Bush- Prison scandal in Iraq won't halt mission

Sunday, May 9, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American military guards is "a stain on our country's honor and reputation" but will not deter America's mission to bring democracy to Iraq, President Bush pledged Saturday.

The president said the abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners in Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison "was the wrongdoing of a few" and should not reflect on the thousands of U.S. military personnel "who are serving and sacrificing in Iraq."

"Our mission in Iraq will continue," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

"We have no intention of leaving the nation at the mercy of thugs and murderers. We're determined to help build a free and stable Iraq, a nation at peace with its neighbors and with the world," said Bush.

Bush, who earlier in the week apologized for the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners, indicated that punishment arising from the prison incident will go beyond the seven members of the Army Reserve's 372nd Military Police Company already charged by the military.

"We will learn all the facts and determine the full extent of these abuses," said Bush. "Those involved will be identified. They will answer for their actions." He said all prison operations in Iraq will be reviewed "to make certain that similar disgraceful incidents are never repeated."

In a separate broadcast, Democrats suggested that was not enough.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, the former Democratic presidential candidate, suggested the prison abuses were yet another example of Bush's poor leadership.

The president "made mistake after mistake as commander in chief, taking us into a war we didn't have to wage, alone and under false pretenses, and is now managing it poorly," Clark said in the Democratic response to Bush's radio address.

He called for Bush "to change course ... bring in our allies, give them a seat at the table and together create an international organization to provide economic and political assistance to the Iraqis. ... We must not bear so much of the burden."

As a symbolic gesture, said Clark, the notorious 280-acre Abu Ghraib prison should be dismantled. It is Iraq's most visible symbol of brutality under Saddam Hussein where his henchmen tortured and killed inmates opposed to the regime.

The stark penitentiary is perhaps Iraq's most visible symbol of brutality, sitting amid palm groves and farms just north of the main highway between Baghdad and Fallujah.

Bush reiterated the photographs of naked prisoners being humiliated by U.S. soldiers "do not reflect our values."

"They are a stain on our country's honor and reputation," said the president in his radio address.

Noting that more than 700 Americans have died in Iraq, Bush said, "The brave and honorable soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines who are serving and sacrificing in Iraq -- not the few who have let us down -- show the true character of America."

Despite "a difficult few weeks ... our forces will stay on the offensive, finding and confronting the killers and terrorists who are trying to undermine the progress of democracy in Iraq," said Bush.

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