As President Bush defended the performance of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a newly-released report by the Red Cross challenges Bush administration assertions that the abusive treatment of Iraqi prisoners were isolated incidents.
For the record, U.S. military and civilian officials say they first became aware of serious accusations of prisoner abuse back in January, when they started an investigation. But the International Red Cross is telling a much different story -- saying its investigators raised the alarm months earlier, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Philips
The "bad apple theory" -- that abuse of Iraqi detainees was done by a misguided few coalition soldiers -- has been seriously challenged in the Red Cross report that has now become public. Based on its inspections at various coalition holding areas and prisons in Iraq between March and November of last year, the Red Cross says it found not isolated incidents but a "consistent pattern ... of brutal behavior' .
The now infamous images of hooded, naked, prisoners are just examples -- the Red Cross says -- of systematic 'physical and psychological coercion' that is 'tantamount to torture'.
"We are talking about the places of detention all over Iraq, in the south, in the center of Iraq, all places we visited had similar pattern of behavior and treatment -- which is not acceptable," said Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, with the agency's International Committee.
The report adds that these methods were not only used "in a systematic way," but that when its inspectors confronted coalition prison authorities and demanded an explanation, they were told the treatment was "part of the process."
The Red Cross says it presented its findings to local commanders last year and made a full report to the highest levels of Coalition Forces three months ago.
Combined with the world-wide publication and broadcast of examples of prisoner abuse -- the report has undermined the US aim of broadening international support and involving the U.N. in Iraq.
"There is a kind of moral blowback effect. Who wants to be associated with an actor -- be it an army or a state-- that allows this kind of thing to go on in its prisons,'' says political and military analyst Michael McGinty.
Monday evening, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The 92-0 vote calls for a "full and complete investigation to ensure justice is served" and urges that anyone responsible be held accountable. It also apologizes to the prisoners and their families. The non-binding resolution also stresses that the vast majority of Americans in Iraq are serving "courageously and with great honor."
Earlier Monday, President Bush visited embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and gave the Pentagon chief a vote of confidence amid a swirling scandal over prisoner abuse.
"You are courageously leading our nation in the war on terrorism. You are doing a superb job," Mr. Bush said. "You are a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."
The president called the alleged abuses "an affront to the most basic standards of morality and decency."
He promised that, "All prison operations in Iraq will be thoroughly reviewed to make sure such abuses are not repeated."
But he defended the American mission in Iraq as being vital to the country's future and U.S. national security. In spite of the abuse, Mr. Bush asked, "Who can doubt that Iraqi is better being free?"
Several prominent Democrats and newspapers have called for Rumsfeld's departure. But Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware told the CBS News Early Show that while he thinks Rumsfeld should resign, he also feels too much is being made of the question of Rumsfeld's continuance in office.
"I think this is somewhat bigger than Secretary Rumsfeld," the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee said. "I want to see the president do some swift and positive action here. Rumsfeld is part of the problem, not part of the solution. I don't care if he goes stand in a corner."
Mr. Bush's trip across the Potomac River to the Pentagon comes a day after it was announced that Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, 24, of Hyndman, Pa.,in connection with the abuse. He will be tried May 19 in Baghdad on charges of mistreating detainees. In all, seven soldiers face abuse allegations.
Sivits, 24, has been charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.