Kerry views Iraq abuse images, blames Bush
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry saw for himself on Thursday the images of violence and sexual humiliation at a US-run prison in Iraq, and blamed "grievous" errors by the Bush administration and lax oversight up and down the chain of command for the scandal.
Kerry suggested fault lies with those who set interrogation policy and decided to ignore international rules + not just the few Americans now facing court-martial.
He said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's surprise visit on Thursday to the Abu Ghraib jail was positive, but added: "I don't think it camouflages what has to be done." Kerry has called for Rumsfeld's resignation.
With that, his most stinging assessment yet of the Republican administration, Kerry made clear he would not back down in the face of charges by President George W. Bush's campaign that he was exploiting the prisoner abuse scandal for political gain.
After wrapping up a day of campaigning in Arkansas against Bush's health care policies, the Massachusetts senator returned to Washington, where he viewed images made available to lawmakers showing Iraqi inmates being subjected to sadistic torture, sexual humiliation and worse.
"This administration has made a grievous error in the laxity of command control," Kerry told the Fox News Channel. "And I am convinced this didn't happen just because six or seven people decided to make it happen in a prison. It happened as a matter of what was going on in terms of interrogation and the laxity of command up and down."
Kerry has criticized the "rush" to court-martial low-ranking troops before completing a top-to-bottom investigation. And he blamed Bush and Rumsfeld for first casting doubt on the protections afforded prisoners by denying detainees from Afghanistan formal standing under the Geneva Conventions.
"I would never have thrown out the door or window, the obligations of the Geneva Conventions. Why? Because I know as a former combatant, that had I been captured, I would have wanted our moral high ground, with respect to those Geneva Conventions, to be in place," Kerry said.
FOCUS ON VETERANS
"By being selective and saying they (the Geneva Conventions) apply here, then they don't apply here, and so forth, we invite others to be equally as selective and it puts American troops in greater danger."
Choosing Fox News to deliver the attack made it all the more pointed. The network is a favorite of the Bush administration.
Aides said Kerry spent 50 minutes on Thursday night looking at the unreleased photos and videos of the prison abuses. He made no public comments when he left the viewing room. "He requested to see them. He felt it was important," a campaign aide said.
Earlier in Little Rock, Arkansas, Kerry praised the sacrifice of Vietnam War vets and accused Bush, who spent the war in the Texas Air National Guard, of shortchanging them.
Citing his military experience and "sense of moral justice," Kerry said: "I will see to it that the first definition of patriotism in America is not talking about it, not wrapping yourself in the flag, it is keeping faith with those who wore the uniform of our country."
While Bush has been "busy creating a whole new generation of veterans" in the war in Iraq, Kerry said the administration was shutting down veterans' hospitals and trying to increase veterans' enrollment fees and prescription drug payments.
"Those of us who served + and Americans all across the country + know this is wrong," said Kerry as he wrapped up four days of campaigning in battleground states.
His underlying message: that neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney, who received five draft deferments, put their lives on the line in the same way.
But the most direct attacks on Bush's guard service came from retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who rallied Democrats on behalf of his one-time Democratic rival, saying, "Can you imagine having a president who actually answered the country's call and went to war when our country needed him as a young man?"
Kerry is scrambling to counter a barrage of Republican attacks on his national security credentials by highlighting his record in Vietnam, where he won three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.