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Rumsfeld: Abuse of Iraqi prisoners Is ‘Body Blow’ - 2004-05-13


Buffeted by criticism and calls for his dismissal at home, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq, meeting with cheering U.S. troops and taking a firsthand tour of the notorious prison where soldiers mistreated Iraqi prisoners.

Mr. Rumsfeld admits the scandal over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners has shaken him.

"I was stunned. It was a body blow," he said.

But speaking to U.S. forces after touring Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, Mr. Rumsfeld vowed those responsible for the abuses will be punished. He also insisted steps are being taken to ensure there is no repetition of the mistreatment.

"Those involved, whoever they are, will be brought to justice," he promised, "and we've spent the day talking to people and seeing the steps that have been taken to see that those types of abuses to people for whom we have a responsibility and custody will not happen again."

Several soldiers face courts martial for their roles in the mistreatment of prisoners, including instances in which Iraqi detainees were subjected to sexual humiliation. Some officers have already been formally reprimanded.

But in Washington, there have been calls by some members of Congress for Mr. Rumsfeld to step down because of the scandal.

But the Defense Secretary, buoyed by a personal endorsement from President Bush this week, indicated he has no intention of quitting.

"It is a fact. I am a survivor," he said.

In addition to Congressional calls for his firing, some leading newspapers have also urged Mr. Rumsfeld to step aside.

Mr. Rumsfeld told troops he has stopped reading the newspapers, a statement that drew applause and cheers.

But General Richard Myers, America's top military officer who flew with Mr. Rumsfeld on his surprise, lightning visit, asserted it was a relief to get out of Washington.

"We are really happy to be here," he said. "I mean, we are really, really happy to be here and I am not going to go into that any more."

The two top defense officials flew together to Iraq, the first time they have shared the same airplane. Normally, they travel aboard separate aircraft for security reasons. But for security reasons, officials released no details of the visit.

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