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Powell Takes Lead in Defending US Policy in Iraq - 2004-05-16


The Bush administration is defending its Iraq policy at home and abroad. Secretary of State Colin Powell took the lead during the weekend, consulting with Arab leaders in Jordan, and speaking out in a series of interviews with American television networks.

Violence in Iraq and revelations of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers dominated the interviews.

Secretary of State Powell was asked how long American troops will stay in Iraq after June 30, when an interim government takes office. He told Fox News Sunday he believes U.S. forces will be asked to remain for some time. "They know and we know that it will be a period of time - some considerable period of time - before we can see conditions of security that can be placed totally into the hands of Iraqi security forces," he said.

He said Iraq's Defense Ministry will control its own troops, and those Iraqi soldiers will become part of a multi-national force. "The Iraqi Ministry of Defense, and the Minister of Defense, and the generals working within the Ministry of Defense will have command and control over their troops. But we also expect that for the unity of command and to make sure there is no confusion as what we are doing with respect to security, they will put those troops under the direction of the multi-national force commander who will be an American," he said.

Mr. Powell spoke from a coastal resort on the Dead Sea where he was attending a meeting of the World Economic Forum hosted by Jordan. The gathering was an opportunity for him to deal directly with the anger being felt in Arab countries in response to the evidence of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

As the economic conference was winding down, a new published report added to the controversy. An article in The New Yorker magazine quoted unnamed intelligence officials as saying Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally authorized the use of tough interrogation techniques in Iraq.

Seymour Hersh wrote the article. He told the CBS program Face the Nation that Mr. Rumsfeld approved the expansion into Iraq of a secret program that was being used to get information from detained members of the al-Qaida terrorist network. "The goal was to use a couple of very harsh means - one was sexual humiliation, another more physical force - and I am not saying Rumsfeld authorized what we saw the last few weeks, but he did authorize these guys to come into the prison system and [intensify the interrogations] and get better [intelligence]," he said.

Appearing on the same program, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, vowed these new allegations would be investigated by congress. "I have that assurance from the Chairman of the Armed Service Committee [Virginia Republican John Warner] that there are going to be these extensive hearings and this just adds a very significant subject to what already exists," he said.

His Republican colleague on the Armed Services panel, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, also promised a detailed probe. Senator Graham told Face the Nation that much is at stake. "The question is do we have an out of control prison or an out of control system?"

The Pentagon has rejected the assertions in The New Yorker. A spokesman said the article is outlandish and filled with errors, and stressed the Department of Defense neither authorized nor ordered the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

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