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Bush to go on Arab TV over prisoner abuse
Updated: 2004-05-05 16:38

Trying to contain an increasingly damaging controversy, President Bush planned two interviews with Arab television to underscore his aversion to photographs of naked detainees and gloating U.S. soldiers at a prison in Iraq.

President Bush waves to supporters after his speech during a campaign stop at Ohio's oldest inn, The Golden Lamb, Tuesday, May 4, 2004, in Lebanon, Ohio. [AP]
"This is an opportunity for the president to speak directly to the people in Arab nations and let them know that the images that we all have seen are shameless and unacceptable," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday night.

McClellan said the two 10-minute interviews were scheduled for Wednesday.

Other administration officials tried to assure the American public and the world that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad was an aberration, and that guilty parties would be dealt with swiftly and firmly. They listed a host of investigations that were under way, as members of Congress called for their own probe.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was shocked by the revelations but that a "fairly small number of soldiers" was involved.

"I was in a unit that was responsible for My Lai," Powell, a former Army general, said on CNN's "Larry King Live" program, referring to the notorious 1968 incident when U.S. soldiers gunned down hundreds of Vietnamese villagers in what was thought to be a Viet Cong stronghold. "I got there after My Lai happened. So in war these sorts of horrible things happen every now and again, but they're still to be deplored."

In the face of worldwide condemnation, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld called the images of physical and sexual abuses at Abu Ghraib "totally unacceptable and un-American," adding that no one should believe the behavior captured in the photographs was tolerated.

"The actions by U.S. military personnel in those photos do not in any way represent the values of our country or of the armed forces," Rumsfeld said.

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, told the Arab television network Al Arabiya that Bush was "determined to find out if there is any wider problem than just what happened at Abu Ghraib. And so he has told Secretary Rumsfeld that he expects an investigation, a full accounting."

In a sign the probe of prisoner treatment was widening, U.S. military officials acknowledged Tuesday that a CIA contract interrogator was under investigation in connection with the death of an Iraqi prisoner.

Army investigators determined the death of the prisoner in November was a homicide, and turned the case over to the Justice Department, which was investigating, Army officials said Tuesday. An additional 20 deaths and assaults of prisoners were still under investigation, they said.

So far, six military police face charges that may lead to courts-martial; seven more have been disciplined administratively.

Rumsfeld offered few new details of what had taken place at Abu Ghraib, a notorious prison during Saddam Hussein's regime that was taken over by U.S. troops.

It was Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, the Army provost marshal, who acknowledged the homicide finding. Other Army officials provided some details, including that it involved a CIA contractor. The circumstances of the death and the identity of both the interrogator and prisoner were uncertain.

The Justice Department and CIA declined comment on any specifics, although the CIA had said previously that its inspector general was looking into the circumstances of the death of an Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib.

The Army also said one soldier had been court-martialed for using excessive force in shooting to death an Iraqi prisoner in September. The Iraqi prisoner, who was not at Abu Ghraib, was throwing rocks at the soldier. The soldier was reduced in rank and dismissed from the Army, an official said.

Since December 2002, the Army has investigated the deaths of 25 people in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the two determined to be homicides, Ryder said. Of those, 12 were found to have died of natural or undetermined causes. One killing was found to be the justifiable shooting of a prisoner attempting to escape. The remaining 10 cases remained under investigation.

Another 10 cases of abuse, assault and other crimes on prisoners also remained under investigation, Ryder said.

Many of the allegations of abuse were contained in an internal Pentagon report completed in March.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., demanded to know why Bush was not earlier informed of the report and why Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers had not yet read the two-month-old document.

Bush's spokesman, McClellan, said the president first became aware of the allegations of abuse some time after the Pentagon began looking into it, but did not see the pictures until they were made public last week. Bush did not learn of the classified Pentagon report until news organizations reported its existence, McClellan said.

Rumsfeld rejected suggestions that part of the Bush administration's justification for invading Iraq — to remove a ruthless regime that tortured its own people — had been undermined by the brutal behavior of U.S. soldiers responsible for detention facilities.

In Baghdad on Tuesday, Iraq's U.S.-appointed human rights minister, Abdul-Basat al-Turki, said he had resigned to protest abuses by American guards, and Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi demanded that Iraqi officials be allowed to help run the prisons.

The new commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq also said he would cut in half the number of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib and change some interrogation techniques considered humiliating, such as hooding prisoners.

The U.S. military said it was ordering troops to use blindfolds and require interrogators to get permission from superiors before depriving inmates of sleep, a common technique.

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