Rumsfeld: Abuse Charges Don't Overshadow Good in Iraq, U.S. Military
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 11, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called incidents at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad "a body blow" to the nation's military, but said they don't overshadow tremendous strides being made in Iraq or the virtues of the men and women in uniform.
Rumsfeld was conducting his first town hall meeting since photos of the abuses appeared on television screens and newspaper pages worldwide. He told military and civilian Pentagon workers today the nation is "heartsick" for what happened and its impact on the country's "really well-earned reputation as a force for good in the world."
But despite the gravity of the circumstances, the secretary said the way they were handled demonstrates the transparency of a successful democracy and that the military justice system is working.
"A specialist who became aware of the illegal actions in the prison reported them, and by the next day, investigations were authorized," Rumsfeld told the audience. "And the next day, it was announced to the world to the public by U.S. Central Command."
Rumsfeld said officials in Baghdad, "with no guidance or encouragement from anyone in Washington," acted responsibly by going public with the allegations of abuse. "The military, not the media, discovered these abuses," the secretary said. "The military reported the abuses, not the media."
The secretary acknowledged that enemies of the United States "will exploit this episode to prove their negative views of this country," but said that's something they've done many times in the past. "We see repeated incidents where untruths about our country and about our conduct are put on the regional media," he noted.
But "friends of freedom," he said, will see the other side of the story. They will "understand that it is a virtue of our system that the president and the most senior officials take responsibility for and are involved in seeing that the punishment for such violations of human rights occur," he said.
Rumsfeld said this approach "stands in stark contrast to the many parts of the world where governments use torture or collude in it and do not express shock or dismay, nor do they apologize when it is uncovered."
So despite the terrible events at Abu Ghraib prison, Rumsfeld said "there is even here reason for pride in democracy and certainly there is reason for pride in the standards by which the military forces of our country are governed."
In closing, Rumsfeld thanked those at the town hall meeting for their "hard work every day to keep America safe and free," and for the support of their families.
He praised them and the entire U.S. military for their critical role in freeing 50 million people 25 million in Iraq and 25 million in Afghanistan from tyranny and brutality.
"We've been privileged to take part in a great stride forward for human freedom in places where it has been scarce," he said. "And that is worth celebrating."