And Bush, as Commander-in-Chief, should be held accountable for continuing to support Rumsfeld, and not letting him go. . . .
Bush Sorry for Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners, but Backs Rumsfeld
By ELISABETH BUMILLER and ERIC SCHMITT
Published: May 7, 2004
WASHINGTON, May 6-President Bush said on Thursday that he was sorry for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers, but vowed that the man in charge of the United States military, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would remain in his job.
Mr. Bush expressed his regrets in the White House Rose Garden at the side of King Abdullah II of Jordan after they met in the Oval Office. The president, who had deplored the abuse but stopped short of an apology in Arab television interviews on Wednesday, appeared to direct his words to the king as the leader of an Arab nation.
"I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush pledged that his defense secretary would not be ousted, even as he acknowledged that he had chastised Mr. Rumsfeld 24 hours earlier for his failure to inform him about graphic photographs showing the American abuse of Iraqi captives. "Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars and he is an important part of my cabinet, and he will stay in my cabinet," Mr. Bush said.
Nonetheless, Washington was rampant with speculation over whether Mr. Rumsfeld, who was described by aides and friends as embarrassed and angry, would survive. The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that it had regularly visited Abu Ghraib and had often complained to American officials over the last several months about the abuses.
On Capitol Hill, where Mr. Rumsfeld is to testify on Friday about the prison abuse scandal at back-to-back briefings to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, members of both parties expressed anger over his failure to tell lawmakers about the photographs and about a classified Army report that outlined some of the abuses.
Many Democrats, including Senator John Kerry, called for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation, while most Republicans said they were behind him for now. Mr. Kerry, in California, said that if he were president he would not be "the last to know what is going on in my command."
Mr. Rumsfeld spent his day with aides at the Pentagon, preparing for testimony that is likely to be among the most important of his tenure. Mr. Rumsfeld canceled a speech scheduled for Thursday in Philadelphia, and sent his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, instead. The secretary also met for breakfast with four Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee in an effort to defuse what both parties say will be a contentious hearing on Friday.
One defense official said Mr. Rumsfeld was badly shaken by the developments and looked as "white as a sheet" at one point this week. But Mr. Rumsfeld's top aides quickly dismissed such characterizations. "He's very focused and very thick-skinned," said Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon's chief spokesman.
At the White House, where Mr. Rumsfeld has exasperated senior staff members for what they perceive as his disdain for them, advisers said that Mr. Bush's dressing-down of Mr. Rumsfeld on Wednesday was not merely public relations. The president was uniformly described as furious at his defense secretary, even as his motive for authorizing his staff to leak the scolding to reporters was intensely debated.
Some Republicans close to the White House said that Mr. Bush had made public his slap of Mr. Rumsfeld to satisfy the critics, at least for now, but in a way that would allow him to preserve his option of firing Mr. Rumsfeld if more damaging information becomes public.
Another outside adviser speculated that Mr. Bush had reprimanded Mr. Rumsfeld because he felt that as a manager he had to address the failure of such an important subordinate, and that he well knew that his action would set off a feeding frenzy for Mr. Rumsfeld in Washington. "If that happens to put Rumsfeld in jeopardy, so be it," the adviser said.
Others said that Mr. Bush would never fire Mr. Rumsfeld, the prosecutor of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, just six months before the election. Vice President Dick Cheney, one of Mr. Rumsfeld's oldest and closest friends, was described by an administration official as fully supportive of Mr. Rumsfeld-a view, Republicans said, that would hold much sway with Mr. Bush. Mr. Cheney has not said anything publicly about Mr. Rumsfeld, but the vice president was believed to have been in the Oval Office when Mr. Bush admonished Mr. Rumsfeld.
If there was any consensus about Mr. Rumsfeld in Washington on Thursday, it was that his fate was at the moment in the hands of the Republicans on the Armed Services Committee, and that his future would depend on how he handled the proceedings.
To help prepare, Mr. Rumsfeld was consulting with a range of trusted outside advisers, including his former chief spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke. In a telephone interview, Ms. Clarke declined to say what advice she was giving Mr. Rumsfeld, but she did say what she believed Mr. Rumsfeld needed to accomplish on Friday. "He needs to remember that Americans are following this very closely," Ms. Clarke said. "They want him to say he feels terribly about what happened to those Iraqi prisoners and that those responsible will be punished. And probably they want to hear that Congress and the American people should have been better informed."
Ms. Clarke also said that Mr. Rumsfeld and others at the Pentagon "misread the impact of the photos once they became known."
Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House who serves on a Pentagon advisory board, said that he had exchanged e-mails in recent days with Mr. Rumsfeld and his spokesman. "I was very surprised the Pentagon system hadn't understood how important it was to get ahead of the story and brief the players," Mr. Gingrich said in a telephone interview. "This is where they dropped the ball."
The photographs show Iraqis stripped of their clothes, piled on top of one another and in positions that simulate sexual acts. One picture shows a female American soldier holding a leash tied around the neck of a naked Iraqi who lies on the floor.
Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee refrained from any criticism of Mr. Rumsfeld on Thursday and said that they were waiting to hear his testimony.
"At this point in time I do not have any loss of confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld," said Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican who is chairman of the committee.
Two other important Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, did not come to Mr. Rumsfeld's defense. Both Mr. Hagel and Mr. McCain, who have been frequent critics of the White House, said they wanted to know more before passing judgment on Mr. Rumsfeld's fate. "We're still getting all the facts on what happened, what went wrong," Mr. Hagel said.
A senior defense department official said Thursday night that one option under consideration was the creation of an independent panel to investigate the abuse; however, it was not clear whether Mr. Rumsfeld planned to propose that on Friday.
Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said that Mr. Rumsfeld's testimony would be critical to his future. "He's got a huge number of questions that need answering, and how he answers them will have a major impact on whether he stays on," Mr. Levin said.
Senators are certain to question Mr. Rumsfeld on when he first knew about the abuse and the existence of the photographs. Mr. Di Rita, the Pentagon spokesman, said that Mr. Rumsfeld first learned about the abuse and was given a general description of the photographs in mid-January, within days after a soldier turned in the offending material. Within the last three or four weeks, around the time that the CBS program "60 Minutes II" was preparing to broadcast a story about the abuse, Mr. Rumsfeld asked to see the pictures, Mr. Di Rita said.
The defense secretary was told that the photographs were part of a criminal investigation in Baghdad. Mr. Rumsfeld did not press to get copies of them because he wanted to avoid any appearance of tainting the investigation, Mr. Di Rita said.