WASHINGTON – President Bush defended Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) on Monday amid the ongoing imbroglio over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib (search) prison.
"Thank you for your leadership. You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job," Bush said at the beginning of televised remarks to reporters.
As both men braced for the anticipated release of more photographs and video images showing abuse, Bush visited the Pentagon for a previously scheduled briefing on operations in the War on Terror.
The meeting took on new significance because of the torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners uncovered at the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Baghdad. The Senate unanimously passed a resolution that condemned the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, calling for a complete investigation into the scandal and taking steps to ensure such mistreatment never happens again.
Bush sought to show that the Defense Department was serious about investigating the abuse charges.
"One basic difference between democracies and dictatorships is that free countries confront such abuses openly and directly," Bush said. "We will honor the rule of law. All prison operations in Iraq will be thoroughly reviewed to make certain that such offenses are not repeated."
While the president said that some soldiers has "caused harm that goes well beyond the walls of a prison," he also stressed that Iraq is better off today than it was under Saddam Hussein's regime.
"Millions of Iraqis are grateful for the chance they have been given to live in freedom, a chance made possible by the courage and sacrifice of the United States military," Bush said. "We have great respect for the people of Iraq and for all Arab peoples, respect for their culture and for the history and for the contribution they can make to the world."
He also had soothing words for members of the military.
"They're facing an enemy in sand and heat and blasting winds, often unable to tell friend from foe. I know how painful it is to see a small number dishonor the honorable cause in which so many are sacrificing," he said. "All Americans know the goodness and the character of the United States armed forces."
Bush: America Will 'Keep Its Word'
Bush has said he wants Rumsfeld to "stay in my Cabinet." But at least one Republican joined Democrats in wondering whether Rumsfeld, and perhaps Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers (search) as well, might have to step down.
Bush on Monday also urged Congress to approve a $25 billion contingency reserve fund that could be used for ongoing operations in Iraq.
He said his administration would stick to its vow to turn over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government on June 30 despite the recent surge in violence.
"Men and women across the Middle East are watching closely. And they will see America keep its word," the president said.
With Rumsfeld at his side, Bush said his Cabinet officer was "courageously leading our nation in our war against terror. ... You are a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."
Bush 'Well Aware of What's In Those Images'
Rumsfeld told Congress on Friday that more photos and video images were still to be released.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush had been briefed about undisclosed photos, which Rumsfeld said depicted acts "that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman."
McClellan said Bush was "very well aware of what's in those images."
One senior military official told Fox News that the abuse scandal would eventually "spin out."
"This is [now] a mudfest," the official said. "And everyone likes throwing mud."
The president acknowledged that images of Iraqi prisoner abuse had damaged America's image abroad.
"Those responsible for these abuses have caused harm that goes well beyond the walls of a prison. It has given some an excuse to question our cause and to cast doubt on our motives," Bush said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Fox News on Monday that he hopes to get a clearer answer of who exactly what in charge of interrogations at the prison during another hearing Tuesday.
Scheduled witnesses for the Tuesday hearing included Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, author of the internal Army report that found numerous "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" at the prison.
"What I worry about is the symbolism in the Arab world, particularly," McCain said. "We cannot afford to lose this conflict — we need to focus people's attention on winning, and I'm afraid this could harm support [for the war among Americans].
"This is one of the most wrenching [situations] I've experienced," the former Vietnam War POW continued.
Despite speculation that the servicemen and -women involved in the controversy were ordered by superiors to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation, McCain said such methods often are fruitless anyway.
"One thing we can accept is they were not well-trained," he said. "From a practical [standpoint] torture is not effective — people will tell you anything to end torture."
Others emphasized that the prisoners at Abu Ghraib are there for a reason.
"These are bad guys" at Abu Ghraib, said GOP strategist Rich Galen, who recently visited the prison. "They're in that place because they were trying to kill me or people like me, and if they succeed in that, guess what, they're gonna come here to kill you. Let's not pretend these were innocent people that just got caught up in some psychosexual fantasy by some soldiers."
Galen and several lawmakers, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pointed out that no Iraqi had yet apologized for the brutal slaying of four American contractors in Fallujah. The men's corpses were burned, dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge.
"We're sorry that this happened but it's seven, 12, 15 soldiers ... there's 105,000 soldiers there ... any American who spent any time with the overwhelming majority of these kids would come back with their heart full of song for them," Galen said.
Lawmakers May See Photos
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Pentagon investigators would give lawmakers the photos to view in private.
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., told Fox News on Monday that there were several issues the Pentagon needed to address further, including the role of independent contractors at prisons in Iraq and concerns about possible abuse brought earlier.
"We need to see why more wasn't done with that," Bayh said. "This is all about freedom and democracy ... it's very sad that cause gets sullied."
Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, 24, of Hyndman, Pa., will be the first soldier to face a court-martial in connection with the abuse. He will be tried May 19 in Baghdad on charges of mistreating detainees. In all, seven soldiers face abuse allegations.
One question that has arisen is whether the court proceedings should be held in Baghdad.
"I don't think we want to trample on the rights of the accused," said Bayh, "but I think it's vitally important we let people in Iraq know and people around the world know ... we don't tolerate torture and humiliation and that's why our cause is right."
Fox News' Bret Baier, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.