Rumsfeld Apologizes to Iraqi Prisoners
Friday May 7, 2004 5:46 PM
By DAVID ESPO
AP Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday extended ``my deepest apology'' to Iraqi prisoners abused by U.S. military personnel and told Congress he accepts full responsibility for the shocking events.
``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.
Rumsfeld took the witness chair after a week of controversy over the photographs of U.S. captors abusing their prisoners, often forcing them to assume sexually humiliating poses. Several Democratic lawmakers have demanded his resignation.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., said the committee needed to know ``who knew what when, what they did about it, and why were members of Congress not properly and adequately informed.''
Rumsfeld had scarcely uttered his opening apology when protesters interrupted him.
``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 the one that President Bush made on Thursday.
``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 apologies.''
Rumsfeld also referred to videos of the abuse, a reference to findings in a military report that there were ``numerous photos and videos of actual detainee abuse taken by detention facility personnel.''
Though a number of photographs have been leaked to the media, no videotapes have been made public.
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 made 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 Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., 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.