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Rumsfeld: Prisoner Probe Diverting Attention From Iraq Security Situation - 2004-05-20

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that investigations of the Iraqi prison abuse scandal are diverting the attention of senior Pentagon officials from the security situation in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld's complaint comes amid new questions about the extent of the Pentagon's cooperation with congressional probes into the scandal.

After another appearance on Capitol Hill Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld voiced apparent frustration over the time being spent by top civilian and military leaders answering to members of Congress about the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal. "An awful lot of us are spending an enormous amount of time on this subject [prisoner abuse] and we've got the transition coming ahead of us here to sovereignty for the Iraqi people on or before June 30 and there is a great deal of work to be done," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld acknowledges however that getting to the bottom of the detainee mistreatment controversy is important, to show not only to Congress and the American people, but to the world that the United States has values. He insisted the Pentagon is cooperating. "We've been spending a good deal of time in the Senate and the House over the past week-and-a-half and have attempted to respond to this important issue and do so in a way that is prompt and forthcoming and satisfies the members of the House and the members of the Senate," he added.

However, some members of Congress are frustrated. Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, in an exchange this week with a senior Army official (Major General Geoffrey Miller, Deputy Commander for Detainee Operations), complained about access to documents relating to prisoner interrogation techniques. "One of the problems we have, general, is that we have not yet, after repeated requests, received the documentation about the interrogation sequence -- techniques, excuse me, at Guantanamo, which is another lack of cooperation in this investigation," he said.

Senator Mark Dayton, a Minnesota Democrat, also expressed concern about the ability of Congress to obtain certain Pentagon documents. He indicated disbelief that only low-ranking soldiers were involved in the abuse scandal.

"We've now had 15 of the highest-level officials involved in this entire operation, from the secretary of defense to the generals in command and nobody knew that anything was amiss. No one approved anything amiss. Nobody did anything amiss," he stated. "We have a general acceptance of responsibility, but there's no one to blame, except for the people down at the very bottom of one prison."

A Senior Pentagon official, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, said that there is no cover-up under way. The official said the documents relating to interrogation policy and detainee treatment contain nothing that, as he puts it, "anyone has any reason to hide or is embarrassed about."

The official said that some documents remain secret, but he added that whatever Congress wants, the Pentagon will provide.