U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to face tough questioning before Congress Friday about the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops. His appearance comes as growing numbers of Democrats are calling for his resignation.
Secretary Rumsfeld will be accompanied by top military officials when he testifies before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
Lawmakers, outraged at the images of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi detainees, want to know how such mistreatment was allowed to happen and who is responsible.
On the eve of his appearance on Capitol Hill, a chorus of Democrats, including the party's presumed Presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, urged Mr. Rumsfeld to step down, saying he is ultimately accountable.
Mr. Kerry, campaigning in California, said the Defense Secretary should have resigned months ago over his role in Iraq, and added that the Iraqi abuse scandal just strengthens the case for his departure.
In the House of Representatives, the top Democrat, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, offered similar remarks. "Mr. Rumsfeld has been engaged in a cover-up from the start on this issue, and continues to be so," she said.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who are all Democrats, and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, echoed the comments.
But a number of Republicans defended Mr. Rumsfeld, and accused Democrats of playing politics.
Senator Jon Kyl is an Arizona Republican. "Would we have the right to call for somebody's resignation before we have even heard what they had to say, or been briefed on what they did? Is that an American way to go about doing things? Or is it perhaps an expression of partisanship? I suggest to the extent that it might be the latter, people should hold their fire and just wait until the facts come in," he said.
At the White House, President Bush expressed his support for Mr. Rumsfeld, saying he is an important part of his Cabinet, and would stay in the Cabinet.
That prompted Congressman Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, to suggest that Congress take the matter into its own hands.
"If the president does not fire the secretary, if he (Mr. Rumsfeld) does not resign, I think it is the responsibility of this Congress to file articles of impeachment, and force him to leave office," he said.
The debate over whether Mr. Rumsfeld should step down came as both the House and Senate adopted resolutions condemning the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.