voice outrage, and many pushed for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to take responsibility and resign. In Baghdad, many Iraqis called for executions of all Americans who abused prisoners.
Though Bush acknowledged abuses, admitted that mistakes had been made and expressed sympathy, he stopped short of apologizing.
He said he was concerned that some in the Middle East will use the controversy to fan anti-American sentiments, which polls show is rising.
"I think people in the Middle East who want to dislike America will use this as an excuse to remind people about their dislike," Bush told al Arabiya, a station based in the United Arab Emirates.
Bush said the scandal won't deter the United States from creating a stable, democratic Iraq. To that end, the president asked Congress Wednesday to create a $25 billion reserve fund for the coming fiscal year to "meet all commitments to our troops and to make sure we succeed in these critical fronts in the war on terror."
While Bush offered no apologies, U.S. military officials in Iraq did, as the number of prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan known to be under investigation or blamed on U.S. forces rose from 10 to 14.
"I would like to apologize for our nation and for our military for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorized acts here at Abu Ghraib," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller. Miller, the former commander of the U.S. detention center for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was assigned to look into the Iraq prisoners scandal after it was discovered internally. "These are violations not only of our national policy, but of how we conduct ourselves as members of the international community."
The U.S. government is investigating 12 prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan involving either the military, CIA agents or contract interrogators working with the CIA.
Another two deaths already have been labeled homicides. In the first, an Army soldier was court-martialed and dismissed from service after he shot and killed an Iraqi prisoner who was throwing rocks. He didn't serve jail time. The second case—involving a civilian interrogator working with the CIA—has been referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal action.
In Baghdad, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt called the abuse controversy "a black mark on the U.S. Army for years to come." Six soldiers face criminal charges, the general said, and if any courts-martial are held, they would take place in Iraq. If any of the convictions carry prison sentences, however, the soldiers would serve time in U.S. military jails, he said.
"My army has been shamed by this," Kimmitt said. "And on behalf of my army, I apologize for what those soldiers did to your citizens. It was reprehensible and indefensible."
Iraqis were having none of it.
Virtually every Iraqi man and woman interviewed said that American soldiers who took part in the sexual humiliation of Muslim prisoners should be put to death.
"They promised to liberate us, give us freedom—that's their slogan. But there is no safety here," said Manal Abed, 24, who stayed home all year rather than work as a biologist because she's afraid of crime and American troops in Baghdad.
Soldiers who took part in the prisoner abuse, she said, "should get the same punishment as the people who committed the genocide, the mass graves. That way, there would be balance."
Abed's husband, Muattez, 27, an electrician, said soldiers who abuse prisoners should get "an Islamic punishment—stone them, like the time of the prophet."
A merchant, who gave his name as Abu Hatem, 44, said American apologies and courts-martial aren't enough.
"They should put them on trial—on TV—to show us this disgrace," he said.
While Iraqis cried for justice, lawmakers in Washington cried for answers from the Bush administration about what went on at Abu Ghraib and why they didn't know about it before CBS's newsmagazine "60 Minutes II" first ran the photos last week.
Rumsfeld is scheduled to testify Friday on the scandal before the Senate Armed Service Committee, said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the panel's chairman.
That might not be enough to satisfy some members of Congress.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said someone in authority has to take responsibility for the controversy and pointed at Rumsfeld.
"If it goes all the way to Rumsfeld, then he should resign," Biden said on NBC's "Today" on Wednesday. "Who is in charge? I mean, look, every single, solitary decision made, almost since the fall of Saddam Hussein, has been mistaken."
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, speaking in Los Angeles, said he has long called for Rumsfeld's resignation because of the way he has handled the war in Iraq. As for the prisoner-abuse scandal, the Massachusetts senator said the U.S. government has to collect all the facts.
"I want to know, as I think most Americans do, is this isolated?" Kerry said. "Does it go up the chain of command? Who knew what when? ... The president of the United States needs to offer the world an explanation and needs to take appropriate responsibility. And if that includes apologizing for the behavior of those soldiers and what happened, we ought to do to that."
President Bush wasn't pleased that he didn't know about the photos of abused Iraqis until he saw them on television, a senior administration official said. The two men spoke Wednesday during their regular private meeting in the Oval Office.
"The president was not happy about the way he was informed and talked to Secretary Rumsfeld," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He added that doesn't mean Rumsfeld's job is in danger.
Bush said in both television interviews that he retains faith in Rumsfeld.
"Oh, of course, I've got confidence in the secretary of defense, and I've got confidence in the commanders on the ground in Iraq, because they and our troops are doing great work on behalf of the Iraqi people," Bush told al Hurra.
(Douglas reported from Washington; Rosenberg reported from Baghdad. Sumana Chatterjee, Drew Brown and Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this article from Washington.)
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.