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White House confronts Iraqi prison controversy

Bush to grant interviews to Arab television outlets


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National security adviser Condoleezza Rice was one of several administration figures addressing the prison controversy on Tuesday.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Facing anger at home and abroad, the Bush administration is moving aggressively to signal it is taking seriously the abuse of Iraqi prisoners detailed in an internal military report.

President Bush will conduct interviews about the matter with two Arab networks Wednesday, said press secretary Scott McClellan.

The 10-minute interviews with Al Arabiya and the U.S.-sponsored Al-Hurra television network will take place in the Map Room of the White House around 10 a.m. ET, McClellan said.

Asked why Bush would not meet with the Arab network Al-Jazeera, McClellan would say only that the other two networks "reach a wide range of people in the Middle East."

Various administration officials spoke out about the matter Tuesday, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice granted interviews to three Arab networks -- Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.

In a speech before the Anti-Defamation League, Rice said the activities shown in photos broadcast last week of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were "sickening" and "outrageous."

Rice said Bush wants the world to know the abuse is not systemic.

"He [Bush] is personally outraged. ... There will be due process. ... He expects people to be held accountable. Americans do not dehumanize other people," she said.

The pictures have sparked anger around the world, particularly among Muslims, a point the Bush administration appears to be keenly aware of.

Speaking from the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned the conduct depicted in the photos as "immoral."

The pictures "stunned every American," Powell told reporters after a meeting on the Middle East. "They showed acts that are despicable. The president has spoken to this. It is totally out of character of what we would expect from our men and women in uniform."

Labeling the Abu Ghraib pictures "deeply disturbing," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the alleged behavior of the U.S. troops in the pictures was "totally unacceptable and un-American." (Full story)

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon would pursue charges against those involved. But he defended the Defense Department's handling of the matter, saying an investigation was under way and disclosed three months before the pictures became public.

Some lawmakers said the Pentagon did not brief Congress about the situation and that a detailed military report about the matter was not available to them until Tuesday.(Full story)

Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the mistreatment of prisoners "the single most damaging act to our interests in the region in the last decade" and said resignations at the Pentagon might be in order.

Six soldiers have been criminally charged in the case and six have been reprimanded, with two of those relieved of duty, Rumsfeld said.

"This is a serious problem, and it's something the department is addressing," he said. "The system works."

Rumsfeld said the soldiers involved "let down their comrades, and they let down their country."

"As the senior official responsible for this department, I intend to take any and all measures necessary to find out what happened to see that appropriate steps are taken that it does not happen again," he said.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in an interview with Michael Ghandour of Al-Hurra TV, labeled the photographs "despicable."

"I couldn't be angrier about them. I couldn't be sadder about them. And, frankly, I couldn't be sorrier that some Iraqi prisoners had to suffer from this humiliation," Armitage said.

Bush made no public comment on Tuesday about the allegations.

But in an interview with Michigan newspaper reporters Monday, he said he was "shaken" by the reports from Abu Ghraib, and promised to take action once he reviews the military's report on the matter.

"There are criminal charges, about which I will not comment," he said. "There are several reports, one of which is to determine whether or not there was a systemic problem overall. And I just have to see what it says. I mean, I'll act -- I've just got to see what it says before I can tell you what I'm going to do."

Bush said the photographs send "a message that contradicts who we are."

"The actions of these people send a signal that says America is a non-caring, non-compassionate country," he said. "And that's just the opposite of what we are. It's disgraceful. I'm trying to think of a stronger word. It was abhorrent."

CNN's Ted Barrett and Ed Henry contributed to this report.


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