Sen. John F. Kerry, reacting Wednesday to an independent panel's report on the abuse of detainees in Iraq, repeated his call for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and recommended the creation of a new commission to investigate the prisoners' mistreatment.
"We know what accountability and responsibility mean," Kerry said in remarks to a union group in Philadelphia. "And it's not just the little person at the bottom who ought to pay the price of responsibility. . . .
"I called months ago for Secretary Rumsfeld to take that responsibility, for the president to take that responsibility," Kerry said. "And again today, as I have previously, I call for the resignation of the secretary of defense for failure to do what he should have done."
In a report issued yesterday, a panel headed by former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger faulted the Pentagon's top civilian and military leadership for failing to exercise adequate oversight and allowing conditions that led to the abuse of detainees in Iraq.
The four-member group found that actions by Rumsfeld contributed to confusion over what techniques were permissible for interrogating prisoners in Iraq.
The panel also concluded that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior commanders in the Persian Gulf region first underestimated the need for detention-facility personnel in devising a postwar plan for Iraq and then neglected to move fast enough to provide such troops once the demand became apparent last year.
At a news conference to discuss the report yesterday, however, Schlesinger and other members of the panel emphatically rejected calls for Rumsfeld's resignation. "I think that overall, Secretary Rumsfeld has handled this extremely well," said Harold Brown, former defense secretary under President Jimmy Carter and a member of the panel. "If the head of a department had to resign every time anyone down below did something wrong, it would be a very empty Cabinet table."
Kerry, who has called for Rumsfeld's resignation since May, also said the president "ought to establish a commission that evaluates thoroughly all of the chain of abuses that took place, and why they took place, including the civilian side. . . . "
A new commission should "report back so that these abuses can never take place again," Kerry said. "That's leadership and that's what ought to happen."
Responding to Kerry's remarks, Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt told the Associated Press, "Today's political attack is just the latest example of John Kerry's willingness to say whatever he believes will benefit him politically."
Kerry spoke about the prison abuse probes at the start of a campaign speech that focused primarily on economic policy and health care during a morning stop in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state in November.
In his remarks about Iraq, the Democratic nominee also was critical of the Bush administration for "failures of judgment" and a series of "miscalculations" in the war.
Kerry planned to travel from Pennsylvania to another swing state, Wisconsin, where he was scheduled to hold a "front porch" visit in Green Bay.