The extraordinary power of the images of the abuse of Iraqi detainees should not prevent us from questioning Donald H. Rumsfeld's preposterous claim that words have no power. In his testimony before the Senate, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that, though he knew about the abuse, he did not really know about it until he saw photographs: "It is the photographs that gives one the vivid realization of what actually took place. Words don't do it."

What is not clear about the words in Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba's report ["Probes of Detainee Deaths Reported," front page, May 5]: "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" or sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light?

H. PERRY CHAPMAN

Garrett Park

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Although Donald Rumsfeld apologized for the abuses of Iraqi prisoners at televised congressional hearings Friday ["Rumsfeld Takes Responsibility for Abuse," front page, May 8], he appeared to be more embarrassed about the publication of the photos on "my watch" than the actual abuse of detainees.

Asked why he did not inform President Bush about their existence sooner, Mr. Rumsfeld responded that he hadn't seen the photos himself until the night before. He also said, "I wish I knew how you reach down into a criminal investigation when it is not just a criminal investigation, but it turns out to be something that is radioactive."

That leaves me with the impression that Mr. Rumsfeld judged that the problem could have been managed if the photos did not exist.

JOSEPH FORD

Frederick

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When Defense Secretary Rumsfeld sidestepped questions in congressional hearings by expressing a desire to protect the rights of junior enlisted personnel now facing court-martial charges, he fell back on the Pentagon's equivalent of "the lawyers made me do it."

Regrettably, Mr. Rumsfeld was not challenged on this. More important, he failed to demonstrate that he intends to use the tools available to him under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to allow for a transparent and fair evaluation of responsibility of the disaster at Abu Ghraib.

If the secretary is serious about addressing this misfeasance and malfeasance, he should suspend the current court-martials, as well as the initiation of new charges, to ensure that officers making judgments about the actions of subordinates are not themselves potentially subject to disciplinary action when more information becomes known.

By directing suspension of the pending cases, disciplinary actions can proceed in the only order that will give credibility to the process: from the top down.

Second, Mr. Rumsfeld should ask Congress to initiate an inquiry to determine individual responsibility for bad acts, bad leadership and failures of leadership that contributed to the conduct depicted in the photos. If he does not request that Congress initiate such an inquiry, Congress should do so on its own.

The process exists for a credible investigation and subsequent assessment of personal responsibility followed by appropriate disciplinary actions. The issues at stake are too great to allow the possibility of institutional or individual bias in their resolution. Damage control never works.

MICHAEL B. SUESSMANN

Leonardtown

The writer was counsel to the Pentagon's Office of Inspector General from 1982 to 1987 and was the assistant inspector general for departmental inquiries from 1990 to 1995.

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The abuses by American soldiers in Iraq, questions of responsibility and calls for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation bring to mind the case of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita at the end of World War II.

When Mr. Yamashita was tried for war crimes, he was held completely responsible for the behavior of his subordinates. He was tried by a military tribunal, found guilty and after the Supreme Court, by a vote of 6 to 2, denied habeas corpus, he was hanged.

The trial has been severely criticized for so many procedural and jurisdictional violations that it amounted to little more than a revenge killing.

In one of the dissenting opinions, Justice Frank Murphy wrote: "No one in a position of command in an army, from sergeant to general, can escape those future implications. Indeed, the fate of some future President of the United States and his chiefs of staff and military advisers may well have been sealed by this decision."

It would be both ironic and poetic justice if President Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld, having run roughshod over established constitutional and international standards, were held to the same high standard that the Supreme Court applied to Mr. Yamashita.

MIKE MAGE

Bethesda

The writer is co-chair of the Montgomery County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Donald Rumsfeld said he "would not resign simply because people try to make a political issue out of it."

I imagine that he means to imply that those who call for his resignation are practicing partisan politics in an election year and that he has too much character to give in to pressure. President Bush stands behind his "courageous" defense secretary [news story, May 11].

The U.S. military, government and Defense Department are suffering a massive crisis of credibility and trust throughout the world. Even if Mr. Rumsfeld could prove that he was in every respect personally blameless, it is his duty to bear the political consequences as the leader of the military and representative of his country's government. A man so ready to demand sacrifice of others must be able to bear it himself if he is to lead.

KEN RUPAR

Frankfurt, Germany

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The May 8 editorial "An Inadequate Response" said: "We believe that Mr. Rumsfeld bears much of the responsibility for creating the legal and political climate in which the prison abuses occurred."

In Mr. Rumsfeld's defense, one should keep in mind that we are engaged with an enemy who sees the Geneva Conventions as a joke. One should keep in mind that four American contractors were brutally killed in Fallujah, Iraq, and two were put on display hanging from a bridge. No one apologized for Sept. 11, 2001, including our so-called friends the Saudis.

That said, the despicable treatment by some of our soldiers cannot be condoned, because as a democracy the United States should be held to a higher standard. Mr. Rumsfeld has apologized to the nation and the world.

That should put an end to this matter.

PAUL SCHOENBAUM

Williamsburg