Rumsfeld Apologizes, Warns of More Graphic Abuse Images
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned Friday that there are additional photographs and video images of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners that would add “horror” to the scandal, and he acknowledged under questioning that it was “possible” his resignation would ease an international furor.
Rumsfeld apologized to members of both houses of Congress and to victims of the mistreatment for the abuse scandal at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and promised to compensate detainees who were shown in graphic photographs suffering humiliation and sexual and physical abuse. Military officials said later Friday that there were more than 1,000 images in addition to those previously made public.
For the record:
12:00 a.m. May 19, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 19, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Iraq prison scandal -- A May 8 article in Section A reported that Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld whether his resignation would help demonstrate America’s regret. The question was posed by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).
“I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They’re human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn’t, and that was wrong,” Rumsfeld said in a command appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “So to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology.”
Traveling in Wisconsin, President Bush was briefed by aides on Rumsfeld’s testimony, but he was not monitoring the appearance. Bush called his Defense secretary from Air Force One on a tarmac in LaCrosse, Wis. According to White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, Bush told Rumsfeld that he did a “really good job” and that the president “appreciated it.”
Rumsfeld responded to calls for his ouster by saying Friday he would step down if he could no longer be effective but that he would not bow to political pressure. “Needless to say, if I felt I could not be effective, I’d resign in a minute. I would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it,” he said.
However, asked by Sen. Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) whether his resignation might be the best way to demonstrate the depth of U.S. concern, Rumsfeld responded: “That’s possible.”
Mingling uncharacteristic words of contrition with his trademark combativeness, Rumsfeld settled in for a day of confrontation with political allies and rivals on Capitol Hill. He was flanked by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of his Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other top Pentagon officials, who were frequently called upon to field pointed questions in the packed committee rooms.
Coming on the heels of calls for his resignation by many Democratic lawmakers, the congressional testimony was Rumsfeld’s most important public appearance to date.
It was intended by the White House not only to demonstrate that the entire chain of command was taking responsibility, but also to warn that the new photographs and videos would only fuel the controversy, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The Pentagon has no plans to release the new images but said that, like earlier photographs, they could end up being seen by the public.
“If these are released to the public, it’s going to make matters worse. It’s hard to believe,” Rumsfeld said. “It’s not a pretty picture.”
He took the same message to the House Armed Services Committee later. “Just without any question, there will be more coming out,” Rumsfeld said of the photographs, which he said he saw for the first time Thursday night. “And there will be surprises.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) warned of further shocks, saying, “The worst is yet to come.”
“The American public needs to understand, we’re talking about rape and murder here,” Graham told reporters in the hallway. “We’re not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience; we’re talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges.”
Graham did not provide further details, and Pentagon officials could not confirm his account.
Military officials who are viewing additional photos and newly disclosed digital video images said the number and nature of the pictures make them certain to further inflame public opinion.
Rumsfeld said he had viewed portions of one of two compact discs, but did not view the second CD, which included video images.
The nature of the additional images was described as more troublesome than those already released publicly, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said. One of the photo images was described as involving oral sex between two people, at least one of whom was a detainee, he said.
A video image on the second CD involved what one defense official familiar with the contents described as “an assault.”
“Appalling and jarring” images are intermingled with “benign” photos of soldiers in Iraq, Di Rita said. However, he added, “there are definitely pictures that involve sexual activity.”
Military officials continued reviewing and cataloging the images Friday night.
Rumsfeld had been called before the committees to address an abuse scandal that has inflamed anti-American sentiment in Iraq and throughout the Arab world and has drawn criticism domestically and among the nation’s closest allies. Although Bush said Thursday that Rumsfeld’s job was safe, lawmakers Friday asked him why he should not resign.
The scandal has deeply embarrassed the U.S. throughout the world -- and exposed Bush to criticism. Rumsfeld may also reap a whirlwind of antipathy in Congress, sowed through his long career in Washington.
Many Republicans and Democrats have become convinced that Rumsfeld holds them in low regard, does not consult with them when he should and is indifferent to their concerns.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Army officer, said Rumsfeld is typically unresponsive to “simple requests for information.”
Before both the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Rumsfeld acknowledged several mistakes -- including not keeping Bush and Congress fully informed about the abuse case.
Rumsfeld said he had not seen pictures of the abuse until they were aired last week on the CBS television program “60 Minutes II,” more than three months after he says the Pentagon first learned of their existence.
Rumsfeld has said he sought the photographs earlier but was told by staff members that they were not available, and apparently dropped the subject. He said neither he nor Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conveyed the seriousness of the incidents at Abu Ghraib when they initially discussed it with Bush.
“Let me be clear: 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.
Dressed down by what aides described Wednesday as an “unhappy” Bush for his handling of the abuse scandal, Rumsfeld took responsibility Friday when asked when the president knew of the abuse.
Rumsfeld also said he was appointing several former military officials to review the existing investigations and recommend whether there should be further inquiries. He said afterward that they would include James R. Schlesinger, who was Defense secretary under President Nixon, former Rep. Tillie Fowler (R-Fla.) and retired Air Force Gen. Charles A. Horner.
Rumsfeld said the Pentagon would also launch a review of its “habits and procedures” to examine how it reacts to events and how it communicates through its ranks and with other branches of government.
Members of Congress gave the secretary stern questions and mixed reviews.
Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee rallied behind the beleaguered secretary of Defense, even though he failed to answer all of their questions. One Republican said he was surprised at Rumsfeld’s admission that he had not seen firsthand the photographs of prisoner abuse until Thursday night.
Others signaled support. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Rumsfeld’s testimony offered assurance that “the Department of Defense has taken this matter seriously.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview after Rumsfeld’s appearance that he thought the secretary “did an excellent job” of laying out the actions taken by the Army in response to soldiers’ misconduct at U.S.-run prisons. “Even though they weren’t briefing us every day, they were moving. The main thing you want to see in this business is that people act,” he said.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said he appreciated that Rumsfeld accepted responsibility. “He’s the guy in charge, and he takes full responsibility.”
But Chambliss added that he thought Rumsfeld’s testimony Friday would not silence the political uproar over the prison abuse scandal. “This thing is probably not over with,” he said.
Democrats said Rumsfeld still needed to do more explaining. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for Rumsfeld to step down. “We need a new beginning,” Kennedy said. “We need a new secretary of Defense.” He suggested Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a committee member, said Rumsfeld “was appropriately apologetic,” but said the Bush administration still did not “fully appreciate the gravity of the challenge we now face due to these incidents. We still have to pursue an investigation vigorously to try to repair the damage to America’s image around the world.”
Times staff writers Richard Simon and Elizabeth Shogren contributed to this report.