Friday, July 16, 2004

More hearings will be held involving high-level officials from the former U.S. administration in Iraq regarding prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said he hoped to open a hearing as early as next week — before the Senate goes on recess — with testimony from L. Paul Bremer, the former head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq.

Mr. Warner said there was no confirmation yet that Mr. Bremer would testify, and that his committee will not question others until reports from multiple Defense Department probes into the prison abuses are completed.

“As soon as the reports are completed, I will address the reports, hopefully in open hearing, and I can’t predict when they’ll be completed,” Mr. Warner told reporters at the Capitol yesterday, after his committee received a closed-door, classified briefing on the progress of the Defense Department probes.

The abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison made headlines worldwide in late April when photographs emerged of naked and hooded Iraqi prisoners being abused by U.S. soldiers.

A round of hearings in May saw high-ranking civilian and military officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, facing grueling questions about who was responsible for the abuses.

At the time, Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee largely applauded Mr. Warner for the aggressive nature of his investigation.

His approach received less support from Republicans, including committee members James M. Inhofe, of Oklahoma, and John Cornyn, of Texas.

Mr. Inhofe was perhaps the most vocal, criticizing his colleagues during a May hearing and saying he was “outraged” that some were using the abuse scandal for political gain.

Mr. Inhofe also said it outraged him that “so many humanitarian do-gooders” were “crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying.”

Asked for a reaction to the developments yesterday, a spokesman for Mr. Inhofe said the senator “has an honest and respectful difference of opinion with Senator Warner, and he believes we have had far too many hearings already.”

Mr. Cornyn had warned during the initial hearings that placing too much focus on the abuse scandal might be a distraction from the war. A spokesman in his office said yesterday that Mr. Cornyn’s concern “has since been assuaged.”

“He would like to see the reviews completed, and if there’s anything else to learn, he would like to learn it. But he doesn’t want to shut down the entire war on terror to do it,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Warner said new information about prisoner abuses continues to surface through ongoing Pentagon investigations.

“We’re still uncovering, as late as this morning, other incidents, other cases that will be promptly investigated by the Department of Defense,” he said.

Mr. Warner refused to elaborate, saying only that the incidents involved “allegations relating to variances to the Geneva Convention, and indeed, the rules and regulations of the Department of Defense as it regards the detainees.”

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