Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he didn't immediately know about allegations of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers because a massive report on the incident was making its way up the chain of command.
A spokesman says the Pentagon was looking into how prisons in Iraq were being run long before commanders learned about allegations that Iraqi prisoners were being abused. A spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says an unidentified soldier first reported the abuse to his superiors January 13th. The next day, Army brass ordered a criminal investigation.
On Tuesday, more details were released from that report showing just how badly the prisoners were treated.
Army Vice Chief of Staff General George Casey says, "It's a complete breakdown in discipline." And Senator John McCain says, "The rules for the treatment of prisoners of war are very clear: There's no justification for this kind of treatment." Casey also said, after emerging from a morning congressional meeting, that the conduct shown in pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad is not indicative of Army training and values.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says comparing the abuse to Saddam Hussein's torture chambers is wrong. "This is an exception. Equating the two, I think, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what took place." He says the alleged conduct shown in photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad betrayed the trust placed in America's servicemen and women by the American people. (Rumsfeld/DOD Briefing Audio)
Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, said in a speech in Washington, investigations of the alleged abuse will be thorough, and that "remedial action" will be taken. But he also says the alleged abuse comes down to the actions of a "few individuals," and that they don't represent the majority of U.S. forces.
Feith says it's in the interest of that majority that those few should be held to account. He says Americans recognize a "moral obligation" to be humane -- and he says it's in their nature to be law abiding. Feith says no other country has a more practical interest in abiding by the international rules of wartime conduct than the United States.
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld also promised to take the charges seriously and do all that's necessary to bring those responsible for the abuse to justice. But he rejected criticism from some in Congress that the military has been slow to respond to the situation. Many of the abuse allegations were contained in an internal Pentagon report completed in February. Rumsfeld's spokesman says he has no information about allegations that private contractors abused Iraqis at the prison near Baghdad.
Pentagon officials briefed two congressional committees on Tuesday, but lawmakers said that's not enough. The senate Armed Services committee, just getting its copy of the two month old report today, wants Rumsfeld to testify right away. Several U.S. senators are calling for Rumsfeld to explain the situation in an open congressional hearing as soon as possible. Rumsfeld maintains that correct military procedure has been followed. He says such investigations are complicated and take time, but that "the system works."
Republicans and Democrats are calling for congressional investigations. Democratic Senator Carl Levin says, "Most of us have been around here to long to assume that they will investigate themselves. Maybe they will. Maybe they won't."
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee says allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq are "as serious a problem of breakdown in discipline" as he's ever observed. Senator John Warner and other lawmakers emerged from a closed-door hearing and called on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to explain the situation in an open forum as soon as possible. Warner also says similar treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan may have occurred, but that those incidents appear "isolated" and "small in number."
Republican committee member John McCain says top Defense officials, including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, will have to tell the committee soon just how the abuse was allowed to happen, and what's being done to prevent it.
McCain says he hopes there hasn't been a "widespread pattern of abuse." He says the committee isn't happy that the Pentagon hasn't kept it informed about the abuse allegations and the investigations that have taken place.
So far, six soldiers have been charged and six officers reprimanded. An attorney for one of them, army specialist Charles Graner says troops are taking the fall for poor management. Guy Womack says his client "was following orders. We don't want soldiers, given an order in war time, to debate whether they should follow an order."
In part because of the abuse allegations, the State Department is delaying a report on human rights due out Wednesday and the prison at the center of allegations will have its population cut in half.
The new head of the Abu Ghraib prison says the facility will reduce the number of prisoners to about 2,000. The facility currently houses 3,800, prompting some warnings that it is dangerously overpopulated and understaffed.
Major General Geoffrey Miller also says some interrogation techniques will be curtailed. From now on, methods such as sleep deprivation or keeping captives in stressful positions will require a commander's approval.
A military spokesman says hoods were abandoned at the prison about a month ago. And staffers at field operations were told four days ago to stop hooding any detained Iraqis. Instead, the detainees' eyes will be covered by a blindfold, or with goggles taped over with duct tape.
And there are more investigations underway. At least 20 investigations into prisoner deaths and assaults are under way in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says investigations are being opened to determine whether abuses occurred in other prisons and prison camps run by the U.S. military, including the Guantanamo Bay detention center for suspected terrorists. He says prisoner abuse at the hands of American servicemen and women is "totally unacceptable and un-American."
The 20 Iraq and Afghanistan cases are among 35 that have been conducted since December of 2002 by the Army's provost marshal, who oversees law enforcement and criminal investigation. Of the remaining 15, 12 were determined to be deaths by natural or unknown causes. Another was found to be a "justifiable" homicide, one resulted in a soldier's dismissal, and one involving a CIA contractor is incomplete.
Also, in the news, the U.S.appointed human rights minister in Iraq has resigned over the abuse of Iraqi detainees by American guards. Abdul-Basat al-Turki told the Arab television station al-Jazeera that he had complained in December about human rights violations to the top U.S.administrator in Iraq.
He didn't say what, if anything, was done. Al-Turki says he resigned because violence is a violation of human rights and because he believes such acts are common. Al-Turki says he was "horrified" when he saw pictures that showed Iraqis being stripped and sexually humiliated. He says he "never imagined" such things were going on.
Meantime, Iraq's interior minister says Iraqi officials should have a role in running the prisons. They are now entirely U.S. managed, and Iraqi officials can't even visit them without permission from U.S.officials.
An attorney for one of the soldiers accused in the Iraq prisoner abuse case suggests the alleged mistreatment was ordered by military intelligence as well as the CIA. Texas lawyer Guy Womack says photographs of the alleged abuse at a Baghdad-area prison were staged as part of the "psychological manipulation of the prisoners being interrogated."
Womack told NBC's "Today" show that the photos were intended to humiliate the Iraqi captives. But he says his client was under the command and the direction of intelligence officers, both military and civilian. Meantime, the wife of a soldier accused in the case also tells NBC her husband was just doing what he was told to do as part of an effort to get information out of the Iraqi prisoners.