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Reaction to Secretary Rumsfeld’s Testimony Before Congress

May 7, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now, reactions from the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: And we get that from the committee’s Republican chairman, John Warner, and the ranking Democratic member, Carl Levin.

Welcome, senators.

Senator Warner, what new did you learn today from Secretary Rumsfeld about how and why this abuse occurred?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, a great deal in this perspective. My good friend, the ranking member Carl Levin, and I have been on this committee 25 years. We’ve been through a lot of hearings. And today was an extraordinary one, for any number of reasons, given the tragic nature of these facts, the implications on our foreign policy, the implication on our forces, our forces which are bravely fighting on all over the world in the cause of freedom.

But what we did learn is, I thought, very candid answers in response to very tough and thorough, but fair, questions. We gained a lot of information. And I think the secretary carefully said what he knew to be fact and what he expected to learn. For example, “regrettably, but I think understandably, much more evidence is to come out.” And the secretary very carefully advised the committee of that. The nature of that evidence we know not, except that it’s likely to be various ramifications of what we’ve already seen.

But it does provide, unfortunately, the media of the world an opportunity each day to grind a new chapter. And I’m just hopeful that our men and women of the armed forces understand that we are pursuing this revelation of facts according to the deeply rooted democratic principle of this country of freedom of information, freedom of speech, sharing with the public, and getting it all out there so the sooner it’s behind us, they can then put it behind them. I’m talking about 99.9 percent of the men and women of the armed forces who are valiantly and courageously carrying out their missions throughout the world and here at home.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, just to sharpen that… my question a little bit, what did you learn, or what have you concluded now after reading the investigative report and hearing Secretary Rumsfeld, about whether this was one MP unit run amuck, or whether there were either policies, orders that encourage or condoned this behavior?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: According to the testimony in the Taguba report, and even the photographs that reinforce that to indicate some really strong evidence that this was an organized effort to extract information from the people who were being detained, to get information from them by using MP’s to mistreat them in the way that they were mistreated, to soften them up. In the words of one of the MP’s in the Taguba report, this is more than MP’s misbehaving and conducting themselves in the despicable ways that they conducted themselves.

This is, it seems to me, quite clear part of a pattern, an effort, to obtain and extract information for the intelligence folks. And they’re the ones, if in fact this is true, that have got to be held accountable. And there was some reluctance, I felt at the end on the part of Secretary Rumsfeld, when he said that he can’t imagine that anybody could have approved or encouraged that kind of behavior. Well, it’s kind of hard to imagine the behavior itself. But once you see the behavior itself, frankly, it not hard to imagine that somebody put them up to it.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Warner, let me just follow up on that. Secretary Rumsfeld did say that he thought there was an effort, and he thought it was appropriate to somehow link the way these mostly men were being held with efforts to make the interrogation more “effective,” was his word. Do you think that could have been a factor, I mean, based on what you have learned this week?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, clearly, these men were held for reasons. They had reason to believe that their participation, either on the field of battle or elsewhere, was against the goals of the coalition forces to bring freedom to Iraq. But I want to commend the president of the United States, President Bush. He was the first to step in and apologize. And each one of our witnesses today offered the same apology and total condemnation of the breakdown of discipline, the non-professional behavior, and the obtaining– if they did obtain, we are not sure of that– obtaining of information and in fact by means of cruelty that just is not a part of our military history.

MARGARET WARNER: But do you think it was in response to some kind of encouragement, some kind of policy that was higher up than this one MP unit?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, there we don’t have solid facts. I’ve always been of the opinion that our young men and women, when they leave the towns and villages of this nation, going through the arduous training to become soldiers, sailors or airmen, marines, they’re the finest that we have. And they want to go abroad in the cause of freedom and fight, if necessary, or do their duties and respond to the orders of their superiors, whether that superior be a sergeant or a lieutenant or up the line. And I can’t imagine that all these individuals, collectively put together, got into this unit and suddenly began to do things which are contrary to what they were taught at home as young people and taught in their schools. If not, someone hadn’t instructed them to, in some way, deviate.

