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Bush Praises Rumsfeld in Strong Show of Support - 2004-05-10

As more pictures surface of Iraqi prisoners being abused by American soldiers, President Bush Monday delivered another strong endorsement of his Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who is facing calls to resign over the matter. The Pentagon is reviewing whether to release additional photos of prisoner abuse or just turn them over to Congress, which is set to question more military officials on the matter Tuesday.

The Army Times, a newspaper not accustomed to strong criticism of the Pentagon, has become the latest publication to suggest Defense Secretary Rumsfeld should step aside. But President Bush went to the Pentagon Monday and with his defense chief standing at his side, gave full support to the man who just three days ago appeared before Congress and took full responsibility for the still unfolding abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

"You are doing a superb job," he said. "You are a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."

Senator Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee disagrees and suggests a Rumsfeld resignation would demonstrate a clean break from past practices and go beyond bringing American soldiers charged with involvement in the abuse before a court martial.

"This is damaging the mission, which is to bring about a representative government in Iraq," said Senator Biden.

U.S. General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for coalition operations in Iraq tells reporters the photos are indeed having a damaging impact on the image of American troops in Iraq.

"They are out on the streets every day and every person in this country has probably seen those photos and they are now starting to look at our soldiers with a different view," he said.

The first military trial for American soldiers facing charges of abuse is set to open in Baghdad next week. In the meantime, Pentagon officials are deciding whether to release additional photos, some of which are said to be more graphic than those that have already been seen around the world. Making it into newspapers Monday was another photo, this one of a naked Iraqi cowering in prison, surrounded by American soldiers and barking dogs.

In Iraq itself, gunmen in Fallujah parade through the streets, celebrating what they are calling their victory in the battle against the American occupation, even as U.S. Marines begin joint patrols with Iraqi security forces there. After weeks of what had been some of the fiercest fighting in Iraq between Marines and Sunni rebels, a former officer in Saddam Hussein's military was installed to take charge of security, allowing Marines to pull back and for a ceasefire to take hold.

In Baghdad meanwhile, American tanks leveled the office of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr whose anti-coalition fighters continue battles with U.S. soldiers in several cities in southern Iraq, where they are refusing ultimatums to disarm. A U.S. military official says the building destroyed was being used to stockpile weapons.