WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Bush said on Friday he was deeply disgusted by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops and vowed that those responsible would be “taken care of” after photographs depicting the acts were published and broadcast around the world.
The photos showed U.S. troops smiling, posing, laughing or giving the thumbs-up sign as naked, male Iraqi prisoners were stacked in a pyramid or positioned to simulate sex acts with one another.
Bush blamed a “few people” for the abuses and defended the conduct of U.S. occupation forces as the White House scrambled to head off a backlash in Iraq and across the Arab world.
“I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated,” Bush said in the White House Rose Garden after talks with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.
“I didn’t like it one bit,” Bush added. “But I also want to remind people that those few people who did that do not reflect the nature of the men and women we’ve sent overseas. That’s not the way the people are. It’s not their character, that are serving our nation in the cause of freedom.”
“And there will be an investigation,” Bush said of the actions of the troops. “I think they’ll be taken care of.”
Democratic presidential rival John Kerry said he was “troubled” by what he called “the evidence of shameful mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners,” and called on the military to take “appropriate action.”
The photos, which appeared on television and in newspapers, showed U.S. troops abusing some of the Iraqis held at the Abu Ghraib prison, a notorious center of torture and executions under toppled President Saddam Hussein’s government.
One Iraqi man had a slur written on his skin in English. Another was directed by Americans to stand on a box with his head covered, and wires attached to his hands, and was informed that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted.
Before condemning U.S. abuses at the prison, Bush praised his decision to remove of Saddam. “There are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq,” he said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the abuses “despicable,” and said the military is pursuing criminal charges against those responsible. “We need to let that process work,” he said.
He said Bush has “known about it (the charges) for a while,” but did not say which images he had seen.
Officials said on Thursday that the U.S. military is weighing disciplinary action against the Army general who was in command of the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad.
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, in charge of the prison, could be relieved of her command, blocked from promotion or receive a letter of reprimand after a noncriminal administrative investigation relating to events at Abu Ghraib prison, said Col. Jill Morgenthaler, a military spokeswoman in Baghdad.
The U.S. military now holds several thousand prisoners at Abu Ghraib, most of them rounded up on suspicion of carrying out attacks against U.S.-led forces.
The U.S. military announced on March 20 it had brought criminal charges against six soldiers with the 800th Military Police Brigade, which could lead to courts-martial.
The charges, stemming from a probe launched in January, relate to accusations of abuse carried out in November and December 2003 on around 20 detainees at the prison.
The charges included indecent acts with another person, maltreatment, battery, dereliction of duty and aggravated assault. It was unclear whether the charges were connected directly with the photos.