Gunning for Rummy?
By Steve Turnham
Outraged Democrats stopped just short of calling for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation over the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Intelligence Committee gets briefed Wednesday morning on the Abu Ghraib scandal by a group of senior Pentagon officials. That briefing is behind closed doors.
But several Hill committees are vying to hold public hearings into the matter, and leading Republicans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas have said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should testify as soon as possible about what he knew and when he knew it.
The facts are reasonably clear: Rumsfeld was on Capitol Hill on April 28 briefing senators and House members on Iraq. The Pentagon knew that evening that CBS' "60 Minutes II" was going to air those damning photographs of naked Iraqis being tormented by their American captors.
But Rumsfeld didn't say anything about it.
The fallout from that failure to keep Congress fully informed and the sinking realization that the damage done by those images may be irreparable is having serious repercussions on Capitol Hill. Democrats stopped just a hair short of calling on Rumsfeld to resign.
The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, seemed to suggest at a heated closed-door caucus meeting that Rumsfeld should step down, according to some Democratic sources who asked not to be named.
But Biden's office released a carefully worded statement:
"What happened in Iraq's prisons is appalling and must be addressed with far more urgency than the administration has demonstrated so far. It's the single most damaging act to our interests in the region in the last decade, and it will negatively affect our national security.
"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. If the answers are unsatisfactory, resignations should be sought."
A Democratic source said Biden also mentioned Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as one who should be held accountable. Biden is the most influential voice in his party on foreign affairs, and he often is tipped as a potential secretary of state in a John Kerry administration.
Republicans were almost as angry.
"You know, we're being briefed all the time. If we're going to be part and a partner in this war on terror, then we ought to be completely briefed, not just briefed on things they want us to hear," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana said: "We all should have been advised. When the administration needs support, it needs members of Congress to have full information so they can be constructive partners."
Added McCain: "There are so many allegations swirling around this situation that we must have a public hearing with the secretary of defense testifying in order to clear up these allegations. Not an hour goes by that there isn't an additional allegation, and unfortunately the Congress in general and the Senate Armed Services Committee in particular have been, up until this morning, kept completely in the dark."
All that outrage aside, the dominant mood is one of deep gloom at the severe impact the pictures are having on American efforts to project a more positive image to the Arab world.
Asked if anything can be done to repair the damage, a despondent Lugar said, "There is no way."