Lawmakers want Bremer to testify on prisoner abuse
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The former head of the U.S. occupation in Iraq may appear at a Capitol Hill hearing into prisoner abuse next week, but other witnesses will probably not be called until the fall.
The U.S. military’s prisoner abuse scandal is coming to the fore again as lawmakers press still unanswered questions on the extent of the wrongdoing and whom to hold accountable.
Before the Senate goes into recess next week, Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner wants former the former head of the U.S.-led occupation – L. Paul Bremer – to testify at a public hearing on the issue next week. Warner said Thursday he said he is talking with Bremer about the possibility.
Warner spoke after his committee got a closed-door, classified briefing on where several Defense Department investigations into abuse now stand some 2 1/2 months after the scandal exploded in the media with pictures of Iraqis naked, hooded and being mistreated by American soldiers.
Warner said additional instances of possible mistreatment that need investigation by the Pentagon were brought to his attention during the briefing.
“I’m not trying to, you know, drop a little hint here. I’m just saying … each day that comes along, new incidents that occurred in the past” are revealed and will need to be investigated, he said.
The Virginia Republican has held three public hearings since May – calling Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other high-ranking civilian and uniformed officials. He put the issue on the back burner for more than a month as he shepherded defense spending legislation through the Senate.
But now, the possibility for hearings with people who know what happened has become limited because they are part of criminal investigations, Warner said.
With some many investigations going on, ‘we cannot in any way jeopardize the rights of individuals being investigated under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Warner said.
“And consequently, we cannot, at this time, bring them before the committee,” he said, adding that might be possible after the investigations are completed.
In answer to questions, Warner said he found no footdragging by the Pentagon in meeting his requests for information and no pressure from the administration or lawmakers who oppose his efforts to look into the abuses.
The committee also was briefed on previous International Committee of the Red Cross reports into mistreatment of Iraqis. The House Armed Services Committee had a similar briefing Wednesday and Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher, D-Calif., blasted the Defense Department afterward, saying the documents were so long in coming they were relatively useless.
“I want to have a hearing on the most recent charges by the ICRC, not something that frankly is so old that it is so well reported in the press that average people know about it and is the subject of a criminal investigation, which take it out of our hands,” she said.
Tauscher said it would be better for Congress to know about Red Cross allegations while it is still possible for lawmakers to take corrective action.
The recent charge she referred to was the Red Cross allegation Wednesday that while it has visited thousands of prisoner in Iraq and elsewhere, the United States might be hiding more detainees in other lockups across the globe.
Terror suspects the FBI reported as captured have never turned up in detention centers, and the United States has failed to reply to demands for a list of everyone it’s holding, said Antonella Notari, spokeswoman for the Switzerland-based ICRC, which visits detainees to check on their condition and helps them get messages to their families.
Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Rumsfeld, denied the department was hiding information from the ICRC.
“ICRC has access to all detainee operations under our control,” said Di Rita. “And beyond that, I’m just not prepared to discuss it.”
The CIA has declined to comment on whether it may be holding terrorism suspects at foreign locations.
The allegation was only the latest in a controversy that started with the pictures in Iraq and spread to questions about prisons in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, deaths among prisoners, whether abuse was part of interrogations and whether Bush administration officials had condoned or approved the use of torture.
Indeed, despite the recent lull in the Senate public inquiry into the scandal, fallout at home and abroad from the military’s acknowledged physical and mental abuse of Iraq prisoners has continued nearly unabated.
Victim lawsuits have been filed, 26-year-old American contractor Nick Berg was beheaded in Iraq in May, purportedly in retribution for the abuse, and U.S. officials concede the scandal has both drawn international condemnation and diminished America’s standing in the world.
The abuse forced the United States last month to back off an effort to continue an exemption American soldiers had from international prosecution for war crimes. And in May it delayed for two weeks the State Department annual report on human rights progress being made around the world.
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