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Inside Politics

Rumsfeld tells Congress of his 'failure'

Defense secretary grilled about Iraqi prisoner abuse


ON CNN TV
Stay with CNN-USA for frequent updates on the Bush administration's show of support for Donald Rumsfeld, and for a look ahead at Tuesday's testimony on the Hill by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who wrote a U.S. Army report on abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
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Rumsfeld offers his "deepest apology" to those mistreated.

CNN's Ed Henry on the Hill hearings at which Rumsfeld testifies.

CNN's John King on President Bush saying he's 'sorry' for the Abu Ghraib abuse.
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Gallery: Abuse at Abu Ghraib prison (Contains graphic content. Viewer discretion advised.)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld offered his "deepest apology" Friday for the abuse of some Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. captors, and he warned lawmakers on Capitol Hill that graphic videos and more pictures of the mistreatment are likely to surface.

"There are other photos -- many other photos -- that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "And I am advised there also are videos of these actions."

Rumsfeld, under fire for his handling of the abuse reports, testified back-to-back before the Senate and House Armed Services committees, spending about three hours with each panel.

The embattled defense secretary and top Pentagon brass fielded questions that were at times sharp and skeptical, but Rumsfeld also won words of support from some GOP lawmakers.

Rumsfeld endorsed compensation for the Iraqi prisoners who were abused, and he vowed a full accounting of what led to their mistreatment.

"These events occurred on my watch," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility."

Rumsfeld vowed to stay on the job as long as he could remain effective, but admitted that he had failed to convey the gravity of the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad to either the president or Congress.

"If there's a failure, it's me. It's my failure for not understanding and knowing that there were hundreds -- or however many there are of these things -- that could eventually end up in the public and do the damage they've done," Rumsfeld said, talking about photographs of the abuse.

"But I certainly never gave the president a briefing with the impact that one would have had you seen the photographs or the video. I mean, let there be no doubt about that. He was just as blindsided as the Congress and me and everyone else."

A military report about that abuse describes threats against detainees, sodomizing of some prisoners and forcing them into sexually humiliating poses. Charges have been brought against six service members, and investigations into activity at that prison continue.

Military investigators have looked into - or are continuing to investigate - 35 cases of alleged abuse or death of prisoners in detention facilities in the Central Command theater, according to the secretary of the Army, Les Brownlee. Two of those cases were deemed homicides, he said.

Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers and other top Pentagon leaders, repeatedly expressed their dismay and regret about the abuse.

But Rumsfeld rejected suggestions that the military had given the problem short shrift before damning pictures of the abuse were broadcast on television last week.

And Myers insisted the military justice system was working and that the reports of the abuse were acted on promptly after they were first reported by a solider on January 13, 2004.

"Our commanders did exactly the right thing in a timely manner," Myers said.

Rumsfeld said that several former senior officials were being appointed to investigate the Pentagon's handling of the matter.

He insisted that the abuse reports were being handled properly. Rumsfeld said he did not see the photographs until they were broadcast, saying they were part of the "investigative process."

The "real issue," he said, was that the photographs had been leaked to the media, generating a firestorm that threatens to undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq.

President Bush has conceded those images will make it harder for United States in its effort to bring stability to Iraq after a U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.

Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Mississippi, said the images could become a "recruiting tool for al Qaeda" and other terrorist groups intent on harming the United States.

With Democrats and some newspaper editorials calling for his resignation -- and some Republicans privately questioning whether he can continue in the top defense post -- Rumsfeld admitted he could have done better.

"I failed to recognize how important it was to elevate a matter of such gravity to the highest levels, including the president and the members of Congress," Rumsfeld said.

But responding to a question from one lawmaker, Rumsfeld said he felt he could continue to do his job.

"If I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute," Rumsfeld said. "I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it."

Rumsfeld's exchanges with lawmakers were sometimes combative during the two sessions. And the Senate hearing was interrupted early on by protesters who shouted "fire Rumsfeld" and "war criminal" before being escorted from the room.

At one point, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, pressed Rumsfeld repeatedly on who was in charge of the interrogations at the prison. U.S. soldiers, private contractors and intelligence officers were all working there.

When a Pentagon aide began answering the question, McCain interrupted him:

"Mr. Secretary, you can't answer these questions?" McCain demanded.

Rumsfeld said he was deferring to "the expert" but at McCain's prompting, he then answered. He said "military intelligence people" were in charge of the interrogations.

McCain was apparently focusing on one aspect of a military report about the abuse. Senators read quotes from that report in which the military guards said they were told to "soften up" the prisoners before their interrogations.

Rumsfeld said the guards were instructed to follow the Geneva Conventions in their treatment of the prisoners.

Lawmakers sought assurances that it would not be just those who committed the acts who would be punished. "I just want to know how far up this chain you're going to go," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan.

Rumsfeld said that "anyone who recommended the kind of behavior" depicted in the photographs "needs to be brought to justice." But he and Myers disputed any suggestion that there was a policy that encouraged abuse.

Several senators criticized Rumsfeld for not briefing them about the abuse reports. While Rumsfeld said he wished he had done a better job, he also pointed to a January 16 press release from U.S. Central Command in Baghdad that had said an investigation had been launched into reports of "detainee abuse."Central Command's news releaseexternal link

Lawmakers did not appear appeased on that point.

"I'm not talking about issuing a press release from Baghdad," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. "I'm talking about you personally coming forward and telling the world what you knew about this abuse."More details of Army's abuse probe surface

Tough questions came from Democrats and Republicans. But the strongest criticism came from Democrats, and some GOP senators expressed their support for Rumsfeld and the Pentagon.

"I feel strongly that the military deserves a lot of credit here," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama said, praising Rumsfeld for promising a thorough investigation of the matter.

He appeared to take a swipe at Democratic critics of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq.

"Yes, you have some have some complainers in the Congress, but we voted to send our soldiers to this effort. Nobody else authorized you to go; we voted to support it," Sessions said. "And I would also note that terrorists aren't happy with you either."

Sessions pointed out that some terrorists have offered money for Rumsfeld's death.

Rumsfeld said the hearings and the ongoing investigations were a testament to the true character of the United States -- as opposed to the photographs of the abuse.

"Judge us by our actions," he said. "Watch how Americans, watch how democracy deals with wrongdoing and scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes and, indeed, our own weaknesses."

Written by CNN's Sean Loughlin with reporting from Jamie McIntyre and Joe Johns.


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