KWAME HOLMAN: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was called before the Senate Armed Services Committee to explain how Iraqi prisoners could have been abused and humiliated at the hands of U.S. military personnel and why Congress was not made aware of it sooner. Virginia Republican John Warner is the committee's chairman.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: I have had the privilege of being associated with, and, more importantly, learning from the men and women of the armed forces for close to 60 years of my life. And I can say that the facts that I now have from a number of sources represent to me as serious an issue of military misconduct as I have ever observed. These reports could also seriously affect this country's relationships with other nations, the conduct of the war against terrorism, and place in jeopardy the men and women of the armed forces wherever they are serving in the world.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee's top Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan, said he believes responsibility for the abuses extends beyond those who actually committed them.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Those abusive actions do not appear to be aberrant conduct by individuals, but part of a conscious method of extracting information. If true, the planners of this process are at least as guilty as those who carried out the abuses.
The president's legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales, reportedly wrote in a memorandum that the decision to avoid invoking the Geneva conventions "preserves flexibility" in the war on terrorism. Belittling or ignoring the Geneva conventions invites our enemies to do the same and increases the danger to our military service men and women. It also sends a disturbing message to the world that America does not feel bound by internationally accepted standards of conduct.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld, joined at the witness table by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Meyers, was asked to testify under oath.
SPOKESMAN: The committee will now receive the opening remarks of the secretary.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, in recent days there has been a good deal of discussion about who bears responsibility for the terrible activities that took place at Abu Ghraib. These events occurred on my watch. As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility. It's 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. 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. So, to those Iraqis who were mistreated by members of the U.S. Armed forces, I offer my deepest apology. It was inconsistent with the values of our nation, it was inconsistent with the teachings of the military to the men and women of the armed forces, and it was certainly fundamentally un-American.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld said even though his department had been investigating the abuses for months, he regretted not having shared the information outside the pentagon before photographs were released by the media.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Let me be clear. 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.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Rumsfeld said he was looking for ways to compensate those Iraqi detainees who were abused. But he also alerted the committee that there was more evidence of abuse to come.
DONALD RUMSFELD: There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman. Second, there are many more photographs and indeed some videos. Congress and the American people and the rest of the world need to know this.
KWAME HOLMAN: Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee also testified and reported that the army's criminal investigation command currently is investigating the deaths of 25 detainees in U.S. custody.
LES BROWNLEE: Of the 25 death investigations, the CID has determined that 12 deaths were due to natural or undetermined causes, one was justifiable homicide, and two were homicides. The ten remaining deaths are still under investigation.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld and Meyers brought with them a chart to show the progress of the Pentagon's investigations since they first learned of the abuses in January. Senator Levin asked Rumsfeld who he thought should be held responsible.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: I just want to know how far up this chain you're going to go. Are you going to limit this to the people who perpetrated it, or are we going to get to the people who may have suggested it or encouraged it?
DONALD RUMSFELD: That is exactly why the investigation was initiated. That is why it's being brought forward. And we'll find what their conclusions are, and I'm sure they will make recommendations with respect to prosecution.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: But in terms of the standard, does anybody who recommended or suggested directly or indirectly that conduct in order to extract information, are they also, in your judgment, if that occurred, violate of our laws and standards?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Certainly anyone who recommended the kind of behavior that I've seen depicted in those photos needs to be brought to justice.
KWAME HOLMAN: During his questioning, Arizona Republican John McCain made it clear he wanted answers to come directly from Rumsfeld.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Who was in charge? What agency or private contractor was in charge of the interrogations? Did they have authority over the guards? And what were the instructions that they gave to the guards?
GEN. MYERS: I'll walk through the chain of command, and...
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: No, I'D... let's...
SPOKESMAN: I'll submit...
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You can submit the change... chain of command, please.
DONALD RUMSFELD: General Smith, do you want to respond?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: No, Secretary Rumsfeld, in all due respect, you've got to answer this question, and it could be satisfied with a phone call. This is a pretty simple, straightforward question. This goes to the heart of this matter.
DONALD RUMSFELD: It does indeed. The... as I understand it, there were two contractor organizations. They supplied interrogators and linguists. And I was advised by General Smith that they... there were maybe a total of 40.
SPOKESMAN: They were not in charge.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: My question is, who was in charge of the interrogations?
SPOKESMAN: The brigade commander for the military intelligence brigade.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: And did he also have authority over the guards?
