Senators say they were kept in dark about abuse
Hearings planned on report of mistreatment at Iraqi prison
Sens. John Warner, left, and Carl Levin talk to reporters after being briefed Tuesday by senior military officials.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senators from both sides of the political aisle complained Tuesday that Defense Department officials did not inform them about investigations into abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
As lawmakers vowed to hold congressional hearings on the treatment of the prisoners, one leading Democrat suggested that heads might have to roll at the Pentagon.
Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said if Congress doesn't get satisfactory answers from senior Pentagon officials about the abuse of prisoners in Iraq, "resignations should be sought" -- including that of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"Accountability is essential. So the question for me is, what did Secretary Rumsfeld and others in the Pentagon know, when did they know it and what did they do about it?" Biden said in a statement. "If the answers are unsatisfactory, resignations should be sought."
In his statement, Biden did not specify which senior officials might have to go. But earlier, at a private luncheon, he told his colleagues that Rumsfeld was included in the group.
The Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence plan to hold hearings.
Even some Republican senators who support President Bush's Iraq war policy were scathing in their assessment of the Pentagon's handling of the revelations.
"The Congress should have been notified of this situation a long time ago," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "It's a neglect of the responsibilities that Secretary Rumsfeld and the civilian leaders of the Pentagon have to keep the Congress informed of an issue of this magnitude."
Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, summoned the Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, to the Capitol for a closed-door briefing Tuesday.
Afterward, he vowed to hold a public hearing of his committee "at the first opportunity we can" -- and said he would call Rumsfeld and other officials in the Defense Department as witnesses.
"I have been privileged to be associated with the military for over a half-century, and on this committee for 25 years now, and this is as serious a problem of breakdown in discipline as I've ever observed," said Warner, a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, and a former secretary of the Navy.
The chairman also said he wished the Defense Department had informed Congress about the Army's investigations into the abuse allegations when they began in January, in order to advise lawmakers "of the facts at hand, the allegations and that the Department of Defense, and specifically the Department of the Army, was promptly looking into the matter and taking corrective measures."
But Rumsfeld, in a Pentagon briefing Tuesday, defended his department's handling of the matter, pointing out that U.S. Central Command issued a statement in January saying an investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse was under way.
That statement contained no specific information about the charges, saying release of such material "could hinder the investigation, which is in its early stages."
"The investigation will be conducted in a thorough and professional manner. The coalition is committed to treating all persons under its control with dignity, respect and humanity," the statement said.
But lawmakers said they did not see a detailed internal military report about the matter until Tuesday.
"They did not handle it as they should have," said Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
And Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said the issue did not come up last Wednesday when Rumsfeld and top Pentagon aides met with lawmakers. CBS broadcast a report on the abuse Wednesday night on "60 Minutes II."
Lawmakers are particularly perturbed that they were not given that report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated the charges and concluded that U.S. troops inflicted "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuse" on prisoners numerous times.
"General Taguba's report was prepared in early April, so it's been a month since that report was available," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. "We should have been briefed on that."
Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who also sits on the Armed Services Committee, said "not a person gave us any indication that there was this ongoing problem, that there had been a study commissioned and that the study had been completed and that the Pentagon knew the results of the study until the article by Seymour Hersh was published" in The New Yorker magazine last week.
The problem, she said on CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports," "is not just in the prison in Baghdad, that goes all the way up the chain of command."
The Pentagon said Monday that Rumsfeld had not read or been briefed on Taguba's report.
Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a closed-door hearing "to determine whether intelligence professionals had anything to do with what I think everyone believes is absolutely unacceptable conduct by Americans," the panel's chairman, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, said in a statement.
The former commander of military police at U.S. prisons in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, has said military policemen implicated in the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners were being given instructions by military intelligence, as part of the process of interrogating prisoners.
U.S. intelligence officials insist the CIA, which is separate from military intelligence, was not involved.
Although labeling the prisoners' treatment "nothing short of repugnant," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, said a full-scale congressional investigation won't be needed.
DeLay said an oversight congressional hearing should be sufficient, unless there is evidence the military doesn't handle its own investigations and prosecutions properly.
"But a full-fledged congressional investigation, that's like saying we need an investigation every time there's police brutality in the street," he said.
CNN's Ted Barrett, Ed Henry and Sean Loughlin contributed to this report.