Rumsfeld Accepts Responsibility for Abu Ghraib
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 7, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld accepted full responsibility for "the terrible activities that occurred at Abu Ghraib."
The secretary said the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the prison in Iraq "occurred on my watch, and as secretary of defense I am accountable for them, and I take full responsibility."
Rumsfeld was joined by Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee; Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker; and U.S. Central Command deputy commander Air Force Lt. Gen. Lance Smith.
Protestors interrupted the secretary, calling for his resignation, as Rumsfeld read his opening statement.
The secretary said he also accepts the further responsibility to evaluate what happened at the prison, to bring those who broke laws to justice and to make changes to make sure such horrific actions do not happen again.
Rumsfeld apologized to Iraqi detainees who were abused by military police. "To those Iraqis that were mistreated by members of our armed forces, I offer my deepest apology," the secretary said. "It was inconsistent with the values of our nation, inconsistent with the teachings of the military, and it was fundamentally un-American."
Rumsfeld said he deeply regrets the damage done to the reputation of the American military and the country as a whole. He also said he regrets not adequately conveying the gravity of the situation to the president and members of Congress before they saw the pictures in the media. Rumsfeld told the senators that there "are many more photographs and indeed, some videos."
The secretary pointed out that honorable soldiers did stand up and move forward with suspicions. Rumsfeld praised Army Spc. Joseph Darby for stepping forward with his concerns. He also praised the military chain of command for its quick and effective actions once the allegations were known.
Rumsfeld also announced a new commission to examine "the pace, the breadth, the thoroughness of the existing investigations and to determine whether additional investigations or studies need to be investigated." Rumsfeld did not reveal the names of those on the commission, but said the panel will have 45 days to report once it takes up its duties.
Myers said the incidences of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib are "absolutely appalling," and that the actions of those involved are unconscionable and absolutely unacceptable. But he praised the chain of command's response to the allegations.
"Since (Army) Brig. Gen. (Mark) Kimmitt's public announcement of the allegations back in January, the commanders' response to the problems highlighted in these investigations has been timely and thorough," Myers said. Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Iraq, has served as the coalition's chief military spokesman at Baghdad news conferences.
The chairman reminded the senators that the commanders did well with the situation even though they were handling other challenges in Iraq, especially in Fallujah and Najaf.
Myers said he called CBS news anchor Dan Rather, asking that the network hold the story that was due to run on its program "60 Minutes." Myers said he did so after talking with Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command. "I did so out of concern for the lives of our troops," the chairman said. "The story about the abuse was already public, but we were concerned that broadcasting the actual pictures would further inflame the tense situation that existed then in Iraq and further endanger the lives of coalition soldiers and hostages." CBS did hold off, but then aired the pictures on the "60 Minutes II" program April 29.
Myers said he was "terribly saddened" for the hundreds of thousands of service men and women who are serving or have served honorably in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He said those service members are having their reputations tarnished by a few who don't uphold the U.S. military's values. "I know our service men and women are all suffering unfairly with a collective sense of shame over what has happened," he said.
In his questioning of the panel, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman contrasted the U.S. response to the abuse scandal and terrorist responses to acts perpetrated against Americans. He noted that American leaders apologized to the Iraqi people for the outrages in Abu Ghraib, but he hasn't heard anyone apologize for the 3,000 Americans killed in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or an apology for the hundreds of Americans killed in liberating Iraq or an apology for the killing and desecration of four security persons in Fallujah.
Rumsfeld said the world will see how the United States corrects mistakes. "Part of what we believe in is making sure that when wrongdoing or scandal do occur, that they are not covered up, but they are exposed, they are investigated and the guilty are brought to justice," he said.