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WASHINGTON (AP)-- President Bush issued a strong endorsement of embattled Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld on Monday, telling him after a meeting at the Pentagon, "You are doing a superb job."
With Rumsfeld at his side, Bush said his Cabinet officer was "courageously leading our nation in our war against terror...You are a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."
Bush's comments appeared designed to head off rising speculation that Rumsfeld would resign as both men braced for the anticipated release of more pictures and video images showing Iraqi prisoners being abused by American soldiers.
Bush, facing indications of waning public confidence in his senior military ranks and declining credibility abroad, went to the Defense Department for what officials said was a previously scheduled briefing.
But the session took on new significance because of the torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners uncovered at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Bush faced reporters in the executive dining room, just outside Rumsfeld's office.
Also attending Monday's war council session at the Pentagon were Secretary of State Colin Powell; CIA Director George Tenet; Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs; and Gen. John Abizaid, top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East.
Earlier Monday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush has been briefed about undisclosed photos that Rumsfeld said depict acts "that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman." McClellan said Bush was "very well aware of what's in those images." McClellan said the Pentagon was looking into whether the pictures should be released.
Bush pledged that those who abused prisoners would be brought to justice.
"We will honor the rule of law," he said.
He also promised that "all prison operations in Iraq" would be fully reviewed to make sure similar abuses don't happen again.
Bush said anew that his administration would stick to its vow to turn over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government on June 30 despite the recent rise in violence against coalition forces and civilians.
"Men and women across the Middle East are watching closely. And they will see America keep its word," the president said.
Bush took no questions after his remarks.
The president urged Congress to approve a $25 billion contingency reserve fund that can be used for ongoing operations in Iraq.
Bush said there will be a full accounting for the "cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees."
"The conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people and is an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency," he said.
Bush said what happened in the prison does not reflect the "character" of the more than 200,000 military personal who have served in Iraq.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)