'How can the U.S. ever repair its credibility?'

May 09, 2004

Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia made the following remarks to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Friday into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners:

I believe Congress has a responsibility to demand a public accounting and a public explanation from the leadership of the Defense Department. I fear this is only the beginning of a long and painful process. And I am glad that you have taken the first steps to begin the necessary public examination of the massive policy failure that led to this catastrophe.

Among the many aspects of this situation that are so troubling to me is why the president and his advisers are only now publicly condemning the prisoner abuses in Iraq when apparently the Defense Department had known about them for months.

I do not recall hearing a peep out of either of you, Secretary Rumsfeld or General [Richard B.] Myers [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] about this before CBS broke the silence. Why did it take the televised broadcast of graphic photos of prisoner abuse, a broadcast General Myers has acknowledged he tried to suppress, to galvanize the leadership of the Defense Department to express its outrage over the situation?

Why was a report that described sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses by American soldiers left to languish on a shelf in the Pentagon unread by the top leadership until the media revealed it to the world?

Why wasn't Congress apprised of the findings of this report from the Defense Department instead of from CBS News?

Mr. Secretary, it was President Truman who was said to have displayed the famous sign on his desk: "The buck stops here." I served with President Truman. He was an honorable man. He did not shirk his responsibility.

I see a very different pattern in this administration. I see arrogance and a disdain for Congress. I see misplaced bravado and an unwillingness to admit mistakes. I see finger-pointing and excuses.

Given the catastrophic impact that this scandal has had on the world community, how can the United States ever repair its credibility? How are we supposed to convince not only the Iraqi people but also the rest of the world that America is indeed a liberator and not a conqueror, not an arrogant power? Is the presidential apology to the king of Jordan sufficient? I ask you that question.

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