Raw Data: House Q&A

The following is an excerpt from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's testimony before the House Armed Services committees, May 7, 2004:

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, R- Calif.: We're here today for a simple reason. Last year, several members of the United States military disgraced the uniform. By abusing enemy detainees, a handful of miscreants broke our laws, embarrassed our country and created an international incident.

Unlike Saddam who practiced such abuse, and much worse as a matter of state policy, the United States does not tolerate that kind of behavior. The military will bring the guilty to justice, just as surely as Saddam could not escape accountability for his crimes.

I know that, because I know this secretary and the leadership team that he and the president have created for the Department of Defense. We need to judge the department's leadership on its performance in that war, not on its public relations skills or the frequency with which a few egos on Capitol Hill get bruised.

And in that area, the secretary and his colleagues have consistently demonstrated excellent management skills and superior military judgment.

REP. IKE SKELTON, D-Mo.: Abu Ghraib, once a chamber of horrors under Saddam Hussein, has become a chamber of indignities under the American military. It must be bulldozed to the ground to symbolize a break with the past and a new beginning with the Iraqi people. Many more steps are needed, but we must start with this symbol.

REP. JIM SAXTON, R-N.J.: My question is this — when I look at this process, it looks like an orderly process, it looks like it was taken up in a timely fashion. I guess my question is, if you had it to do all over again, looking in today's rearview mirror, would you do anything different? And does the process need to be changed?

RUMSFELD: As I indicated in my remarks, we are constantly finding that we have procedures and habits that have evolved over the years from the last century that don't really fit the 21st century. They don't fit the information age, they don't fit a time when people are running around with digital cameras.

Second, with 24-hour news and digital cameras, something like this can have an impact that is just enormous.

Now, we have rules against meddling in criminal prosecutions.

As I've said, we've got — what — 18,000 criminal investigations opened every year. We've got 3,000 court martials in a year.

And when do you reach down in there and run the risk of affecting the integrity of that process because you believe there may be something in there that is so explosive, so damaging to our country, that you're willing to break the pattern and pull it up?

In this case, our habits and our patterns were that we don't do that; that these things get handled in the military justice system, they get handled in the commands, they get handled in the services as appropriate.

And that big report over there hadn't even reached the Pentagon, to my knowledge, by the time someone took that secret report and gave it to the press.

Now, it was inflammatory. If someone at this table had heard about it and gone in there and asked to get into it and do something with it, or about it, it would have been widely criticized.

When I say, I failed, I mean, I — the president was blind-sided, the Congress was blind-sided, everyone at this table was blind-sided, except for General Smith, who was in that command.

We're trying to figure out how we do that better and it isn't easy.

We've got to protect the rights of defendants. We've got to observe the proper handling of criminal investigations. And yet, when something is radioactive like this, we have to find a way to get that up so we can look at it.

I mean, that chart over there, as you suggested, suggests that they handled it darn well at the command level, and yet, look where we are. In the normal order of things, one would look at that and say,

'Good job.' And with the circumstance we're in, we have to say - 'We apologize.' It's a — that it happened and that we did not have a system or a procedure where it would get pulled up and presented in a way that it could have been managed better.

REP. JOHN M. SPRATT JR., D-S.C.: Are you saying then that this policy of loosening up said that the MPs should be engaged in this procedure of loosening up, setting up and preparing the prisoners for interrogation and, quote, 'exploitation?'

RUMSFELD: Of course not. The things you're quoting about softening up, I saw that myself. Of course not. That is not the policy or the procedure. ...

LT. GEN. LANCE SMITH: The guards should be listening and watching to see who the detainees are talking to, should be part of the interrogation plan, not in the interrogation itself, but if there is — with the minimums of the Geneva Convention, if they're to be woken up on time or at a particular time, or have a certain amount of sleep, that that was all part of the interrogation plan that would be approved up through the chain of command.

None of it inferred or intended to do anything against the Geneva Conventions, or the fragmentary order that was on the street that governed interrogation and the methods of interrogating. And so, the idea of softening up was in no sense intended to do the sorts of things that we were talking about here, or that we saw in the pictures, but simply a matter of being part of the whole solution.