"The level of disarticulation between the military and civilian components of our occupation is extraordinary," said Larry Diamond, fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute who served for several months as an adviser to L. Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, and is now a critic of the U.S. occupation. "We're either serious about human rights and the Geneva Convention or we're not."
Although Bush is giving no consideration to asking to Rumsfeld to resign, the senior White House official said, the president informed Rumsfeld of his dissatisfaction during a meeting in the Oval Office yesterday morning after the two left a National Security Council meeting. Bush was particularly bothered at not having been told that the photos of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison were in circulation, even though Pentagon officials knew that CBS had obtained them, the senior White House official said.
Asked yesterday by al-Hurra, a television station seen widely in the Arab world that is financed by the U.S. government, Bush replied: "Oh, of course I've got confidence in the secretary of defense, and I've got confidence in the commanders on the ground in Iraq."
Bush aides conceded that Rumsfeld had earlier given Bush a general sense of the investigation of Abu Ghraib during a meeting that included Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. But White House press secretary Scott McClellan said officials have not been able to pin down the exact date, except that it was after Jan. 16, when the Pentagon issued a release announcing the probe.
Much of the debate within the administration over what to do about Iraqi prisoners has roots in a long-running struggle among the departments of State, Defense and Justice to sort through prisoners at the detention facility at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, officials said. The scandal involving Abu Ghraib prison has cast a fresh spotlight on the administration's general approach to the handling of war prisoners and terrorist suspects since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Concerns about prison conditions in Iraq were brought up in internal administration deliberations at the beginning of the year by Powell and Bremer, who warned of the potential political fallout, U.S. officials said.
U.S. officials now say the only solution to the crisis over the treatment of Iraqi detainees is a drastic policy shift, such as surrendering all control of prisoners or sharing supervision with Iraqis or an international institution such as the ICRC.
Since it is not likely that Iraqis or the wider Islamic world will believe U.S. pledges to deal with the situation, the Bush administration needs some kind of witness or partner in administering the detention centers, U.S. officials said.
In the past, however, the ICRC had not been willing to share control of detainees with another party. So the only option may be some form of joint control with Iraqis or other unspecified forces, the officials said.
Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this report.