Peoria Journal Star

May 7, 2004

Durbin: Abuse 'will haunt us for generations'
Lawmakers denounce mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by soldiers


By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Sen. Dick Durbin harshly criticized the Bush administration Thursday for the Iraqi prisoner abuse that has erupted into a worldwide scandal, blaming it on a "failure of leadership at every level."

However, while other Democrats, including Rep. Janice Schakowsky, D-Evanston, called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Durbin, D-Ill., stopped short of doing so.

Durbin, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, "I will not rule out the fact that Don Rumsfeld should be held accountable. The buck has to stop somewhere."

He gloomily predicted that the Iraqi prisoner abuse "will haunt us for generations."

Republicans and Democrats alike on Thursday were quick to deplore the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at an American-run prison in Baghdad. The House passed a resolution 365-50 condemning the abuses, with many opponents complaining it didn't go far enough. Just two Illinois lawmakers voted against the measure - Reps. Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez, D-Chicago.

"I think this goes all the way to the top of the Bush administration, which has to take responsibility for this war and the conduct of the soldiers," said Schakowsky, calling for Rumsfeld to resign.

Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, called the abuse "embarrassing" for the United States and "a big setback" for the United States' goals in Iraq.

"This a black mark on our ability to really change things in Iraq," LaHood said. "We've got a lot of making up to do."

But he said it was the work of a small band of people, "who obviously have no ethical standards about how to treat another human being or a real lack of sensitivity to other human beings."

LaHood dismissed the calls for Rumsfeld's resignation as "a lot of political rhetoric." He also rebutted complaints that the Bush administration kept Congress in the dark on the allegations. The Pentagon began investigating the allegations of prison abuse the day after they were made, LaHood said. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees were notified on Jan. 14, although the scope of the abuse wasn't immediately known, he said.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., said: "It's too early to assign blame. I think we need to know a lot more about any possible involvement by our intelligence agents in the CIA or military intelligence that may have somehow encouraged the soldiers involved to engage in that behavior.

"I do think accountability needs to be assigned somewhere higher up the command than simply the people who were guarding the prisoners. Obviously, something was woefully wrong with the training of those troops."

Durbin said he will defer judgment until after Rumsfeld appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee Friday to offer his explanation. Rumsfeld also is scheduled to hold a separate briefing for all senators.

"The United States, our soldiers and our people are going to pay a heavy price for this scandal," Durbin said. "It will haunt us for generations in certain parts of the world and it is not unfair to ask why those in charge didn't do something about it."