Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Sen. John Kerry again demanded the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday, one day after the chairman of an independent panel investigating prisoner abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison said such a departure would be a “boon to all of America’s enemies.”

“I call for the resignation of the secretary of defense for failure to do what he should have done,” Mr. Kerry said while campaigning in Philadelphia yesterday.

“We all know what chain of command means. We know what accountability and responsibility means. And it’s not just the little person at the bottom who ought to pay the price of responsibility.”

Mr. Kerry drew a rebuke from Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was not joined by other high-ranking Democrats.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Mr. Kerry’s fellow Democrat from Massachusetts, said the report showed “gross negligence at the highest levels of the Pentagon,” but didn’t call for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation.

“John Kerry is playing low-road politics and misleading the American people by calling for the resignation of Secretary Rumsfeld,” Mr. Cornyn said yesterday.

Mr. Kerry initially called for Mr. Rumsfeld’s resignation after the first pictures of U.S. troops abusing prisoners surfaced in the spring.

On Tuesday, when the report was released, former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, who headed the independent panel, said Mr. Rumsfeld should not resign when responding to questions during a press briefing.

“His resignation would be a boon to all of America’s enemies, and consequently, I think that it would be a misfortune if it were to take place,” said the former secretary of defense under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Each of the other panel members, including former Democratic appointees, were equally sure Mr. Rumsfeld should not resign.

“I think that overall, Secretary Rumsfeld has handled this extremely well,” said former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who served President Carter. “If the head of a department had to resign every time anyone down below did something wrong, it would be a very empty Cabinet table.”

Charles A. Horner, a retired Air Force general who commanded forces during the 1991 Gulf war, praised Mr. Rumsfeld in particular for pressing for a full accounting of the abuse once the scandal broke.

“If there’s something to be commended on this whole operation, it’s the way the secretary of defense has approached the investigations,” he said. “And certainly, I can tell you that any of the four of us, if we had anything we found distasteful, dishonorable, or inappropriate, we would have certainly said so.”

The report blamed Mr. Rumsfeld and other top leaders for not planning to better handle the massive prison population once U.S. forces took control of Iraq, but said the abuse was not approved military policy.

“The abuses were not just the failure of some individuals to follow known standards, and they are more than the failure of a few leaders to enforce proper discipline,” the 100-plus-page report said. “There is both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels.”

Mr. Kerry also called on Mr. Bush to “appoint an independent investigation to review the entire decision-making process that led to these abuses and provide a comprehensive set of reforms so that we can ensure that this never happens again.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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