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Cheney: Rumsfeld 'the best'


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Cheney, left, said Rumsfeld, right, "is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had."
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Abuse photos pile pressure on the White House.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has come out in support of embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, calling him the best person the United States has had in the post.

"As a former secretary of defense, I think Donald Rumsfeld is the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had," the vice president said in a statement relayed to CNN through a spokesman Saturday.

"People ought to let him do his job".

Rumsfeld offered his "deepest apology" Friday for the abuse of some Iraqi prisoners by their U.S. captors, and he warned lawmakers on Capitol Hill that graphic videos and more pictures of the mistreatment are likely to surface.

Rumsfeld vowed to stay on the job as long as he could remain effective, but admitted that he had failed to convey the gravity of the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad to either the president or Congress.

Cheney's statement of support came as a U.S. congressman with experience in military detention said the Pentagon rejected an Army plan to send him to oversee the Abu Ghraib prison in the early months of the war in Iraq.

Rep. Steve Buyer said he was disappointed by the decision -- which came months before the Army first reported allegations that prisoners at Abu Ghraib were being abused.

"It was pretty dumbfounding to me," he told CNN, "and disappointing that the Army had this plan to send me and the [Office of the Secretary of Defense] said no."

Cheney's statement follows those of several White House aides Saturday insisting Rumsfeld's job is not in jeopardy, apparently to counter some growing Republican sentiment he may be a political liability.

"Not a chance," is how one senior official put it.

Rumsfeld has come under harsh fire since the abuse allegations surfaced, but President Bush has said both publicly and privately that he does not want the defense secretary to step down.

At the White House Saturday, Cheney, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and other top officials met with Bush -- who was spending the weekend at Camp David -- by secure teleconference.

A White House official called the meeting a regular intelligence briefing

In his testimony Friday, Rumsfeld endorsed compensation for the Iraqi prisoners who were abused, and he vowed a full accounting of what led to their mistreatment.

"These events occurred on my watch," Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "As secretary of defense, I am accountable for them and I take full responsibility."

Buyer, an Indiana Republican and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, served as a legal adviser in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.

He served the 800th Military Police Brigade -- the same brigade assigned to Abu Ghraib.

"Some of the lessons learned (during the Gulf War) were about how important it was to have JAG officers at the facilities," Buyer said, referring to military legal advisers. He said spoke by telephone with CNN about a story first reported by The Associated Press.

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, tasked with investigating the allegations of abuse, said in his confidential report -- leaked earlier this month -- that the MP brigade "was not adequately trained for a mission that included operating a prison or penal institution."

'Pretty shocking'

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies Friday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Buyer said he found the Taguba report "pretty shocking."

"It was disappointing, and I had deep sorrow ... that the lessons learned [in the gulf war] weren't applied," he said.

An Army official told CNN that the Army chose not to activate Buyer "because there were other people with the experience and qualifications for the job and because of the concern over increased risk upon him and other soldiers around him."

The abuse has prompted international condemnation and apologies from President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld.

On Saturday, U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer told reporters the abuse was a "big problem."

"The military, as I recall the chronology, was told in January and launched an investigation the next day," Bremer said. "[But] we should not condemn all U.S. soldiers. As I told my guests, I have traveled all over and seen the good work by U.S. soldiers. That is the true spirit of America.

"I share the outrage of Iraqis," he said. "Something should have been done earlier."

Bremer said the abuse has done "enormous damage to the U.S. Army, but U.S. soldiers also rebuild schools and hospitals."

The new U.S. commander of detention operations in Iraq said Saturday that abuses of Iraqi prisoners took place last year because soldiers and their leaders failed to follow established policies.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller told reporters that corrections specialists are training the military police under his command.

"The abuses appear to be due to leaders and soldiers not following the policies, and lack of leadership and supervision," Miller said. "This was absolutely wrong, and we will not allow that circumstance to happen again."

Miller -- the commander of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until his assignment in Baghdad -- brought an assessment team to Iraq in late August and presented a 215-page book of recommended operating procedures.

Bush: Abuse 'a stain' on U.S.

In his weekly radio address, Bush called the abuse "a stain on our country's honor and reputation."

Bush said a probe into the abuse was launched "shortly after" the allegations were made known to the military. He said senior officers are leading "several formal" probes "to learn the facts and the full extent of these abuses" and to get a handle on prison operations in the country. (Full story)

Rumsfeld testified Friday at back-to-back hearings before the Senate and House Armed Services committees, spending about three hours with each panel.

Rumsfeld told the Senate committee that "a lot more pictures" exist of the abuse of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib. (Full story)

Military investigators have looked into -- or are continuing to investigate -- 35 cases of alleged abuse or deaths of prisoners in detention facilities in the Central Command theater, according to Army Secretary Les Brownlee. Two of those cases were deemed homicides, he said.

The Taguba report on the abuse says videotapes and photographs show naked detainees, and that groups of men were forced to masturbate while being photographed and videotaped. Taguba also found evidence of a "male MP guard having sex with a female detainee."

In another incident, Taguba found that "I am a rapest" [sic] was written on the "leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year-old fellow detainee." The older detainee was then photographed naked.

One of the soldiers shown in the photographs, Army Pfc. Lynndie England, was charged Friday with four charges, including committing an indecent act and assaulting Iraqi detainees on multiple occasions.

She was the seventh soldier charged in the case. (Full story)

The Washington Post reported Saturday that another soldier charged in the case, Spec. Sabrina D. Harman, said in an e-mail interview that she had been assigned to break down prisoners for interrogation.

Harman reportedly said that members of her military police unit took direction from Army military intelligence officers, from CIA operatives and from civilian contractors who conducted interrogations.

CNN's John King, Jamie McIntyre, Ed Henry and Dana Bash contributed to this report.


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