Published January 14, 2015
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) made a surprise trip to Baghdad on Thursday, visiting a U.S. military base and the prison at the center of the Iraqi abuse scandal, telling U.S. troops that President Bush is proud of what they're doing in Iraq.
"We wanted to have a chance to look you folks in the eye to tell you how proud we are and what a wonderful job you folks are doing," Rumsfeld told troops at the base in Baghdad after his trip to Abu Ghraib (search) prison.
"He [Bush] said to give you his respect — he knows what you're doing, it's noble work, he knows it's important, he values it and appreciates it and wanted to send his personal regards," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld heaped on the words of encouragement, praising troops for building playgrounds and schools, helping to get infrastructure back up and running and helping to train the Iraqi civil defense corps.
"In recent days there's been a focus on a few that have betrayed our values and sullied the reputation of our country," Rumsfeld said, adding that the actions of a few do not represent "the values of America and I know that and you know that and your families know that — we're proud of you, each of you."
"I have never lost confidence in folks who wear this uniform," Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a cheering crowd. People "understand that what you're doing is going to change the course of history. There is no doubt we're going to be victorious, no doubt whatsoever."
Myers said the U.S. military should be confident in their leaders.
"You couldn’t have better leadership in providing us the direction, the leadership, the resources and sometimes the vision we need to make a difference in this world … and I'm talking about our secretary of defense and about our commander in chief."
Rumsfeld was meeting with officials from the Coalition Provisional Authority (search), detainee operations and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
Laying Down Foundations
Rumsfeld visited the Abu Ghraib prison, where some U.S. soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners. The military launched an investigation into the case in January and several soldiers face court martials for their alleged roles.
"It was a body blow," Rumsfeld told the troops.
But "don't let anyone tell you that America's what's wrong with this world 'cause it's not true .... It's a great country, the American people are wonderful people and we'll get through this tough period, let there be no question."
With much of the media reporting many negative happenings in Iraq, Rumsfeld said, "you don't read a lot about the schools are open, the hospitals are open. They've got a new dinar and the dinar's been steady and strong."
"This country has a future … it has every opportunity in the world to be an engine and an energy source here in this region for good. Goodness knows it has not been an engine for good for many decades," Rumsfeld continued.
Rumsfeld also noted that 300 Iraqi security force members have been killed taking initiative and trying to restore order in the country.
"They didn't get killed sitting in their barracks with their finger in their ears, waiting for something to happen," he said. "It's their country and they're gonna have to take over security for their country and God bless 'em for having the guts to do it."
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who runs the prison system in Iraq, defended on Thursday his role in advising U.S. authorities last fall on how to set up a detention and interrogation system that would produce useful intelligence on people involved in the insurgency.
"I'm absolutely convinced we laid down the foundations for how you detain people humanely," he said. Miller had commanded the U.S. prison compound at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba, where hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists are detained.
Miller plans to reduce the prisoner population at Abu Ghraib from 3,800 to as few as 1,500 by June 15. In January, there were about 7,000 prisoners there.
Miller said a new complex of outdoor camps is going to open soon on the grounds outside and by the end of May, all prisoners under U.S. control will have been moved out of the old prison building.
It will be called "Camp Redemption" at the suggestion of the Iraqi Governing Council, and will provide better living conditions for the detainees.
Bush administration lawyers are advising the Pentagon not to publicly release any more abuse photographs.
"As far as I'm concerned, I'd be happy to release them all to the public and to get it behind us," Rumsfeld told reporters. "But at the present time I don't know anyone in the legal shop in any element of the government that is recommending that."
Government lawyers say releasing them would violate a Geneva Convention stricture against presenting images of prisoners that could be construed as degrading.
Rumsfeld added that some pictures "are of U.S. military personnel that have nothing to do with detainees."
Myers stressed that the pictures are part of an ongoing criminal investigation and need to be protected.
"The worst outcome could be that those who perpetrated these alleged atrocities … is that they get off, that somehow, through all the discussions that we've been having and somehow through releasing evidence that we have, the people who deserve to be punished are released," he said. "That is a real legitimate worry for anybody."
Rumsfeld said he had faith in the U.S. justice system to effectively prosecute those responsible.
"The United States government is going to take care of the people who end up being convicted of some wrongdoing," the defense secretary said. "The justice system in the United States is serious, professional and it's under way."
'More Bad Things Will Come Out'
Rumsfeld fiercely defended the Pentagon's response to the revelations of abuse .
"The garbage that you keep reading about cover-up and the Pentagon doing something to keep some information from people is unfair, inaccurate and wrong," he told reporters. "And if I find any evidence that it's true, I'll stop it."
Rumsfeld also predicted that the abuse scandal would get worse but "time will settle over this and we'll be able to make an assessment of what the effect has been" on the effort to stabilize Iraq. "It clearly has not been helpful."
He also complained about the Arab media's coverage, particularly the al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya satellite TV networks, of U.S. operations in Iraq.
"We have been lied about, day after day, week after week, month after month for the last 12 months in the Arab press."
Last week, Rumsfeld sent Vice Adm. Albert T. Church, the Navy's top investigative officer, to Guantanamo Bay. Church, who accompanied Rumsfeld to Iraq, told reporters that he found no major problems there.
"The directions of the secretary of defense with respect to the humane treatment of detainees and the interrogation techniques were being carried out, as best we could determine," Church said. "We found minor infractions involving contact with detainees, and we documented eight of those."
Church said he felt confident in saying there currently are no major lapses in the humane treatment of Guantanamo prisoners.
"We found no evidence of current abuse — again I underline 'current,'" he said.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.