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Monday, May 10, 2004

News Feature

U.S., Britain, Seek to Contain Iraq Abuse Scandal
By: Reuters

Mon May 10, 2004 06:58 PM ET

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) - The United States and its main Iraq war ally, Britain, sought on Monday to limit fallout from the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal as a leaked report said the Red Cross alerted them months ago to such mistreatment.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, facing calls he resign over the scandal that has outraged the Arab world and shaken U.S. prestige, got a resounding vote of support from President Bush, after a one-hour meeting at the Pentagon.

Bush also viewed more graphic photographs of prisoner abuse, which the Pentagon was considering making public

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, already under pressure at home for backing the Iraq war, followed Bush in apologizing for the mistreatment.

"We express our total condemnation and disgust at any abuses that have been carried out," he said, while his government said some soldiers implicated in the mistreatment could soon face prosecution.

A new opinion poll showed support for Blair's Labor Party has fallen to its lowest level for 17 years following the reports of abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

A Feb. 4 Red Cross report that appeared on the Wall Street Journal Web site on Monday said delegates of the international relief agency saw U.S. troops keeping Iraqi prisoners naked for days in darkness at the Abu Ghraib jail in October, and were told by the intelligence officer in charge it was "part of the process."

The report also described British troops forcing Iraqi detainees to kneel and stomping on their necks in an incident in which one prisoner died.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had repeatedly alerted U.S.-led occupation authorities to practices it described as "serious violations of international humanitarian law" and "in some cases tantamount to torture."


U.S. officials have described the abuse as isolated. Bush on Saturday called the acts the "wrongdoing of a few."
Bush told reporters after his meeting with Rumsfeld he continued to stand firmly behind Rumsfeld despite calls by some Democrats for the secretary to resign. Rumsfeld said last week he would not quit "simply because people try to make a political issue out of it."

"You're doing a superb job. You're a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude," Bush told Rumsfeld.

But pressure on top officials showed no signs of abating.

The independent Army Times newspaper, widely read in the U.S. military, rebuked Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Monday for "a failure of leadership," and added that accountability might mean "relieving top leaders from duty in a time of war."

A member of U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council said senior U.S. officials should be held accountable for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, while the U.S. ambassador to NATO said the scandal had plunged the Bush administration into crisis.

The U.S. Senate on Monday unanimously passed a resolution condemning the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, as Congress awaited arrival of new images of abuses of detainees at the prison.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told reporters that officials hadn't ruled in or out release of the unpublished photos seen by Bush.

Di Rita said the pictures included "inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature," but provided no details. He also did not specify the content of the pictures Bush viewed.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush had seen more than a dozen photographs and his reaction "was one of deep disgust and disbelief that anyone who wears our uniform would engage in such shameful and appalling acts. It does not represent our United States military and it does not represent the United States of America."

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