Rumsfeld- 'my deepest apology'

Saturday, May 8, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld offered "my deepest apology" Friday to Iraqi prisoners abused by sadistic military personnel and warned that videos and photos yet to come could further inflame worldwide outrage.

"It's going to get a good deal more terrible, I'm afraid," he said in congressional testimony televised throughout the Arab world as well as in the United States.

He said the Iraqis who were mistreated will receive compensation.

One week after shocking photos appeared showing prisoners subjected to sexual humiliation, Rumsfeld said the treatment was "inconsistent with the values of our nation. It was inconsistent with the teachings of the military ... and it was certainly fundamentally un-American."

During a total of six hours of testimony in the Senate and House, Rumsfeld sought to repair the damage done to American prestige aboard, to ease the anger of lawmakers caught off guard by the uproar and to shore up support for his own job among key members of Congress.

He said bluntly, "These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them. I take full responsibility."

Rumsfeld said he "would resign in a minute" if he thought he could not be effective. But he brushed aside Democratic calls to step down, saying, "I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it."

The defense secretary said those involved in the abuse would be brought to justice regardless of rank.

In addition to the known abuse cases and at least 25 prisoner deaths already reported, acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee said the Army is investigating 42 potential cases of misconduct against civilians that occurred outside prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and nearby countries.

Friday's criticism was pointed at times. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., noted with "deep dismay" that Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had briefed lawmakers about Iraq in a classified session last week but did not mention the major story the government knew was about to break in the news media.

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

Still, key Republicans closed ranks behind him after his testimony. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he wanted Rumsfeld to stay, as did Sen. John Warner, R-Va.

Halfway around the world, not everyone was as supportive.

"I don't care if Rumsfeld resigns. For us, the physical and mental and social damage can't be made up for by an apology or even a resignation," said Helmi Sharawy, director of the Cairo-based Arab-African Research Center.

U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, wondered why Congress was not told earlier about abuse of prisoners.

Later, in a follow-up statement, Skelton said: "I would hope that there would be some established procedure should these things come to pass in the future because this is an absolute nightmare for everyone involved -- our country, our soldiers, the Iraqi people."

Over and over, Rumsfeld told members of Congress he and President Bush were "blindsided" by the photos that were made public in a CBS broadcast last week. He said the pictures had been leaked, and had not yet reached the Pentagon when they appeared on television.

He also said repeatedly that Army officials had publicly disclosed the abuse when it was first reported and announced investigations into it.

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