The following is the opening statement by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on the abuse of Iraqi inmates by U.S. troops to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday:
“Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, in recent days there has been a good deal of discussion about who bears responsibility for the terrible activities that took place at Abu Ghraib. These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility.
“It’s my obligation to evaluate what happened, to make sure that those who have committed wrongdoing are brought to justice, and to make changes as needed to see that it doesn’t happen again.
“I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn’t, and that was wrong.
“So to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was inconsistent with the values of our nation. It was inconsistent with the teachings of the military, to the men and women of the armed forces. And it was certainly fundamentally un-American.
“Further, I deeply regret the damage that has been done. First, to the reputation of the honorable men and women of the armed forces, who are courageously and responsibly and professionally defending our freedoms across the globe.
“They are truly wonderful human beings. And their families and their loved ones can be enormously proud of them.
“Second, to the president, Congress and the American people, I wish I had been able to convey to them the gravity of this before we saw it in the media.
“And finally to the reputation of our country. …
“It’s important for the American people and the world to know that while these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number of U.S. military, they were also brought to light by the honorable and responsible actions of other military personnel.
“There are many who did their duty professionally and we should mention that as well. First, Specialist Joseph Darby, who alerted the appropriate authorities that abuses were occurring.
“Second, those in the military chain of command who acted promptly on learning of those abuses by initiating a series of investigations, criminal and administrative, to assure that abuses were stopped and the responsible chain of command was relieved and replaced. …
“Now let me tell you the measures we’re taking to deal with this issue.
“First, to ensure we have a handle on the scope of this catastrophe, I will be announcing today the appointment of several senior former officials who are being asked to examine the pace, the breadth, the thoroughness of the existing investigations and to determine whether additional investigations or studies need to be initiated. They’re being asked to report their findings within 45 days of taking up their duties. …
“Second, we need to review our habits and our procedures.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do in the department since September 11 is to try to get the department to adjust our procedures and processes to reflect that we’re in a time of war, and that we’re in the information age. …
“Third, I’m seeking a way to provide appropriate compensation to those detainees who suffered such grievous and brutal abuse and cruelty at the hands of a few members of the United States armed forces. …
“Mr. Chairman, that’s why this hearing today is important. It’s why the actions we take in the days and weeks ahead are so important.
“However terrible the setback, this is also an occasion to demonstrate to the world the difference between those who believe in democracy and in human rights, and those who believe in rule by terrorist code.
“We value human life. We believe in individual freedom and in the rule of law. For those beliefs, we send men and women of the armed forces abroad to protect that right for our own people and to give others who aren’t Americans the hope of a future of freedom.
“Part of that mission, part of what we believe in, is making sure that when wrongdoings or scandal do occur, that they’re not covered up, but they’re exposed, they’re investigated, and the guilty are brought to justice. …
“We know what the terrorists will do; we know they will try to exploit all that is bad, and try to obscure all that is good. That’s their nature. And that’s the nature of those who think they can kill innocent men, women and children to gratify their own cruel wills to power.
“We say to the world, we will strive to do our best, as imperfect as it may be.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican: “I’m gravely concerned that many Americans will have the same impulse as I did when I saw this picture, and that’s to turn away from them. And we risk losing public support for this conflict. As Americans turned away from the Vietnam War, they may turn away from this one unless this issue is quickly resolved with full disclosure immediately. …
Mr. McCain: “What were the instructions to the guards?”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “That is what the investigation that I have indicated has been undertaken is determining.”
Mr. McCain: “Mr. Secretary, that’s a very simple, straightforward question.”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “Well, the — as the chief of staff of the Army can tell you, the guards are trained to guard people. They’re not trained to interrogate, they’re not — and their instructions are to, in the case of Iraq, adhere to the Geneva Convention.
“The Geneva Conventions apply to all of the individuals there in one way or another. They apply to the prisoners of war, and they are written out and they’re instructed and the people in the Army train them to that and the people in the Central Command have the responsibility of seeing that, in fact, their conduct is consistent with the Geneva Conventions.
“The criminals in the same detention facility are handled under a different provision of the Geneva Convention — I believe it’s the fourth and the prior one’s the third.”
Mr. McCain: “So the guards were instructed to treat the prisoners, under some kind of changing authority as I understand it, according to the Geneva Conventions?”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “Absolutely.”
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat: “Why was a report that described sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses by American soldiers left to languish on a shelf in the Pentagon unread by the top leadership until the media revealed it to the world?
“Why wasn’t Congress apprised of the findings of this report from the Defense Department instead of from CBS News?
