WASHINGTON Declaring that he has given "a good deal of thought" to resigning, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld apologized before Congress Friday to the Iraqi detainees who were abused by U.S. troops in the Abu Gihraib prison near Baghdad.
"To those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. armed forces, I offer my deepest apology," Rumsfeld declared in separate appearances before the Senate and House armed services committees.
Acknowledging that the abuse and its dramatic revelation hurt the U.S. war effort, jeopardized American troops around the world and damaged the reputation of the United States, Rumsfeld said that the entire affair was "un-American, and it was inconsistent with the values of our nation."
As shocking and horrible as the graphic pictures of sexual abuse and humiliation have been, there are more to come, Rumsfeld said.
He predicted that "many more" still photos and videotapes are going to get into print, aired and posted on Web sites to be seen around the world as another damaging blow to the United States.
"If these are released to the public, obviously it's going to make matters worse," he said.
The new material, said Rumsfeld, will go beyond abuse of prisoners. He said the new scenes will "depict incidents of physical violence toward prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman."
Rumsfeld did not go further in his description of the yet unviewed material, but Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., declared that the new images would show rape and murder."We're not just talking about giving people a humiliating experience," said Graham. "We're talking about rape and murder and some very serious charges."
Question of the day
Rumsfeld, replacing his usual jaunty and self-confident demeanor with a sense of sadness and tragedy, declared that he has "given a lot of thought" since the scandal erupted last week to possible resignation.
Noting the important work done by Defense Department's military and civilian personnel, Rumsfeld asked of himself: "Can I be effective in assisting them in their important tasks?" He did not answer his own question, nor did senators press him.
But the ranks of members of Congress calling for his ouster expanded when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said after the hearing: "I think the president of the United States should fire the secretary of defense, Rumsfeld. I think we need a new beginning."
Kennedy suggested that Bush replace Rumsfeld with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In acknowledging his possible resignation, Rumsfeld was replying to a question by Graham about whether he could carry out his duties at the Pentagon.
"If I felt I could not be effective, I'd resign in a minute," Rumsfeld said.
When Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., put the resignation question before the House committee, the secretary replied, "I have to wrestle with that."
During the Senate hearing, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., asked Rumsfeld if his resignation might demonstrate how seriously the United States regards the abuse scandal."That's possible," Rumsfeld replied.
In his opening statement, Rumsfeld sounded as if he were planning to stay on as defense secretary.
"I take full responsibility," he said. "It is my obligation to evaluate what happened, to make sure that those who have committed wrongdoing are brought to justice, and to make changes as needed to see that it doesn't happen again."
In more than six hours of testimony before the Senate and House committees, Rumsfeld maneuvered through a series of questions about who was responsible, both in Iraq and in the U.S. chain of command.
He focused on six individuals, all apparently privates and sergeants in the military police.
Fending off questions, Rumsfeld did not make clear if the MPs were acting under orders from higher-ups or military intelligence to abuse and humiliate the Iraqi prisoners to make them more vulnerable to interrogation.
As more than 130,000 U.S. forces in Iraq continue to battle Iraqis and others, Rumsfeld said: "I feel terrible about what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They're human beings. They were in U.S. custody. Our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't, and that was wrong."
The secretary said the United States would seek to ease the trauma of Iraqis who were abused by offering them unspecified "compensation."
And he seemed to embrace a suggestion by several lawmakers that the prison, which was a place of torture during the Saddam Hussein regime, be torn down.But the final decision on that, Rumsfeld said, could be left to the Iraqi officials slated to assume control of the government on June 30.
'Who was in charge?'
Some of the most pointed questions to Rumsfeld were asked by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a prisoner of war in Hanoi during the Vietnam War.
McCain pressed Rumsfeld on who was in charge of the interrogation of Iraqi detainees and whether the interrogators had authority over the MPs.
When Rumsfeld started to discuss the military chain of command, McCain cut in. "You've got to answer this question. It could be satisfied with a phone call. This is a pretty simple, straightforward question."
After another attempt by Rumsfeld, McCain again jumped in. "What were the instructions to the guards?" McCain asked. Rumsfeld said military investigators are trying to get an answer.
After the hearing, McCain made his dissatisfaction clear.
"I still need to know who was in charge of the guards who committed these obscene acts," McCain said. "I was unable to get an answer to that question. . . . The only way we can ascertain responsibility is to make clear who was in charge and who is responsible. . . . Were the guards instructed by military intelligence? Did they have their own commanders?""History shows, and I know a little bit about this, that mistreatment of prisoners and torture is not productive," McCain said.
Abuse charges emerge
Rumsfeld said he first learned of the abuse charges in mid-January after Army Spec. Joseph Darby reported the misconduct to his superiors.
But after being advised of the charges and the investigation, Rumsfeld said he chose not to get involved, lest his role taint it and perhaps make it impossible for anyone accused to get fair treatment from military authorities.
Rumsfeld said he was not focused on the scandal until "60 Minutes II" broadcast the first photographs last week. He said that a written description of the abuse did not convey the horrible acts displayed in the photographs.Comment on this story
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, criticized Rumsfeld for not advising Congress about the scandal before it surfaced on television.
"I failed to recognize how important it was to elevate a matter of such gravity to the highest levels, including the president and the members of Congress," Rumsfeld said.
He said he and military leaders did not put much emphasis on the reported abuses when they first revealed them to Bush, probably in early February. Rumsfeld said Bush was "just as blindsided as the Congress and me and everyone else" when the photographs first showed on CBS.