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Sens. Inhofe, Reed discuss prison abuse scandal


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Sens. Reed, left, and Inhofe
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Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba makes an opening statement to the Senate committee.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre on the debate over releasing more photos.

CNN's Brian Todd on the seven U.S. soldiers accused of abuse.
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James Inhofe
Jack Reed

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In hearings that sometimes grew contentious, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard testimony Tuesday on the prison abuse scandal in Iraq. Two members of the committee, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island, later spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Let me begin with you, Senator Inhofe, and get your reaction to the beheading of this American in Iraq, Nicholas Berg. When you heard [the perpetrators] were linking this to the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, what went through your mind?

INHOFE: Well, first of all, I don't believe that. But it does show us what brutal people we're dealing with. I think a lot of the American people don't know what animals these people are. And capable of this kind of a murder, which they have done one like -- before that. And which was just a way of life for Saddam Hussein when he was in charge. So I think it is a huge tragedy and we all just weep for the family ... but, again, that's the kind of people we're dealing with, the people of America need to know that.

BLITZER: Senator Reed, [the perpetrators] said in this gruesome videotape that this was revenge for what was happening at the Abu Ghraib prison. What do you think?

REED: This is a horrible situation. It shows again the depravity of these people. They don't need an excuse to be attacking us. They do it because of many other motivations. I'm afraid what's happened is that the situation at the prison has given them an excuse that they are trying to peddle in the Middle East, and I'm afraid that some might see that this is not justified but see some connection between the prison abuses and this terrible situation. But this is the kind of depravity and evil that these terrorists have been dealing with for years.

BLITZER: Senator Inhofe, you were very outspoken earlier today when you spoke out against the way the news media and everyone else seems to be reacting to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Why did you get so agitated about that?

INHOFE: I got agitated because we have 140,000 troops over there. They are all great people. The terrible thing that went on was perpetrated by these seven guards. And I mean, this is something that is confined to one prison, just seven of them. There are 700 guards. Only seven of them were responsible. They are now before a military court, and justice will prevail.

But it seemed to me, and I know a lot of people disagree with this, that we are spending an awful lot of time worrying about the human rights of a bunch of murderers and terrorists, people who are in Cell Block 1A and 1B, which means they are the very worst kind. And yet we are not nearly as concerned about our own fighting troops. I don't want the atrocities committed by these seven people to in any way make people think our troops are this way. These are the exceptions.

BLITZER: You know the International Red Cross, in its report that was published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal and is now widely available, said that as many as 90 percent of the detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, most of whom have been released, were picked up by mistake.

INHOFE: That's not true, Wolf. They said between 70 and 90 percent had not committed crimes. Now when they bring them in to interrogate them, they immediately find out that about 90 percent of the people don't have any information. They turn around and let them out. It's called the revolving door. These people are not incarcerated. These are people that came in and they determined that they did not have information that would justify incarceration.

BLITZER: Senator Reed, what do you think about the complaint that Senator Inhofe makes?

REED: The outrage is shared by both the Democrats and Republicans about the situation in this prison. I've heard Senator [John] Warner, Senator [John] McCain [and] others talk about how they were outraged, I think would be a fair description of their reaction. This is an issue we have to address because of the impact in Iraq and across the Islamic world. Frankly, one of the most compelling things I heard this afternoon was American military officers, general officers, who said that we cannot tolerate this type of behavior. This type of behavior that violates the Geneva Convention. That violates the commander's orders about treating prisoners. Our ultimate claim and protection for our prisoners is that other countries follow the Geneva Convention. So this is a very serious issue and it's taken seriously by both sides of the aisle.

BLITZER: Senator Inhofe, do you think this was simply the work of these seven soldiers who are now being prosecuted? Because we did hear Major General [Antonio] Taguba suggest they were influenced, that was the word he used, by higher ups.

INHOFE: No, we asked that question specifically to two panels today. I agree with the statement just made by Senator Reed, and I think that we asked specifically the question. These are seven people, they are no more than that. That was just in one prison; there are some 25 other prisons. Nobody else has had these accusations against them. So it's an isolated case. And if it came from higher up we would see this prevalent in other prisons, too.

start quote... We are spending an awful lot of time worrying about the human rights of a bunch of murderers and terrorists ...end quote
-- Sen. James Inhofe

start quoteThis is an issue we have to address because of the impact in Iraq and across the Islamic world. end quote
-- Sen. Jack Reed

BLITZER: He said there was no order. He couldn't find the evidence of orders, but there was some sort of influence, that was the word he used. But let me get to the thrust of the current issue at stake, at least one of the issues right now, Senator Inhofe, releasing more of these pictures and the videotape. Should the administration, the Congress, let the American public see the rest?

INHOFE: Well, my personal feeling is they should not. But it's too late for that, and the pictures are already out. As they [military officials] said, and they testified today, justice was being administered without all the pictures coming out. But that gives a lot of ammunition for them [insurgents] to be able to use unnecessarily. And gives the wrong impression as to the character of our troops.

BLITZER: Senator Reed, what do you think about releasing more of these photos and the videotape?

REED: Well, as Senator Inhofe pointed out, it's almost inevitable that the pressure would build up. If we don't release the material, there will be stories that it's much worse than it actually might be, although [I'm] told that it is quite graphic and quite disturbing. There might be a way through simply some type of a list and a description of the pictures to let that out first. But I think ultimately these pictures will come out, and the primary reason is because if we don't, people will invent even more sinister interpretations of why the pictures aren't released.


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