WASHINGTON — President Bush on Thursday apologized for the "humiliation" some Iraqi prisoners suffered at the hands of U.S. troops as he said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (search) is safe in his job.
At a Rose Garden press conference following a White House meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah (search), Bush offered his first direct apology over the prison issue.
"I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners and the humiliation suffered by their families," Bush said.
Plus, Bush rejected calls from some Democratic members of Congress that he should fire Rumsfeld.
"Secretary Rumsfeld is a really good secretary of defense. Secretary Rumsfeld has served our nation well," Bush said. "Secretary Rumsfeld has been the secretary during two wars and he is an important part of my Cabinet and he'll stay in my Cabinet."
The president's comments followed similar remarks by White House spokesman Scott McClellan, who said Rumsfeld was doing a "great job."
The controversy continued to swirl around photographs depicting a few U.S. military personnel abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib (search) prison outside of Baghdad.
Earlier in the day, there were reports that Bush chastised Rumsfeld for failing to tell him about pictures of prisoner mistreatment in Iraq, White House aides said. Two Bush advisers, however, said that Bush stood firmly behind Rumsfeld despite what one called the "mild rebuke."
Meanwhile, The Washington Post in its Thursday editions reported it had obtained a new batch of more than 1,000 digital photos from Iraq. The newspaper said the photos ranged from snapshots depicting everyday military life to graphic images of what appeared to be a female soldier holding a leash that goes around a naked man's neck at Abu Ghraib prison.
Friends and relatives of the soldier with the leash said the photo must have been staged, the Post said. The newspaper acknowledged it "could not eliminate the possibility that some of them were staged."
Bush went on Arab TV on Wednesday and said Americans were appalled by the pictures and allegations, promising that "justice will be delivered."
"People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent," Bush said in an interview with Alhurra, an Arab-language network funded by the U.S. government. He also gave an interview to Al Arabiya.
"They also must understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America I know. The America I know is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. The America I know cares about every individual."
McClellan said Bush is committed to finding out who is responsible and for punishing them and making sure similar incidents don't occur in the future.
Noting that it was "a few individuals involved in appalling and despicable acts," McClellan said it's too early to listen to calls for someone's head to roll.
"We need to let those [military] investigations proceed," he said. "The president wants to know the truth."
Rumsfeld was summoned by Angry lawmakers to testify on Capitol Hill on Friday, while senators discussed a resolution to condemn the abuses.
White House aides said Bush let Rumsfeld know in recent days he was "not satisfied" with the way he was informed about the unfolding scandal. In particular, Bush was unhappy about learning of the pictures only when they were broadcast, and not before, said the aides.
Rumsfeld himself did not know about the images until CBS broadcast them, a senior White House official said.
"There was a breakdown in the chain of command for certain ... accountability should be more than just the privates and the corporals that are on the ground," Sen. John Corzine, D-N.J., told Fox News on Thursday.
"Ultimately the buck stops with those who are in charge ... If there were a recognition that there was a problem ... and we knew it could create a kind of undermining of our troops on the ground and the reputation of our nation, that is a policy decision and I think that should be held accountable."
"This will kind of be a rallying cry for some in the Muslim community like 'remember the Alamo,'" said Rep. Chris Shays, R-Ct. "It's just not a good thing."
Sen. Jon Kyl cautioned that lawmakers should keep the issue above the partisan fray.
"All of us are responsible for what goes on to one degree or another," the Republican senator from Arizona told Fox News. "It seems to me that's going a step too far and I think all of us in a bipartisan way have to recognize this is a huge problem ... it does need to be dealt with but let's keep partisan politics out of it."
An editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is calling for the Rumsfeld's resignation and that of his top deputies. The editorial cites what it describes as "the botched handling" of the Iraqi prisoner abuse investigation and Rumsfeld's overall decisions about the Iraq war.
Other U.S. officials said Rumsfeld and the Pentagon resisted appeals in recent months from the State Department and the Coalition Provisional Authority to deal with problems relating to detainees, The Washington Post reported. Secretary of State Colin Powell urged action in several White House meetings that included Rumsfeld, the officials said.
"It's something Powell has raised repeatedly — to release as many detainees as possible — and, second, to ensure that those in custody are properly cared for and treated," a senior State Department official familiar with the discussions told the Post.
CIA Probes Deaths
The CIA's inspector general also was looking into three deaths that may have involved agency officers or contractors. It was unclear how many of these CIA investigations involved the same prison deaths as the military's investigators, although Army officials said at least one did.
In Iraq, the new general in charge of prisons there apologized for the mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib.
Kerry, Bush's Democratic rival, said the president's remarks Wednesday were not enough.
"The president of the United States needs to offer the world an explanation and needs to take appropriate responsibility," Kerry said. "And if that includes apologizing for the behavior of those soldiers and what happened, they ought to do that."
Bush said the abuses were "terrible" for America's image abroad. "I think people in the Middle East who want to dislike America will use this as an excuse to remind people about their dislike," he told Al-Arabiya television, a satellite channel based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that is popular around the Arab world.
Mouafac Harb, news director for Alhurra, told Fox News that Bush's interview definitely helped the United States' image in the Arab world.
"The fact that the president of the United States personally took the stage … I think it worked," Harb said. "He said 'justice' in his interview and I think, ultimately, people will be waiting to see that."
Harb said there's also one element most media seem to be ignoring.
"The heroes of the story are those soldiers who brought out the pictures, who blew the whistle and that's the story we don't hear about."
Talal Al-Hal, the Washington bureau chief for Al Arabiya, said his station didn't broadcast the Bush interview in Arabic because the translation would have lessened the effect. He noted that most Arabs speak and understand English.
"We wanted to convey the sincerity and the exact words of the president ... when you do translation, you lose some of the spirit of the speaker," AL-Hal told Fox News.
Asked if Bush should have come out and said "I'm sorry" for the reports of abuse instead of leaving it to his spokesmen, Al-Hal replied: "If he had been forthcoming with an apology, it would have been much appreciated. Nonetheless, his remarks will much appreciated" but the United States still has a long way to go to "raise the image" of America after this ordeal, Al-Hal continued.
In Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the new commander of U.S.-run prisons, apologized for the abuse of prisoners and said he would invite observers from the Red Cross and Iraqi government into Abu Ghraib prison.
"These are violations not only of our national policy but of how we conduct ourselves as members of the international community," Miller said.
i just listened to Rush Limbaugh for an hour talk about how ridiculous it would be for Bush to apologize - let loose such gems as "did Truman apologize after dropping the bomb on Japan? did FDR apologize after bombing Germany"
then the apology comes through in the middle of his show and he's speechless - now he's blathering about how the US will have to give 25 Million dollars in compensation to each prisoner - yadda yadda
Why does apolgizing for acts such as these show weakness? This is actually a common point of view among many right wingers (not just Rush) and as somebody that leans to the right myself, I never understood this argument. We clearly broke an international code hereand it was a terrible reflection of what we are supposed to stand for. Bush did the right thing.