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Democrats Press for Further Inquiry into Prisoner Abuse - 2004-06-23

Democrats in Congress are taking new steps to press the Bush administration for more information from government investigations into alleged abuse of prisoners by members of the U.S. military in Iraq.

The moves are part of stepped up criticism in recent days by minority Democrats who accuse Republicans of failing to sufficiently exercise the traditional congressional role of oversight.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke at a Capitol Hill news conference. "Issues of the greatest consequence routinely fester without investigation or inquiry from the Republicans in Congress," she said. "The Abu Ghraib prison scandal must be investigated by Congress. It has serious implications for our effort in Iraq, our foreign policy, and our constitution."

Democrats want the Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, to appoint a select committee to investigate the prisoner abuse matter.

Congressman Henry Waxman is the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee and key sponsor of that effort. "Our constitution looks to checks and balances and one important role for the Congress is through oversight, to provide a check on what the executive branch is doing," he added.

At the same time, Congressman John Conyers, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a "resolution of inquiry" aimed at forcing the White House to release all documents pertaining to prisoner abuse questions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"This resolution of inquiry is necessary because the Republican leadership has failed to use their committee positions to seek the documents that are needed in this investigation, and the White House has refused a request for the documents that others have continually requested," Mr. Conyers added.

Republicans oppose creation of a separate select committee, and accuse Democrats of playing politics with the prisoner abuse issue.

Democrats in the Senate such as Senator Edward Kennedy attempted to introduce an amendment during consideration of Senate defense legislation demanding additional documents relating to the prisoner issue.

"We are talking about abuses that have been taking place in prisons where the United States has had the direct responsibility, and we're talking about policies that have permitted that kind of abuse to take place," Senator Kenedy said.

Republican Senator John Cornyn had this to say about the Democratic effort in that chamber. "It is purely a political ploy to try to score points in a presidential election year," Mr. Cornyn noted.

House Republican leaders say a report by General Antonio Taguba, the Pentagon's most detailed probe so far of prisoner abuse, should be sufficient for members of Congress to assess the facts.

Nevertheless, Representative Ike Skelton, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and a key backer of the U.S. military believes Congress needs to see more documents.

"We are in a unique position to show the commitment of the American people in seeking the truth and in seeking accountability," he said. "We need to continue to request documents that will help us get to the bottom of these incidents, regardless of how far up the chain of command responsibility goes."

In another point of friction with Republicans, Democrats are also seeking additional information from the administration and Pentagon relating to the role of independent contractors in Iraq.