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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 May, 2004, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Rumsfeld survives Congress ordeal
Edward Kennedy
Edward Kennedy called for Mr Rumsfeld's sacking
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appears to have survived his six-hour grilling by Congress over the Iraqi prisoner mistreatment scandal.

Some Democrats on the Senate Armed Services committee called for his sacking, but Republicans backed him, as has President George W Bush.

Mr Rumsfeld apologised and accepted full responsibility for what he said were abuses committed "on my watch".

But he warned that "more photographs and indeed some videos" would emerge.

The scandal developed after pictures were published last week, showing prisoners being mistreated at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Mr Rumsfeld called such acts "sadistic, cruel and inhuman", in testimonies before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committee.

A group of bound Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq in this undated photo. (AP Photo/Courtesy of The New Yorker)
The President of the United States should fire Secretary Rumsfeld
Senator Edward Kennedy

"I feel terrible for what happened to these Iraqi detainees. They are human beings," he said.

"They were in US custody, and our country had an obligation to treat them right. We didn't, and that was wrong."

However, Mr Rumsfeld insisted the incidents uncovered had been isolated and were being investigated by the military. Seven soldiers have been charged.

Staying on

Reaction among lawmakers has been mixed.

Several Democratic members of Congress suggested Mr Rumsfeld should consider his position.

The harshest comment came from veteran senator Edward Kennedy.

"I think the President of the United States should fire Secretary Rumsfeld," he said after the hearing.

COALITION-RUN JAILS
Abu Ghraib prison
8,000 prisoners held in 14 separate jails
Three main prisons - Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper in west Baghdad; Camp Bucca, near Umm Qasr - hold inmates for extended periods
Almost all inmates are "security internees"- suspected of posing a threat to the coalition

"I think we need a new beginning, I think we need a new secretary of defence."

But Mr Rumsfeld got backing from senior Republicans.

John Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "I intend to support my president's decision" to stand by the secretary.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist nodded in agreement.

And even John McCain - who had questioned the defence secretary aggressively during his testimony - said afterwards: "I think the secretary did an effective job."

But he added that there was "a lot more that needs to be discussed and a lot more answers that need to be given".

Mr Rumsfeld told both committees he would "resign in a minute" if he thought he was no longer effective.

But he added that he would not resign "simply because people try to make a political issue out of it".

The BBC's Nick Childs in Washington says Mr Rumsfeld probably did enough to convince most of his own party that he should keep his job - at least for now.

He may have been bolstered by one opinion poll suggesting that two-thirds of Americans think he should stay on, our correspondent adds.

'Radioactive'

He also acknowledged that his department had been slow to notify Congress, but denied that there had been any attempt to conceal the abuse.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Rumsfeld should be the first to take responsibility for the absolute mess
Meghan Myres, Canada

He said allegations had been properly investigated and reported by the military.

He added that he had not realised the seriousness of the allegations until pictures were leaked to the media.

US military justice, Mr Rumsfeld said, deals with 18,000 criminal investigations every year.

These took time and there was no procedure to alert senior commanders to damaging cases that need to be treated urgently, he told lawmakers.

He said a special commission was investigating the abuse and that victims would get compensation.




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