Rumsfeld 'misspoke' on abuse

Defense chief corrects self after calling incidents unrelated to interrogation


WASHINGTON - In his first comments on the two major investigative reports issued this week at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld incorrectly described one of the reports' central findings about the U.S. military's treatment of Iraqi prisoners by saying Thursday that there was no evidence that prisoners had been abused during interrogations.

The reports, one by a panel Rumsfeld had appointed and one by three Army generals, made clear that some abuses occurred during interrogations, that others were intended to "soften up" prisoners who were to be questioned, and that many intelligence personnel involved in the interrogations were implicated in the abuses.

The reports were issued Tuesday and Wednesday.

But on Thursday, in an interview with a radio station in Phoenix, Rumsfeld, who was traveling outside Washington this week, said, "I have not seen anything thus far that says that the people abused were abused in the process of interrogating them or for interrogation purposes." A transcript of the interview was posted on the Pentagon's Web site yesterday.

Rumsfeld repeated the assertion a few hours later at a news conference there, adding that "all of the press, all of the television thus far that tried to link the abuse that took place to interrogation techniques in Iraq has not yet been demonstrated."

Partial correction

After an aide slipped him a note during the news conference, Rumsfeld corrected himself, noting that an inquiry by three Army generals had found "two or three" cases of abuse during interrogations or the interrogation process.

In fact, however, the Army inquiry found that 13 of 44 instances of abuse involved interrogations or the interrogation process, an Army spokeswoman said. The report explicitly describes the extent to which each abuse involved interrogations.

Yesterday, the chief Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, sought to play down Rumsfeld's comments, saying, "He misspoke, pure and simple. But he corrected himself."

While the abuses that first came to light - depicted in photographs taken in Abu Ghraib prison - were not the ones involving interrogations, subsequent investigations have shown that, among other abuses, prisoners were kept in harsh isolation, beaten, kept naked and threatened by dogs as part of the interrogation process there.

Rumsfeld has condemned the prisoner abuses, and he did so again in his public appearances Thursday in Arizona. But he has also hewed to the line that a small band of rogue military police were largely responsible for the beatings, acts of sexual humiliation and other abuses, especially those depicted in a notorious set of photographs that became public in April.

Rumsfeld also misstated an important finding of an independent panel he appointed that is headed by James R. Schlesinger, the former defense secretary, saying in the interview with KTAR radio, "The interesting thing about the Schlesinger panel is their conclusion that, in fact, the abuses seem not to have anything to do with interrogation at all."

But the first paragraph of the Schlesinger panel report says, "We do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur during interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere."

Vacation, meetings

Rumsfeld spent part of the week on vacation, meeting with President Bush and visiting troops in Texas earlier in the week, while also spending time at his home in Taos, N.M. On Thursday, Rumsfeld visited a Marine Corps air base in Yuma, Ariz., before speaking to a business group in Phoenix.

Both the four-member independent panel and the Army inquiry, whose principal investigator was Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, found that military intelligence personnel committed many of the offenses, including some in interrogations.

The Fay report found that in 16 of the 44 abuse cases the inquiry cited, military intelligence personnel encouraged, condoned or solicited military police officers to commit abuses, from using dogs to terrorize prisoners to placing detainees in dark, poorly ventilated cells that were freezing cold or sweltering hot.

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