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Wednesday, May 5

Failure to disclose Iraqi prison abuse worsens U.S. war situation

By Jon Frandsen | GNS

WASHINGTON - The abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the delay in making it public has cast further doubt on American motives for war, and winning back credibility could require the resignations of top officials.

No one has called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or others in the Pentagon, but there are repeated demands that administration officials take responsibility for the ugly scenes at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison that have caused an international outcry.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., a key Democratic supporter of President Bush's decision to wage war on Iraq, said the president must demonstrate that he understands the "nature of the damage" caused by the abuse incident by "determining who is responsible, no matter how far up the chain of command this goes."

Once those people are identified, Biden said, Bush must "demand the resignations for whoever is involved in this policy, and that includes Lord God Almighty himself. It includes anybody involved."

One of the first barometers of whether Rumsfeld is in serious jeopardy will come Friday, when he and other Pentagon officials have agreed to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Rumsfeld is ensured of being greeted by barely controlled rage from many members of both parties - over the images of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and the potentially lethal blow those images could deal to American chances for success in Iraq and the Middle East.

"While our enemies will tell all sorts of tales about us and our motivations in Iraq that are not true, this sort of incident has a tremendous negative impact on our credibility and on our stated intentions for fighting in Iraq," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon has launched six probes into the abuse of prisoners from Iraq and Afghanistan, including the deaths of 10 prisoners from both theaters.

Thus far, in the ongoing investigations of alleged abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, six soldiers with the 800th Military Police Brigade have been charged with conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another. They have been reassigned to administrative duty pending investigation results. The soldiers, if found guilty, could face court martial and, potentially, prison terms.

The abuse became public April 27 on CBS' "60 Minutes II," which had delayed the broadcast for two weeks at the request of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.

Myers and Rumsfeld appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier that day and did not mention what was coming.

Many critics said that failure - even with disclosure just hours away - was just emblematic of the administration's approach to Congress and the war in Iraq.

"Their policy is four guys in a room talking to each other and no one else. They operate in a vacuum and try to make sure no one else knows anything," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. A few weeks ago, Reed was involved in a dispute with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz over the Pentagon refusing to provide documents.

There has been constant criticism that while the war itself was fought almost perfectly, the Pentagon was ill-prepared for handling the occupation afterwards. This happened despite repeated warnings from experts across the political spectrum that Iraq should be flooded with troops to keep the peace and guard against the possibility of widespread insurgency and even civil war - both of which remain distinct possibilities.

While members of both parties accuse the Pentagon of withholding crucial informtion and making it impossible for them to carry out their constitutional duties of overseeing actions of the government, many are far angrier over the potential consequences.

``The symbolism of this has a profound negative impact on our security interests,'' Biden said. ``What worse thing could have happened, except for accidentally bombing one of the holy sites in Najaf with pilgrims in it?''

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said a forthright attitude by defense officials could have limited some of the damage.

"I believe had the Pentagon gone public with the atrocities and outlined what steps it was going to take to deal with the very small number of individuals who are involved, it would have lessened the impact in the Muslim world," Collins said But Middle East policy analyst Danielle Pletka, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Pentagon disclosure of the abuse may have had an impact on Congress and parts of the world, but probably not in Arab and Muslim countries.

"The idea that this would have minimized fallout in the Middle East is garbage," Pletka said. "Enemies of the United States are exploiting this for all it is worth and would regardless of who announced it."

(Contributing: John Yaukey, GNS.)