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Rumsfeld Apologizes to Iraqi Prisoners

Rumsfeld Apologizes to Iraqi Prisoners


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday extended "my deepest apology" to Iraqis brutally abused in U.S. military prisons and said he favors compensating them for their suffering.

"These events occurred on my watch. As Secretary of Defense, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

At the same time, he brushed aside Democratic demands for his resignation. Asked whether he could remain effective in his post, he said if he believed he could not, "I'd resign in a minute."

"I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it."

Rumsfeld Apologizes to Iraqi Prisoners

Rumsfeld took the witness chair after a week of controversy over shocking photographs of U.S. captors abusing their prisoners, often forcing them to assume sexually humiliating poses.

"Be on notice," he warned the committee neared the end of an appearance that lasted more than two hours.

"There are a lot more photographs and videos that exist," he said. "If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse."

Thus far, no videos of abusive treatment have reached the public. The still photographs, though, have spawned a worldwide wave of revulsion that has damaged America's image overseas and sparked a political storm at home.

Rumsfeld also announced creation of a panel of retired officials to examine "the pace, the breadth, the thoroughness of the existing investigations and to determine whether additional investigations or studies need to be initiated." He said the group will have 45 days to complete its work.

The military began investigating the abuse shortly after it was first reported by one GI in January, and has already disciplined some captors who were involved.

Rumsfeld also said two civilian contractors who worked at the Abu Ghraib prison are under investigation.

Rumsfeld's apology wasn't the first by administration officials. President Bush did so on Thursday, at the same time he vowed that the Cabinet officer would remain in his post.

But the defense secretary's mention of compensation for those victimized in what he called "a catastrophe" was a first.

"I'm seeking a way to provide appropriate compensation to those detainees who suffered such grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty at the hands of a few members of the United States armed forces," he said.

"It's the right thing to do," he added.

Questioned by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Rumsfeld said that not only the captors who abused prisoners would be held accountable for their actions, but also commanders further up the military chain of command.

Military police, intelligence officers and slightly more than three dozen contractors were all present at the Abu Ghraib facility, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., peppered Rumsfeld with questions about who had overall command of the facility.

McCain also asked what instructions had been given to the MPs, some of whom appear in the photographs. The question goes to the heart of the findings in an internal Army report that the prison guards were told to "soften up" prisoners so they would be more cooperative during interrogations.

Rumsfeld had scarcely uttered his opening apology when protesters interrupted him.

Rumsfeld Apologizes to Iraqi Prisoners

"Fire Rumsfeld," some yelled before they were hustled from the room.

Rumsfeld sat calmly in his seat while the room was quieted.

Moments earlier, he added his personal apology to Bush's.

"I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody," he said.

"To those Iraqis who were mistreated by the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology."

Fresh disclosures surfaced as Rumsfeld went before the committee, the first of two such appearances during the day.

In Geneva, the International Red Cross said it had warned U.S. officials of abuse of prisoners in Iraq more than a year ago.

"We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts. There was a pattern and a system," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Answering a question many lawmakers have posed, Kraehenbuehl said the abuse went beyond detainees held at the Abu Ghraib prison in the Baghdad area.

Despite calls from Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and other Democrats for resignation, no congressional Republican has called on Rumsfeld to step down. And the defense secretary drew a vote of confidence on Thursday from President Bush, who declared flatly "he'll stay in my Cabinet."

But congressional Republicans joined Democrats in making plain their unhappiness that they learned of the abuse -- and of the shocking photos of prisoners forced into sexually humiliating poses -- from the news media.

Warner and Levin both expressed their displeasure that they had not been informed earlier.

Levin noted with "deep dismay" that Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had briefed the panel about Iraq in a classified session last week but did not mention the scandal the government knew was about to break in the news media.

Consultation with Congress "is not supposed to be an option but a longstanding and fundamental responsibility" of administration officials, Levin lectured Rumsfeld.

The committee session was televised live in the United States and in the Arab world, as well. Both Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, the most popular television news stations in the Middle East showed the proceedings with simultaneous Arabic translation.

U.S. officials have accused both stations of bias in their coverage of the war in Iraq.

But at the same time, the broadcasts offered Rumsfeld and lawmakers an opportunity to say repeatedly that the abuses by captors in the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad were an aberration. "It contradicts all the values we Americans learn," said Warner.

The hearing unfolded as The Wall Street Journal reported details from a Red Cross report that found widespread abuse Abu Ghraib, sometimes "tantamount to torture." The previously confidential report delivered to the Bush administration earlier this year raised allegations of prisoners kept naked in empty cells, beaten by coalition forces, and fired on from watchtowers, killing some.

Additionally, a British tabloid said British soldiers punched and kicked prisoners held in Iraq and one corporal poked a detainee's eye until the man screamed. British authorities are investigating the authenticity of photographs published last week in the tabloid, the Daily Mirror.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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