WASHINGTON – President Bush told Arab news outlets Wednesday that allegations of Iraqi prisoner abuse at a Baghdad prison do not "represent the America I know" — and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.
"People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent," Bush said in an interview with Alhurra (search), an Arab-language network funded by the U.S. government.
"They also must understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America I know. The America I know is a compassionate country that believes in freedom. The America I know cares about every individual."
Bush said he retained confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search), but White House aides said the president let the secretary know he was not satisfied with the way he was informed about the unfolding controversy. In particular, Bush was unhappy he was not told about incriminating pictures before they were shown on television or about a 2-month-old Pentagon report before it turned up in the news.
Rumsfeld did not know about the images until CBS aired them last Wednesday, a senior White House official said.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner announced on the Senate floor that Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers will testify in an open hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday morning.
The hearing is scheduled to last for two hours after which Rumsfeld and Myers will meet with Senate leaders and any other interested senators.
In his interview with Arab TV, Bush also said most troops are "good honorable citizens" sent to Iraq and elsewhere "to promote freedom" and "who are helping Iraqis every day."
"We're an open society, we're a society that is going to investigate, fully investigate in this place, what took place in that prison," Bush said.
People have to understand, the president continued, that "in a democracy, everything is not perfect, that mistakes are made but in a democracy as well, those mistakes will be investigated and people will be brought to justice."
Bush said the ordeal is in "stark contrast" to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's rule, when torturers were not brought to justice and no investigations were made into the mistreatment of Iraqis.
"In our country, when an issue is brought to our attention of this magnitude, we act … that stands in contrasts to dictatorships, a dictator wouldn’t be answering questions about this," Bush later told Arabic network Al Arabiya (search). "I want to know the full extent of operations in Iraq, of prison operations."
'Actions of a Few'
"The people of the Middle East must understand that this is horrible, but we're dealing with it in a way that will bring confidence not only to our citizens … but confidence to people in the world that this situation will be rectified and justice will be done," Bush continued in the Al Arabiya interview.
"These actions of a few people do not reflect the nature of the men and women who serve our country."
When asked if the June 30 deadline to hand over Iraqi sovereignty was still firm, Bush said, "absolutely — when we say we're gonna do something, we're gonna do it."
But "there's still gonna be a lot of work to do and we want to help," the president continued. "The Iraqi citizens need to understand America's not gonna leave," until the job is done, he said. He also vowed that the United States would help rid Iraq of foreign guerrillas and Al Qaeda influences.
"I will never forget what they have done to us," Bush said of Usama bin Laden's terror network. "They have declared war on us and we will pursue them … the truth of the matter is, they hate us and they hate freedom and they hate people who embrace freedom."
Although the United States has been criticized for wanting to conform the Middle East into a Western democracy, Bush said: "Freedom doesn't have to look like America … free societies will develop from the cultures of people in the region."
"I think the president is hearing loud and clear from Arab leaders, 'don't try to impose American democracy on us, don't try to ram that down our throats, we don't like what we're seeing as far as what American democracy [is],'" said Fox News foreign affairs analyst Marc Ginsberg.
"If the president's message is going to be, in effect, accepted by the Arab world, they're going to have to see the United States is cleaning up what happened in Abu Ghraib."
Bush's remarks brought mixed responses in Baghdad's streets.
Sari Mouwaffaq, a mechanic, said: "Bush's statements today will not restore the dignity which the tortured detainees lost. Bush's apology, or his attempt to find excuses, has no value to us."
But Raad Youssef, a teacher, said he appreciated Bush's statements. "During Saddam, there were many genocides that were committed and nobody dared to reveal them at that time and now officials of the former regime did not try to apologize," he said. "Bush's attempt to repair the damage is a good thing in my opinion."
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told Fox News that accountability must be had, and that he hoped "this is just an isolated thing because this is really giving us difficulty in the Arab world. At the end of the day … we want to be successful in stabilizing Iraq and this makes that difficult."
"We cannot sweep things like this under the rug and we won't sweep it under the rug," said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., adding that he hopes Bush's interviews will help the situation.
"The president has been up-front, he's been candid about most things that I know about during his presidency and if he continues this and he says 'look, we know there are problems here, we're gonna punish the wrongdoers, we don't want this,'" then anger over the ordeal may be quelled, Shelby said.
'There Will Be More Investigations'
Senior military officials braced for the investigations to widen.
"I expect that as these investigations track down all the possible leads that there will be more things that will need to be looked at very, very carefully," Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday.
Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, told Fox News that the Army will take full responsibility for the military police's actions at the prison if need be.
"Quite frankly, in my years of service, I've never seen anything like this," Schoomaker said. "I'm as upset with it as anyone else would be because it does not represent the United States Army."
Rumsfeld called the images "totally unacceptable and un-American," adding that no one should believe the behavior captured in the photographs was tolerated.
"The actions by U.S. military personnel in those photos do not in any way represent the values of our country or of the armed forces," Rumsfeld continued.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former Army general, said he was shocked but that a "fairly small number of soldiers" were involved.
Powell said Wednesday that officials were in constant talks with Congress.
"We want to get all of the information out so that the American people know what happened ... and so that our friends in the Arab world knows we're a country of law and a country of justice," Powell said. "I would hope this would not cause anybody to hold back any support they might have provided" to the multinational force helping restore Iraq.
But some lawmakers think the problem is more a lack of adequate leadership.
"It shows significant problems ... a real lack of leadership that's very troubling," Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., told Fox News on Wednesday. "There were many failures up the line as well as outrageous actions by military police and perhaps military intelligence officers."
The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a closed session on Wednesday to determine whether U.S. intelligence officers were involved.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.