WASHINGTON – Amid allegations he fostered a climate that led to the prison abuse scandal, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Friday that the military's mistreatment of detainees was not as bad as what terrorists have done.
"Does it rank up there with chopping someone's head off on television?" he asked. "It doesn't."
Rumsfeld acknowledged once again that he had approved harsher interrogation methods for suspects captured in the global war on terrorism, but said the rules were meant only for the Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, facility for terrorist suspects and had nothing to do with Iraq, where the prison scandal first emerged.
Critics have for months said fault may ultimately rest with White House and Pentagon leaders for creating confusion when they decided in early 2002 that terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay did not fall under the rules of the Geneva Conventions (search) and then sought to redefine longtime rules of detention, interrogation and trials to suit the counterterror war.
Asked during questions at a National Press Club appearance whether he contributed to a climate that led to abuses, Rumsfeld said he had approved new techniques for Guantanamo, then rescinded them and gathered lawyers to study the subject after military officers questioned them.
He said the procedures "were not torture" and were approved for use on only two people.
But Pentagon investigations in recent months have said there have been some 300 allegations of prisoners killed, raped, beaten and subjected to other mistreatment at military prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay since the start of the war on terror.
Rumsfeld read from a long list of statistics he'd brought with him, saying there have been 11 investigations into the abuses, 950 people interviewed, 45 referred for court martial and 23 soldiers administratively separated from the service.
"The people who've done something wrong are be prosecuted, the investigations are still underway ... and corrective steps have been taken," Rumsfeld said, adding that it doesn't compare to televised terrorist executions in recent weeks in which they have beheaded a number of hostages taken in Iraq.
His comments came a day after Capitol Hill hearings on the military's abuse of prisoners. At one, Harold Brown, a former defense secretary and a member of one of the investigative panels, told the House Armed Services Committee that the entire Bush administration bears some responsibility for the abuses, including for failing to send enough troops to handle the large prison population and sowing confusion over what was permissible in the treatment of prisoners.
"Clearly, responsibility for failing to plan for what actually happened after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein extends all the way to the top — obviously (to) the office of the secretary of defense," Brown said. "But it goes beyond that. It's true of the whole administration."
At another hearing, it was disclosed that the military had concealed as many as 100 "ghost detainees" from the Red Cross.
The presence of prisoners held by the CIA outside of the military's usual system of registration and care was an important finding of an Army investigation completed last month. Defense officials had previously only acknowledged eight such prisoners.
But on Thursday, Gen. Paul Kern, who oversaw the Army investigation of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the number was "in the dozens, perhaps up to 100."
Kern said he could not be precise because he did not have documentation. Maj. Gen. George Fay, who investigated military intelligence officers at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, said he doubts the figure is as high as 100. "I think it's somewhere in the area of maybe two dozen or so - maybe more," he said.
Senators criticized the CIA's lack of cooperation in providing the information.
"The situation with the CIA and ghost soldiers is beginning to look like a bad movie," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment on the number of cases. He noted the agency's inspector general is reviewing the CIA's involvement in detention and interrogations in Iraq. "We take these matters very seriously and are determined to examine thoroughly any allegations of abuse," he said.
The generals and the authors of a separate report on prison abuses discussed their investigations in a series of hearings Thursday by the Senate and House Armed Services committees.
Fay said the Army made several requests to the CIA station chief in Iraq for information about the detainees.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in recent months that it suspects the United States is hiding detainees in lockups across the globe. Terror suspects reported by the FBI as captured have never turned up in detention centers, and the United States has failed to reply to agency demands for a list of everyone it's holding, the agency said.
Under the Geneva Conventions, the United States is obliged to give the neutral, Swiss-run humanitarian agency access to prisoners of war and other detainees to check on their conditions and allow them to send messages to their families.