MARGARET WARNER: And who do you think that someone was, Sen. Levin?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: I’m not going to speculate.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, based on what you have.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I believe there’s significance evidence that the military intelligence people and the contractors that were hired here privately were using these MPs, encouraging them to obtain infor… to soften up… soften up the people who were being held, the prisoners, so that then when the interrogators came along, they would provide intelligence.

Is that known yet beyond a reasonable doubt? No. But there is testimony right in general Taguba’s report from the MPs that that is what the intelligence folks told them that they wanted. They wanted them to soften up those inmates and those prisoners. And there’s significance evidence, even looking at the pictures, as a matter of fact, that there was some kind of a methodology here. This is not just a few people acting in their own aberrant ways. These are people in a room– six, seven people, you can see in a picture– some people helping other people, other folks just standing by in a corner. It would be easier to believe, somehow or other, that this was just a few people engaging in incredibly sadistic and unbelievable behavior.

But I’m afraid that there’s too much evidence, even in the report of the army, to the contrary, that these folks were in fact working with the intelligence people, or at least thinking they were getting signals from the intelligence people, that they should soften up these prisoners.

MARGARET WARNER: And Sen. Levin, the other focus of the hearing, of course, is how the Pentagon has handled this ever since reports of abuse came to them. What’s your assessment there?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, they were very late in sharing this information, obviously, with the Congress. I want to give Sen. Warner credit. He has taken the lead in really forcing into the open this information: Getting this hearing today, put together on very short notice, to really get the Pentagon to come forward and to share with us what they knew and when they learned it.

So they had an opportunity last week to share this with us when they met with about 40 senators. They did not do so even though it was the same day that there was going to be a television program showing these abuses. And they should have done it at that time. They have not been forthcoming, as far as I’m concerned. But our chairman, Sen. Warner, is surely doing everything he can to get this information out to the public so that we can then hopefully get beyond it.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Warner, let me ask about the question of whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign. Do you think his apology today was enough, or do you think he should resign?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: I want to be very careful about this. And first I would acknowledge that, yes, I’m chairman. I was preceded by Carl, who was chairman, and we have worked together these 25 years. And I think through our joint leadership, our members of our committee brought in before the public view today a good Senate hearing that was thoroughly given the opportunity to learn.

Now, as to Rumsfeld’s situation, I’ve known him for many years. We started way back together as youngsters in the Nixon administration. I was secretary of the navy, and I served under three consecutive secretaries of defense for five years during the War in Vietnam. And since that time, working with Carl, we’ve served these 25 years in the Senate Armed Services Committee. We’ve known a lot of them. I would rate Rumsfeld as a very competent secretary of defense. We work together cooperatively, we had our differences, but nevertheless, we both made an effort to work — and a strong bond between the Congress and executive branch as it relates to the Department of Defense.

The question was raised, and I think the president gave the answer; he said, “I want him to stay in the cabinet.” And I support the president in that view, and I feel that Secretary Rumsfeld and I can continue to work just as we did before this tragic incident.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Levin, I would like to ask you the same question, and particularly ask it from the point of view that Sen. Bayh brought up today, which is, he said to Secretary Rumsfeld, “Even though you weren’t directly involved, do you think perhaps you need to resign to demonstrate to the world how seriously the American government takes this?”

SEN. CARL LEVIN: And I think Secretary Rumsfeld’s answer was that it is possible, as I remember. And he’s right, it is possible; that it would help to restore confidence. If I thought his resignation would result in the changes that are necessary in underlying policies, I would very much favor that. But I don’t think the underlying policies… and there has been too much… too many errors, too much mismanagement of this war, I don’t see that changing with a change in the leadership in the Defense Department. And in terms of these events particularly, I think that Secretary Rumsfeld’s answer is the right one. It is possible, particularly if there is more and more information unfolding, that a resignation would help to restore some public confidence. But from my perspective, it’s the underlying policies which are the issue at this point.

MARGARET WARNER: Senators Levin and Warner, thank you both.