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Inside Politics

Bush vows abusers will face justice

White House spokesman: 'The president is sorry'

President Bush speaks Wednesday in a White House interview with U.S.-sponsored Alhurra TV network.
Stay with CNN-USA for ongoing updates on the controversy over abuse of prisoners in Iraq, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld prepares to testify Friday before the House and Senate Armed Services Committee.
CNN's Octavia Nasr on how Arab networks are covering story.

CNN's David Ensor on White House responses to the Abu Ghraib news.

Two former Iraqi prisoners talk about their treatment.
start quoteThe America I know has sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom -- good, honorable citizens that are helping Iraqis every day.end quote
-- President Bush
•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Moving to quell the furor over the abuse of prisoners at a U.S.-run prison in Iraq, President Bush told the Arab world on Wednesday that he was "appalled" by what happened and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.

"I want to tell the people of the Middle East that the practices that took place in that prison are abhorrent and they don't represent America," Bush told Dubai-based Al Arabiya television, one of two Arabic-language networks he granted interviews to on Wednesday. "They represent the actions of a few people."

Bush conceded that photographs of the abuse -- images of naked Iraqi prisoners being placed in humiliating positions -- hurt the United States' image as it tries to convince Iraqis that the U.S.-led invasion and occupation was meant to benefit them.

"I think people in the Middle East who want to dislike America will use this as an excuse to remind people about their dislike," Bush said.

The interviews with Al Arabiya and U.S.-sponsored Alhurra underscored the administration's desire to show the Arab world that it is taking the abuse seriously.

Bush's interviews followed a day in which several administration figures spoke out against the abuse, but the White House faced sharp criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for not briefing Congress about the scandal earlier.(Full story)

According to a classified Pentagon investigation obtained by CNN, U.S. Army soldiers have committed "egregious acts" and "grave breaches of international law" at the Abu Ghraib prison, once used to torture Iraqis during the regime of Saddam Hussein. (Widespread reactions to news of abuse)

The allegations include threatening males with rape; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick; attaching wires to prisoners' extremities, including the penis; and forcing detainees into compromising positions while naked.

Photographs of some prisoners have been transmitted across the globe, and the treatment of the prisoners has been widely condemned both at home and abroad.

Several lawmakers said the abuse reports have seriously undercut U.S. efforts in the Middle East.

"It's deplorable and it casts a pall of shame worldwide over what the United States says, versus what it does," California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN.

And Sen. John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said all of the facts about the abuse must be disclosed "no matter how embarrassing those facts may be."

Rumsfeld testimony

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is scheduled to testify before the committee on Friday, along with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and another high-ranking official of the Department of the Army, Warner announced.

Bush told Rumsfeld on Wednesday that he was "not satisfied" at the way he received information about the abuse, a senior administration official told CNN.

At a private Oval Office meeting, Bush complained about learning of the existence of photographs showing Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and degraded from media accounts, the official said.

"He was not happy, and he let Secretary Rumsfeld know about it," the official told CNN. Bush also voiced concern that he was not kept up to speed on important information about the scope of the problem -- and how the Pentagon was handling it, the official said.

However, Rumsfeld also made clear that he, too, felt "he didn't know some things he should have," according to the senior official, along with another official.

Despite the blunt exchange, however, both Bush and his spokesman, Scott McClellan voiced confidence in Rumsfeld, who has been under fire on Capitol Hill for the way the Pentagon has handled the burgeoning controversy.

No Bush apology

Bush stressed his commitment to a "full investigation" and repeatedly spoke of his disgust with the mistreatment.

But he stopped short of an apology, and he rejected comparisons with the Saddam regime's treatment of prisoners at that same prison.

"His trained torturers were never brought to justice under his regime," Bush told the Alhurra network. "There were no investigations about mistreatment of people."

Asked at a briefing why Bush did apologize, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House had already done so.

"Well, we've already said that we're sorry for what occurred and we're deeply sorry to the families and what they must be feeling and going through as well," McClellan said. "The president is sorry for what occurred and the pain that it has caused."

Pressed on whether Bush should have apologized in his own words during the interviews with the Arab networks, McClellan said the president "was addressing the questions that were asked."

On the campaign trail, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic White House hopeful, faulted the administration's response to the scandal, calling it "slow and inappropriate."

Kerry criticism

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles, California, Kerry stressed the far-reaching damage he believed would result from the prisoner abuse.

"It has the potential of putting our troops -- the rest of them -- in further jeopardy," Kerry, D-Massachusetts. "It can increase acts of terror against America and Americans."

In his interviews, Bush maintained the actions at the Baghdad prison were an anomaly.

"The America I know cares about every individual. The America I know has sent troops into Iraq to promote freedom -- good, honorable citizens that are helping Iraqis every day," Bush told Alhurra.

Bush said that in a democracy mistakes are sometimes made, but that those mistakes are investigated and "people will be brought to justice."

"We're an open society. We're a society that is going to investigate, fully investigate in this case, what took place in that prison," Bush said.

A small group of demonstrators on Wednesday railed against the United States outside the Abu Ghraib prison.

In the interviews, Bush reiterated his belief that Iraq would become "a peaceful, self-governing nation."

"I trust the Iraqi people. I believe the Iraqi people want to be free," Bush told Alhurra.

Bush said he believes that with help, security forces "will be strong" against foreign terrorists and other insurgents.

"I have confidence the process we're under will work," he said, referring to the transfer of sovereignty June 30 and upcoming elections next year.

He also said he supports the loosening of restrictions to bring back into the workforce professionals, such as teachers, who were affiliated with the Baathists in the past but who are important to the future in Iraq.

"There's a process of balancing those who may have been affiliated with the Baath party and those who were terrorists and killers," Bush said.

CNN's Ben Wedeman and Joe Johns contributed to this report.

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