Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, responding to allegations that he fostered a climate that led to the prisoner-abuse scandal, said yesterday that the military's mistreatment of detainees was not as bad as what terrorists have done.
"Does it rank up there with chopping someone's head off on television?" he asked. "It doesn't."
Rumsfeld acknowledged once again that he had approved harsher interrogation methods for suspects captured in the global war on terrorism but said the rules were meant only for the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility for terrorist suspects and had nothing to do with Iraq, where the prison scandal emerged.
Critics have said for months that fault may ultimately rest with White House and Pentagon leaders for creating confusion when they decided in early 2002 that terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay did not fall under the rules of the Geneva Conventions and then sought to redefine longtime rules of detention, interrogation and trials to suit the war against terrorism.
Asked at a National Press Club appearance whether he contributed to a climate that led to abuse, Rumsfeld said he had approved new techniques for Guantanamo but then rescinded them and gathered lawyers to study the subject after military officers questioned them.
He said the procedures "were not torture" and were approved for use on only two people.
But Pentagon investigations in recent months have said there have been about 300 allegations of prisoners killed, raped, beaten and subjected to other mistreatment at military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay since the start of the war on terror.
Rumsfeld read from a long list of statistics he had brought with him, saying there have been 11 investigations into the abuse, 950 people interviewed, 45 referred for court-martial and 23 soldiers administratively separated from the service.
"The people who've done something wrong are being prosecuted, the investigations are still underway . . . and corrective steps have been taken," Rumsfeld said, adding that it does not compare to televised executions in recent weeks in which terrorists have beheaded hostages taken in Iraq.