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Senators seek demolition of Iraqi prison

Rumsfeld to testify Friday

From Ed Henry
CNN Washington Bureau

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Sen. Pat Roberts, center, says the Abu Ghraib prison should be razed.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Pentagon to demolish the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in order to exorcise a symbol of both Saddam Hussein's torture chambers and an embarrassing episode for the U.S. military.

The Baghdad prison is the focus of a controversy over treatment of Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. captors.

"I think we ought to raze that prison," Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, told reporters Wednesday evening after his panel heard testimony from CIA and Defense Department officials about physical and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

"I think we ought to take it down -- take the damn thing down," said Roberts, who also serves on the Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, who first floated the proposal of tearing down the prison to colleagues this week, told CNN that he believes such a move would send a strong signal to the international community that America is ready to "put it all behind us" and begin the healing process.

"We have to send a message here to the world," said Nelson, who said he has received positive feedback from several colleagues on the Armed Services panel.

Nelson said he is in the process of asking the Pentagon whether it has the authority -- and interest -- in destroying the facility on its own. If the Pentagon does not act unilaterally, Nelson added, he is prepared to introduce an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would instruct the military to destroy the prison.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services panel, stopped short of endorsing the proposal but said he would review any such plan that will help the nation "make a clean break" from the controversy.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has been strongly criticized by lawmakers for his handling of the controversy, is scheduled to testify Friday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, along with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Intelligence hearing

Following the closed-door hearing Wednesday of the Intelligence Committee, Roberts said there is "no evidence" that intelligence personnel "directed any of the abuses" at the Abu Ghraib prison.

However, Roberts stressed that investigations into whether intelligence operatives were involved is continuing.

"So far, there appears to be no evidence of intelligence personnel that directed any of the abuses, but the investigation does continue to date, and the investigation is open," Roberts said. "We intend to remain very much engaged."

The top Democrat on the intelligence panel, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, also stressed that the probe is still open.

"Both the Department of Defense and the CIA have not completed their respective investigations ... into whether Army military police and contractor personnel at Abu Ghraib were acting at the direction of their superiors or acting on their own volition in carrying out these abuses," he said.

Rockefeller also said that in addition to looking at the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the committee would take a larger look at "how detention and interrogation is handled -- not just at that particular prison but at all prisons where our enemy's people may be detained and are in the process of being interrogated."

The former commander of military police at U.S. prisons in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, has said that MPs implicated in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners were being given instructions by military intelligence, who were trying to extract information.

U.S. intelligence officials have said the CIA, which operates separately from military intelligence, was not involved in the abuses photographed at Abu Ghraib. The officials said that civilian contractors at the prison who were also allegedly involved worked for the military, not the CIA.


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