Rumsfeld claims responsibility for Iraq abuse

Mr Rumsfeld, along with General Richard Myers and other top military personnel were grilled by lawmakers in hearings in Washington.

He said photos of US soldiers posing with bound and naked Iraqi prisoners has been a “catastrophe” for the US, and warned that it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Hundreds more photographs and at least two videos remain unseen by the wider public, and Mr Rumsfeld described them as even more “blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhuman”.

Mr Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee ands the House Armed Services Committee, spending about three hours with each panel.

“These events occurred on my watch,” he told the Senate.

“As secretary of defence, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility.”

However he denied the Pentagon had not taken swift action.

He endorsed compensation for the Iraqi prisoners who were abused, and vowed a full accounting of what led to their mistreatment would be provided.

“If there’s a failure, it’s me,” he said.

“It’s my failure for not understanding and knowing that there were hundreds … or however many there are of these things … that could eventually end up in the public and do the damage they’ve done.”

He said he will appoint former senior officials to conduct a review of an ongoing probe into prison abuse to determine whether more investigating is needed.

They include former defence sec James Schlesinger, former Florida representative Tillie Fowler and retired air force General Chuck Horner.

With his job on the line, Mr Rumsfeld said he would step down “in a minute” if he thought he could not be effective, however added he would not resign “simple because people try to make a political issue out of it.”

A host of opposition Democratic lawmakers have called for Mr Rumsfeld to resign or be sacked.

US President George W Bush has refused, calling Rumsfeld “an important member of my cabinet.”

He has stood up for the US military in his first reference to the abuse scandal.

“The abhorrent pictures on our TV screens have stained our honour,” he said.

“They do not reflect the nature of the men adn women we have sent overseas.”

“I can assure you … the cause of liberty is in good hands,” he said.

His apology comes as US forces killed 20 militiamen linked to radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf.

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