COLTON, Calif. – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Thursday if he were president he would not be "the last to know what is going on in my command," a criticism of the Bush administration's handling of reports of abuse of prisoners held by U.S. forces in Iraq.
"These despicable actions have endangered the lives of our soldiers and, frankly, have made their mission harder to accomplish," Kerry said during a campaign appearance at a California high school. "We cannot succeed in Iraq by abandoning the values that define America."
In a Rose Garden appearance shortly after Kerry's remarks, President Bush apologized for the abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. Bush had called the abuse abhorrent in recent days but had stopped short of an apology.
White House aides have said the president was not told about photos showing prisoners being abused before they were aired on television or about a Pentagon report issued in March before it turned up in the news.
"As president, I will not be the last to know what is going on in my command," Kerry said. "I will demand accountability for those who serve and I will take responsibility for their actions. And I will do everything that I can in my power to repair the damage that this has caused to America to our standing in the world and to the ideals for which we stand."
Kerry said he learned in the Navy that the captain was in charge and took responsibility. He cited President Kennedy's public statement after the Bay of Pigs invasion (search) in 1961 that "I'm the responsible officer of the government."
"Today, I have a message for the men and women of our armed forces. As commander in chief, I will honor your commitment and I will take responsibility for the bad as well as the good," Kerry said.
Kerry also renewed his call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's (search) resignation. The Massachusetts senator, who called for Rumsfeld to step down months ago over his handling of the Iraq war, said the abuse reports compound the situation.
"It's the way it was handled. The lack of information to the Congress, the lack of information to the country, not managing it, not dealing with it, recognizing it as an issue. But look this is, this is the frosting," Kerry said. "I think Iraq and the miscalculation and the overextension of the armed forces and the entire way in which they rushed the nation to war under these assumptions that he was making — which were incorrect — is a huge, historic miscalculation and I thought he should have resigned then."