“Mr. Secretary, it was President Truman who was said to have displayed the famous sign on his desk: The buck stops here. I served with President Truman. He was an honorable man. He did not shirk his responsibility.
“I see a very different pattern in this administration. I see arrogance and a disdain for Congress. I see misplaced bravado and an unwillingness to admit mistakes. I see finger-pointing and excuses.
“Given the catastrophic impact that this scandal has had on the world community, how can the United States ever repair its credibility?
“How are we supposed to convince not only the Iraqi people, but also the rest of the world that America is indeed a liberator, and not a conqueror, not an arrogant power? Is the presidential apology to the king of Jordan sufficient? I ask you that question.”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “Senator, the facts are somewhat different than that. The story was broken by the Central Command, by the United States Department of Defense, in Baghdad. General Kimmitt stood up in January and announced that there were allegations of abuses and that they were being investigated. He then briefed reporters. And I think it was March 20 — there’s a timeline up here. By March 20, he went back out again and said that these had been filed.
“The idea that this is a story that was broken by the media is simply not the fact. This was presented by the Central Command to the world so that they would be aware of the fact that these have been filed.
“What was not known is that a classified report with photographs would be given to the press before it arrived in the Pentagon.”
Sen Susan Collins, Maine Republican: “I think that rather than calling CBS and asking for a delay in the airing of the pictures, it would have been far better if you, Mr. Secretary, with all respect, had come forward and told the world about these pictures and of your personal determination — a determination I know you have — to set matters right and to hold those responsible accountable.”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “Well, Senator Collins, I wish I had done that. I said that in my remarks.
“I wish I knew — and we’ve got to find a better way to do it. But I wish I knew how you reach down into a criminal investigation when it is not just a criminal investigation, but it turns out to be something that is radioactive, something that has strategic impact in the world. And we don’t have those procedures. They’ve never been designed.
“We’re functioning in a — with peacetime restraints, with legal requirements in a wartime situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican: “Secretary Rumsfeld, people are calling for your resignation. Somebody is drafting an article of impeachment against you right now. I’ve got my own view about people who want to call for your resignation before you speak, but I’ll leave that to myself.
“Do you have the ability, in your opinion, to come to Capitol Hill and carry the message and carry the water for the Department of Defense? Do you believe, based on all things that have happened and that will happen, that you’re able to carry out your duties in a bipartisan manner? And what do you say to those people who are calling for your resignation?”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “Well, it’s a fair question. Certainly since this firestorm has been raging, it’s a question that I’ve given a lot of thought to.
“The key question for me is the one you pose, and that is whether or not I can be effective. We’ve got tough tasks ahead. The people in the department, military and civilian, are doing enormously important work here, in countries all over the world and the issue is: Can I be effective in assisting them in their important tasks?
“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.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican: “Now, one obvious judgment is that the 800th MP Brigade was totally dysfunctional, from Brigadier General Karpinski on down, with few exceptions. And on the surface, you could portray the 800th MP Brigade as a Reserve unit with poor leadership and poor training.
“However, the abuse of prisoners is not merely a failure of an MP brigade. It’s a failure of the chain of command, Mr. Secretary.
“And what I want to leave here today is, is knowing and taking comfort in the fact that, as Senator Graham said, we’re not going to just prosecute somebody with one stripe on their sleeve or four stripes on their sleeve; that you’re going to carry this thing to whatever extent is necessary to ensure that there’s no good old boy system within the United States Army.
“And irrespective of whether they’ve got a stripe on their sleeve or four stars on their shoulder, that we’re going to get to the bottom of this and we’re going to make sure that corrective action is taken, and where necessary criminal action is taken against anybody involved in the particular acts or in the shielding of this and the failure or negligence on their part of keeping this information from you in a quick and swift manner.”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “I agree with everything you’ve said. And there’s no question but that the investigations have to go forward. They have to be respectful of people’s rights but they have to be handled in manner that reflects the gravity of the situation. And it does not matter one whit where the responsibility falls. It falls where it does.”
Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat: “Mr. Secretary, I must tell you that we do not like these type of surprises here in the Congress. And I don’t want to sound glib in asking this question, but let me ask: We know the photographs are coming out, but do you anticipate anything else coming out in a relation to this story that we need to know about today?”
Mr. Rumsfeld: “Well, I’m certain there will be. You’ve got six investigations going on. You can be absolutely certain that these investigations will discover things, as investigations do, and that they’ll elevate other individuals for prosecution and criminal matters. And you can be certain that there’s going to be more coming out.”