PHILADELPHIA – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Wednesday that civilian leaders in the White House and the Pentagon should be held accountable for abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib (search) prison.
"Harry Truman had that sign on the desk and it said, 'The buck stops here,"' Kerry said. "The buck doesn't stop at the Pentagon."
Responding to an independent report that faulted all levels of the military for prisoner abuse, Kerry repeated his call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) to resign and for President Bush to appoint an independent commission. He said the commission should investigate "all of the chain of abuses that took place, and why they took place, including the civilian side."
"We are a country that runs on civilian leadership," Kerry said at the top of a town hall meeting at Steamfitters Local 420 Union. "What is also normal is that you have accountability that runs through the civilian command, and it is absolutely left out of those reports. It's absent."
Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt responded: "Today's political attack is just the latest example of John Kerry's willingness to say whatever he believes will benefit him politically."
A report released Tuesday by an independent panel led by former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger (search) concluded that senior U.S. military leaders in Iraq and the Pentagon can be faulted for inattention to prisoner abuses, but it did not recommend that Rumsfeld step down.
Details of a second Army investigation that focused on the military intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib prison during the abuses were released Wednesday. That investigation, initially headed by Maj. Gen. George Fay, blamed the abuses on misconduct by a group of "morally corrupt soldiers and civilians," a lack of discipline on the part of leaders and soldiers, and a "failure or lack of leadership" by higher command in Iraq.
Kerry said both Rumsfeld and Bush should take responsibility. Minutes after he spoke at the town hall meeting, his campaign issued a statement from Kerry that said, "The time has come for our commander in chief to take charge."
Months before prisoner abuse in Iraq became known, Kerry called for Rumsfeld's resignation because of what he said were numerous mistakes in the prosecution of the war. In May, Kerry rejected concerns that replacing Rumsfeld could hurt the war effort and suggested any number of people could step in, including Republican Sens. John McCain (search) of Arizona and John Warner of Virginia.
Later Wednesday, Kerry spoke to Wisconsin voters in the backyard of a Green Bay home. A woman rose and identified herself as a married mother of three who "came here to try to get a sense of who you are."
"Most of us are middle class," she said. "We clean our own houses and mow our own lawns. What is it about who you are that can help us understand whether you're really for real or not?"
Kerry said voters should judge him by his lifetime of public service. He said although he came from a "comfortable" background, his parents taught him the value of work and he unloaded trucks while in college and sold encyclopedias door to door. He also touted his choice to go to Vietnam "when others chose not to" and his anti-war activism after returning.
"I was compelled enough by what I've seen in war to try to end it so other people didn't have to go through what I'd gone through," Kerry said. "And I spent a number of years of my life working to do that at great risk and obviously, as you can see, with some controversy because some people didn't like it."
A television ad being run by the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (search) criticizes Kerry's protests after the war.
Together, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin offer 31 of the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency. Polls show the race nearly even in both states, though Kerry may be gaining ground in Pennsylvania.