SPOKESMAN: Sir, he was... they... he had tactical control over the guards, so he was...
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Mr. Secretary, you can't answer these questions?
DONALD RUMSFELD: I can. I thought the purpose of the question was to try to make sure we got an accurate presentation. And we have the expert here who was in the chain of command. And...
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think these are fundamental questions to this issue.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Fine.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: What were the instructions to the guards?
DONALD RUMSFELD: That is what the investigation that I have indicated has been undertaken is determining.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: But Mr. Secretary, that's a very simple, straightforward question.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, the... as chief of staff of the army can tell you, the guards are trained to guard people; they're not trained to interrogate. And their instructions are to, in the case of Iraq, adhere to the Geneva conventions. The Geneva conventions apply to all of the individuals there in one way or another.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: So these...
DONALD RUMSFELD: They apply to the prisoners of war, and they are written out and they are instructed, and the people in the army train them to that, and the people in the central command have the responsibility of seeing that, in fact, their conduct is consistent with the Geneva Conventions. The criminals in the same detention facility are handled under a different provision of the Geneva Convention.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld has maintained the pentagon made public it was investigating reports of abuse of Iraqi detainees as early as January.
SEN. BILL NELSON: Mr. Secretary, when did you first find out about the abuses?
DONALD RUMSFELD: With everybody else, when they were announced in... by the central command Jan. 16. They announced that they had a series of criminal investigations under way. They told the world, the Congress, me, everyone else that they were under way.
KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, on Jan.16, central command released this statement: "An investigation has been initiated into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a coalition forces detention facility. The release of specific information concerning the incidents could hinder the investigation which is in its early stages." But Maine Republican Susan Collins questioned whether Rumsfeld should have done more before CBS released photographs of the abuses last week.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: And I think that rather than calling CBS and asking for a delay in the airing of the pictures, it would have been far better if you, Mr. Secretary, with all respect, had come forward and told the world about these pictures and of your personal determination-- a determination I know you have-- to set matters right and to hold those responsible accountable.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, Senator Collins, I wish I had done that. I said that in my remark. I wish I knew-- and we've got to find a better way to do it-- but I wish I knew how you reach down into a criminal investigation when it is not just a criminal investigation, but it turns out to be something that is radioactive, something that has strategic impact in the world. And we don't have those procedures. They've never been designed. We're functioning in A... with peacetime constraints, with legal requirements, in a wartime situation, in the information age, where people are running around with digital cameras and taking these unbelievable photographs and then passing them off, against the law, to the media, to our surprise, when they had... they had not even arrived in the Pentagon.
KWAME HOLMAN: There have been calls among some Democrats, particularly in the House of Representatives, for Rumsfeld to resign. None on this committee has called for it, but Indiana's Evan Bayh raised the issue.
SEN. EVAN BAYH: Even though you weren't personally involved in the underlying acts here, would it serve to demonstrate how seriously we take the situation, and therefore help to undo some of the damage to our reputation, if you were to step down?
DONALD RUMSFELD: That's possible.
SEN. EVAN BAYH: I appreciate your candor.
KWAME HOLMAN: Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor was the last senator to question Secretary Rumsfeld.
SEN. MARK PRYOR: Mr. Secretary, I must tell you that we do not like these type of surprises here in the Congress. And I don't want to sound glib in asking this question, but let me ask: We know the photographs are coming out, but do you anticipate anything else coming out in relation to this story that we need to know about today?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I'm certain there will be. You've got six investigations going on. You can be absolutely certain that these investigations will discover things, as investigations do, and that they'll elevate other individuals for prosecution and criminal matters. And you can be certain that there's going to be more coming out.
KWAME HOLMAN: Less than half an hour after finishing up before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld and Meyers kept their appointment before the House Armed Services Committee. In response to a question from Chairman Duncan Hunter, the two made a vehement denial that approval to abuse Iraqi detainees had come from Washington.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: Is there anything, any regulation with respect to the treatment of prisoner that directs anything close to what we saw in terms of the activity manifested in those pictures.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Absolutely not. You want to....
GEN. RICHARD MYERS: I was just going to say there's... any implication that this behavior was driven by direction of the chain of command or by any pressure from any to get interrogation results from Washington, D.C., is absolutely just not right. I mean that is not how it works at all.
KWAME HOLMAN: House members' questions continued late into the afternoon. Secretary Rumsfeld said the Pentagon plans to create a special commission to investigate the abuses of the Iraqi detainees.