- The Washington Times - Friday, May 7, 2004

As Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld stood in the glare of the global spotlight yesterday and raised his right hand, the oath he swore was drowned out by a cacophony of clicking as 45 photographers crouched to capture the historic scene.

Yesterday’s dual appearances before the Senate and House Armed Services committees to testify about Iraqi prison abuse was Washington drama at its pinnacle.

Members of both parties said Mr. Rumsfeld was testifying, in essence, under the guillotine, the only time in recent memory that a Cabinet-level official has faced Congress with so much riding on his performance.

Flanked by his generals, Mr. Rumsfeld somberly apologized to Congress for not conveying the “gravity” of the scandal before sordid pictures were leaked that made it quite clear. He also warned members of the Houseand Senate that additional, shocking details will emerge as his investigation continues.

The questions ranged from the pointed interrogation by Sen. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Democrat, who asked who knew about the military’s request to CBS-TV not to air photos of the abuse, to Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s simple question on compensation for victims: “Could you please provide more details?”

Republicans were among the most pointed questioners, with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, wondering exactly what orders the prison guards were given, while Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said officials seemed to miss the point.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the explosive nature of these photos, apart from court-martial, apart from legal proceedings. And most of us here found out about it on television,” he said. “If we knew enough to say ‘don’t air a show that’s going to be bad,’ why did we not call the president, call senior members of Congress to prepare us for what we were eventually going to see?”

But some lawmakers said the hearings shouldn’t obscure the goal in Iraq.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said while the reported abuses are “immoral, intolerable and un-American,” the war on terror continues.

“Those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001, never apologized,” he said. “Those who have killed hundreds of Americans in uniform in Iraq, working to liberate Iraq and protect our security, have never apologized.”

One of the few moments of agreement came when one Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee acknowledged that part of the call for Mr. Rumsfeld to resign was coming from “the political bandwagon.”

“There’s the understatement of the morning,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Unlike past dramatic hearings, such as those on the Watergate scandal, yesterday’s six hours of testimony had no shocking revelation to define it for posterity or to dominate today’s headlines.

But it did have protesters. Mr. Rumsfeld was delivering his opening statement to the Senate committee when a group of protesters jumped up and began shouting “Fire Rumsfeld” as Capitol Police tried to usher them out.

The central charge made by Capitol Hill lawmakers against Mr. Rumsfeld — warranting his resignation, many said — is that he did not fully inform them earlier about the sordid details of the abuse.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, accused Mr. Rumsfeld of “incompetence” for his “knowledge of these allegations of abuse since January and his refusal to make Congress or the president aware of these horrendous abuses until last week.”

One of the charges laid out in articles of impeachment against Mr. Rumsfeld drafted by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, was that: “The Secretary of Defense misled the Congress and the American people of those atrocities by seeking to suppress information about the misconduct.”

Said Diane Watson, California Democrat: “This is the biggest coverup of all administrations. I would go so far as to ask for the impeachment of the commander in chief.”

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, defended Mr. Rumsfeld and referred to a Jan. 16, 2004, Department of Defense press release in which charges of abuse were first made known to Congress and the public.

“It seems to me that the Pentagon’s biggest mistake was issuing only one press release about this matter when they began the investigation back in January, causing lawmakers to be surprised — a mortal sin on Capitol Hill — when the media revealed details about the abuses during an ongoing investigation months later,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Despite the press release and the explanation by Mr. Rumsfeld of the investigation launched internally when the charges of abuse first surfaced, many accused Mr. Rumsfeld and the Bush administration of doing “nothing.”

“It is clear that months ago, senior military and Bush administration officials were warned that immediate action was needed to address the treatment of captives and enemy soldiers at prisons like Abu Ghraib in Iraq and nothing was done,” Mr. Conyers said.

“This failure has placed our troops at greater risk as the horrific images of Abu Ghraib have produced greater antipathy toward our troops and threaten to incite even greater violence in the region.”

Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is the party’s presumptive nominee for president, told reporters Thursday in California that he has long called for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation but that the recent scandal was “the frosting.”

“It was the way it was handled, the lack of information to Congress,” he said.

Amy Fagan contributed to this story.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide