Rumsfeld Visits Prison in Iraq
Defense Secretary, During Unannounced Trip, Vows 'Justice' for Perpetrators
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 14, 2004; Page A01
BAGHDAD, May 13 -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in an unannounced visit to Iraq on Thursday, declared that allegations of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers were "a body blow to us" but vowed that those responsible would "be brought to justice."
Traveling with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Rumsfeld spent about seven hours in Iraq. He visited Abu Ghraib prison, the U.S.-run facility at the center of recent allegations of abuse, gave two speeches and attended a series of meetings.
Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad at about 1 p.m. as part of a hastily planned trip to give U.S. troops a pep talk and get briefed by generals about conditions at Abu Ghraib. Military officials said they learned about Rumsfeld's visit about two days before he arrived and that it was kept secret for security purposes.
Rumsfeld told reporters aboard an Air Force E-4B jet that his trip was not intended to quell Iraqi concerns about the abuses, but he spent much of his time in the country addressing the issue. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said he spoke to Rumsfeld in "the broadest terms" about the situation. Rumsfeld was also given a detailed briefing by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who supervises detainee operations in Iraq.
In speeches to hundreds of U.S. troops, one in a sweltering hall at the edge of Abu Ghraib and the other beneath an ornate chandelier in the marble foyer of a palace once used by ousted president Saddam Hussein, Rumsfeld repeatedly said that he had faith in U.S. troops and that the abuse allegations should not irreparably damage morale.
"In recent months, we've seen abuse here under our responsibility, and it's been a body blow for us," Rumsfeld said at Abu Ghraib. "It doesn't represent America. It doesn't represent American values. It doesn't represent the values of you here in this room."
"The people who engaged in abuses will be brought to justice," the secretary said. "The world will see how a free and democratic society functions."
In southern Iraq, meanwhile, U.S. forces continued to skirmish with militiamen loyal to Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr, news services reported. Large explosions were reported in the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, but it was unclear what had caused them.
West of Baghdad, near Fallujah, roadside bombs killed a Marine, the U.S. military reported. Authorities also said a soldier and a Marine died Wednesday of wounds in Sunni Muslim-dominated areas.
Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq occurred a day after members of Congress viewed photographs and video clips of prisoner abuse by U.S. military police, soldiers and civilian contractors hired by the government to perform interrogations.
Rumsfeld said lawyers are advising against the release of any more pictures of prisoners being abused, but he rejected the notion that withholding them would suggest a coverup.
"I've stopped reading newspapers," Rumsfeld told the troops. "You've got to keep your sanity somehow. I'm a survivor."
Detainees at Abu Ghraib, who have access to radios in their massive tent enclosures, appeared to know that Rumsfeld might be coming. They streamed to the concertina-wire fences, their raggedy clothes flapping in a hazy wind, and many displayed thumbs-down gestures as Rumsfeld's convoy moved slowly past.
Two detainees held up a cloth on which "What are you going to do about this scandal?" was written in English. "Help," another sign said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company