President Bush has voiced fresh support for embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld while promising a full accounting of the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal that has stirred worldwide anger. Mr. Bush has been shown new pictures of the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees.
Amid continuing calls for Mr. Rumsfeld's dismissal over the prisoner abuse scandal, President Bush traveled to the Pentagon to deliver a strong, personal endorsement of the Defense Secretary.
He said, "You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."
At the same time, though, Mr. Bush is promising a full investigation and punishment for those responsible for mistreating prisoners.
"Because America is committed to the equality and dignity of all people, there will be a full accounting for the cruel and disgraceful abuse of Iraqi detainees. The conduct that has come to light is an insult to the Iraqi people and an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency," Mr. Bush said.
Speaking with Mr. Rumsfeld standing at his side, along with other senior administration officials, the president acknowledges the widely-circulated photographs of American soldiers mistreating prisoners have undermined the U.S. effort in Iraq.
But he recalls the U.S. invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, who he describes as a tyrant.
"Those responsible for these abuses have caused harm that goes well beyond the walls of a prison. It has given some an excuse to question our cause and to cast doubt on our motives. Yet who can doubt that Iraq is better for being free from one of most bloodiest tyrants the world has ever known," President Bush said.
During his Pentagon visit, Mr. Bush was shown photographs of prisoner abuse not previously released to the public. There was no description of the contents. But a presidential spokesman says Mr. Bush's reaction was one of deep disgust and disbelief that U.S. soldiers would engage in what were termed "such shameful and appalling acts."
The scandal has led to calls by some members of Congress and several influential newspapers for Mr. Rumsfeld to step down. The latest such call comes from the Army Times newspaper, one of four independent publications for branches of the armed forces owned by the Gannett Company.
Its editorial calls the abuse affair a failure of leadership. It says accountability is essential, quoting again, "even if that means relieving top leaders from duty in a time of war."