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.