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Country Music Superstar Wynonna Judd's Pentagon Visit Marks Military Appreciation Month - 2004-05-21


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had no new public comments on the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal Friday as new pictures of mistreatment surfaced and his top military aide faced fresh congressional inquiries about the controversy.

What do country music superstar Wynonna Judd and the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal have in common? The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing.

But Ms. Judd's appearance at the Pentagon Friday, and her introduction by Mr. Rumsfeld in his only scheduled public event of the day, did provide the beleaguered Defense Secretary an apparently welcome diversion from the ongoing scandal.

"Now what do you say we get down to business? Ms. Wynonna Judd, here she is," said Donald Rumsfeld.

The superstar's appearance marked National Military Appreciation Month. But it also coincided with the release of new photos and a video of Iraqi detainee mistreatment in the news media and the continued congressional grilling of senior defense officials.

Ongoing congressional demands for high-level testimony prompted the defense secretary to complain Thursday that the focus of top Pentagon personnel was being diverted from the war in Iraq at a crucial time.

The United States plans to hand over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi authority on June 30 a transition that officials predict will be accompanied by a new surge in anti-coalition attacks.

But the top U.S. military officer, General Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress Friday he does not believe, as some critics charge, that U.S. engagement in Iraq is on the brink of failure as the sovereignty transfer date nears.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "But, no, I don't think we're on the brink of failure. I think we're on the brink of success here."

Members of Congress, especially Democrats, returned repeatedly to the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, with some legislators expressing renewed skepticism that the low-level soldiers now being punished are the only culprits.

But General Myers says investigators have so far uncovered no guidance documents from senior officials that could have prompted the mistreatment of prisoners.

"So far, we haven't found that guidance that says that's appropriate behavior,"he said. "Just the opposite in fact."

Nevertheless, the Pentagon disclosed late Thursday that Mr. Rumsfeld did approve the use of aggressive interrogation techniques at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba detention center for al-Qaida and Taleban suspects.

That decision prompted objections from senior military lawyers and the use of tough interrogation methods was scaled back. Officials gave no details on the methods but said the same techniques were never exported for use on prisoners in Iraq.

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