- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 6, 2004

President Bush said yesterday that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will remain in the Cabinet, despite calls from Democrats for the Pentagon chief to resign over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.

“Secretary Rumsfeld has served our nation well,” the president said in the White House Rose Garden. “Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars and he is an important part of my Cabinet, and he’ll stay in my Cabinet.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill ramped up their rhetoric yesterday, with the House minority leader charging that Mr. Rumsfeld has orchestrated a “cover-up” over the prisoner scandal, which reached a boil this week after photographs emerged showing smirking U.S. soldiers abusing naked Iraqis.

“I think that Mr. Rumsfeld should step down,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters. “Mr. Rumsfeld has been engaged in a cover-up from the start on this issue.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, echoed her call.

“For the good of our country, the safety of our troops and our image around the globe, Secretary Rumsfeld should resign. If he does not resign forthwith, the president should fire him,” he said.

Under pressure to issue an apology for the actions of U.S. soldiers, Mr. Bush did so, with King Abdullah II of Jordan at his side.

“I told him [King Abdullah] I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families. I told him I was equally sorry that people who have been seeing those pictures didn’t understand the true nature and heart of America. I assured him Americans, like me, didn’t appreciate what we saw, that it made us sick to our stomachs,” Mr. Bush said.

The photos have ignited a firestorm across the Middle East and thrown the planned transfer of power to an Iraqi governing authority into turmoil. One picture shows a female soldier smiling and pointing at a naked Iraqi with a hood over his head; another shows Iraqi prisoners stacked in a pyramid or positioned to simulate sex acts with one another.

A new photo shows a naked Iraqi prisoner on a concrete cell block floor, his neck in a leash, which is held by a female American soldier.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, yesterday introduced articles of impeachment against Mr. Rumsfeld.

“Now the information that we receive is that a climate has been created where a handful of people have committed these atrocities against humankind,” he said. “If the president doesn’t fire the secretary, if he doesn’t resign, I think it’s the responsibility of this Congress to file articles of impeachment and force him to leave office.”

But Mr. Bush said the tenets of democracy — the rule of law and the constitutional guarantee that suspects are innocent until proven guilty — must be adhered to as the investigation moves forward.

“People will be brought to justice in a way commensurate with how our system works,” he said. “Any decent soul doesn’t want a human being treated that way. And it is — it’s a stain on our country’s honor and our country’s reputation. I fully understand that. And that’s why it’s important that justice be done.”

Mr. Bush’s endorsement came as Mr. Rumsfeld prepared for two rounds of testimony today before the House and Senate Armed Services committees. The secretary canceled his only scheduled public appearance yesterday and, according to the Pentagon, met privately with two members of the Senate panel.

Mr. Rumsfeld was to have addressed the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, but he instead sent Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who condemned the soldiers responsible for the abuse and said they had needlessly made the U.S. mission in Iraq more difficult.

“They betrayed their comrades who serve honorably every day and they have damaged the cause for which brave men and women are fighting and dying,” Mr. Wolfowitz said, adding that every effort would be made to ensure that those responsible are punished.

Mr. Bush said Wednesday that he had no knowledge of the existence of the photos until they appeared last week on CBS.

Senior administration officials said yesterday that Mr. Bush was privately seething over the lack of information he received while the investigation, begun in January shortly after the mistreatment occurred, has proceeded.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, sought yesterday to capitalize on the scandal.

“As president, I will not be the last to know what is going on in my command,” he said in a campaign appearance in California.

“We are seeing things that contradict everything that the brave men and women of the armed forces of the United States of America are fighting to defend,” said Mr. Kerry, who fought in Vietnam and returned to tell tales of atrocities committed by fellow servicemen.

“When I was in the Navy, the captain of the boat was in charge, and the captain always took responsibility,” he said. “After the Bay of Pigs invasion, John F. Kennedy told America ‘I am the responsible officer of this government.’”

Mr. Bush, who has spoken with Mr. Rumsfeld daily on the matter, said he has told him “I should have known about the pictures and the report.” But he added that after the Army said in January that it had discovered the abuses, “then there is a process.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday that it knew of the abuses and repeatedly asked U.S. authorities to take action.

“We were aware of what was going on, and based on our findings we have repeatedly requested the U.S. authorities to take corrective action,” said Nada Doumani, a spokeswoman for the organization in Geneva.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday met with Jakob Kellenberger of the Red Cross and assured him that the Bush administration was dealing with the abuse “in a comprehensive way.”

Meanwhile, partisan differences surfaced in the House, which voted 365-50 in favor of legislation that called for a military investigation of the abuses and stated the body “deplores and condemns the abuse of persons in United States’ custody in Iraq.”

Republicans said Democrats were just seeking political gain in their calls for Mr. Rumsfeld to step down. They pointed to an e-mail sent yesterday by the political arm of House Democrats, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, calling on Democrats to sign a petition asking the secretary to resign.

Calls for the ouster of Mr. Rumsfeld are likely to die quickly in the Republican-controlled Congress. House Majority leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, and several other House Republicans defended Mr. Rumsfeld and accused the Democrats of trying to politicize the war.

“Calling for Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation is as bad a signal as saying the war is unwinnable,” Mr. DeLay told reporters, referring to a statement yesterday by Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, California Republican, said, “Anybody calling for the resignation of the secretary of defense at this point just doesn’t know what’s going on at the Department of Defense at this time.”

Also yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Justice Department is ready to prosecute any civilians or former military personnel suspected of criminal conduct in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

“We will follow evidence and act in accordance with evidence,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “We will take action where appropriate.”

Mr. Ashcroft would not say whether the Defense Department or CIA had formally referred any individual cases to federal prosecutors for charges but said there is still ample jurisdiction to move against civilian contractors and others, including laws that forbid torture.

Charles Hurt contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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