President Bush will give interviews to two Arab TV networks today to denounce the abuse of Iraqi detainees, a furor that worsened yesterday as the Pentagon revealed it was investigating the deaths of 25 prisoners in U.S. custody, including two slain by Americans.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said last night on Air Force One that Mr. Bush will conduct 10-minute interviews, one with the U.S.-sponsored Al Hurra television and the other with the network Al Arabiya.
“This is an opportunity for the president to speak directly to the people in Arab nations and let them know that the images that we all have seen are shameless and unacceptable,” Mr. McClellan said.
Meanwhile yesterday, an Army official told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that a soldier had been court-martialed for using excessive force in the fatal shooting of an Iraqi prisoner in September. The soldier was demoted to private and dismissed from the Army but served no jail time, the official said.
The Army also disclosed that it had referred to the Justice Department a homicide case involving a CIA contract interrogator accused in the death of an Iraqi prisoner in November.
In addition to those two cases, 23 other deaths are under investigation or have been investigated by the U.S. military.
Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, the Army’s provost marshal, told reporters there were 10 investigations under way of prisoner deaths — mostly in Iraq — and 10 pending cases involving possible assault of prisoners, including one sexual assault. Also, one prisoner’s death was ruled to have been a justified homicide.
Investigations into 12 other detainee deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2002 had concluded that the causes were natural or undetermined, Gen. Ryder said.
The investigations and the release of pictures of U.S. soldiers humiliating and abusing Iraqi prisoners yesterday spurred bipartisan calls for open congressional hearings on the incidents.
Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said yesterday that he will hold a closed hearing today about the abuse of prisoners.
“There have been a number of allegations that intelligence personnel instructed or encouraged the activities that have come to light over the last few days. The committee will question the witnesses to determine whether intelligence professionals had anything to do with what I think everyone believes is absolutely unacceptable conduct by Americans,” Mr. Roberts said.
John Ullyot, spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and Armed Services Committee chairman, said his boss has invited Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to testify publicly before the Senate Armed Services Committee “as soon as possible.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said that “it’s too early for me to be calling for open hearings,” but that “I think within a couple of days we’ll be able to have an answer to that.”
Emerging yesterday from a closed-door hearing of the Armed Services Committee, Mr. Warner said he had learned in the meeting that similar sexual humiliation and abuses, though “small in number,” also have occurred in Afghanistan.
“This is as serious a problem of breakdown in discipline as I’ve ever observed,” he said.