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Poll: 73 percent say Iraqi abuse unjustified

Few directly blame Bush, Rumsfeld for incidents in prison


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A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll focuses on the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
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(CNN) -- Nearly three-quarters of Americans say the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers depicted in widely broadcast photographs was unjustified under any circumstances, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.

Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they believed the abuse, which President Bush and other top U.S. officials have condemned, to be isolated incidents.

Far more blamed the soldiers' superiors and military intelligence officers for the mistreatment than considered top officials such as Bush or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld responsible.

Thirty percent of the 1,003 U.S. adults asked about the Abu Ghraib prison scandal said they believed such abuse was a common occurrence, while 64 percent said they believed the incidents were isolated.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for most questions.

Conducted Friday through Sunday, after April's heavy casualties in Iraq and reports of ill treatment of prisoners by U.S. troops, the poll also showed support for the war at its lowest since before it began, with only 44 percent saying they believed it was worthwhile.

Bush's overall performance rating likewise was the lowest of his presidency, according to the poll -- 46 percent -- though the president still held a single-point lead over Democratic challenger John Kerry. That was within the margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The president continued to get high marks for his handling of the war on terrorism, with a 54 percent approval rating, but 58 percent of those polled disapproved of his direction of the war in Iraq. Those questions had an error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points. (Full story)

Of those surveyed, 73 percent said they believed the abuse documented in an Army report was unjustified, and only 23 percent said it could be justified under some circumstances.

And 71 percent said the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners should be considered a serious offense rather than a harmless prank.

The report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba concluded that military police in Iraq inflicted "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuse" on prisoners in their custody numerous times.

Seven soldiers face criminal charges, and six others have been reprimanded.

The scandal has led to widespread criticism of the Pentagon, and several Democratic lawmakers have called for Rumsfeld's resignation.

But only 26 percent of those polled said Rumsfeld bore a great deal of responsibility for the scandal, and another 22 percent assigned him a fair amount of blame.

Just 31 percent of those surveyed said Rumsfeld should resign. In a separate question, only 29 percent said he also deserved to be fired.

Bush stood beside his embattled defense secretary Monday, saying he has done "a superb job."

A total of 85 percent of those surveyed blamed the abuse on those who supervised the soldiers in the photographs, with 60 percent saying those superiors bear a great deal of responsibility.

Another 72 percent blamed military intelligence officers who interrogated the prisoners, with 40 percent placing a great deal of the responsibility on them.

And 22 percent said Bush deserved a great deal of blame in the scandal, while 20 percent said he bears a fair amount of responsibility. Thirty-nine percent said he was "not at all" to blame.

Forty-nine percent of those polled called the prisoner abuse scandal a major setback for the United States in the Iraq war, while 36 percent called it a minor setback.


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