WASHINGTON -- President Bush privately admonished Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday, as other senior administration officials blamed the Pentagon for failing to act on repeated recommendations to improve conditions for thousands of Iraqi detainees and release those not charged with crimes, US officials said.
Bush is "not satisfied" and "not happy" with the way Rumsfeld informed him about the investigation into abuses by US soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison or the quantity of information Rumsfeld provided, a senior White House official said.
The president was particularly disturbed that he first learned of about the scope of misconduct this week from news reports, despite an Army investigative report that had documented the abuses in March, according to the official, who refused to be named so he could speak more candidly.
Other officials sought to portray Rumsfeld and the Pentagon as resisting appeals in recent months from the State Department and the Coalition Provisional Authority to deal with problems relating to detainees. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urged action in several White House meetings that included Rumsfeld, the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
"It's something Powell has raised repeatedly -- to release as many detainees as possible -- and, second, to ensure that those in custody are properly cared for and treated," said a senior State Department official familiar with the discussions.
The Pentagon, however, repeatedly failed to act on both requests, said US officials, who are privately furious over a human relations disaster that they believe might have been averted.
Defense officials sharply disputed suggestions that Rumsfeld or other Pentagon authorities ignored the appeals and the festering problems at US-run detention centers. They said there were no major differences between the departments of State and Defense over handling of detainees in Iraq, saying top administration officials had generally agreed on the need to reduce the number of prisoners and ensure proper management of the facilities.
Although Bush is giving no consideration to asking Rumsfeld to resign, the senior White House official said, the president informed the defense secretary of his dissatisfaction during a meeting in the Oval Office yesterday morning after the two left a National Security Council meeting. Bush was particularly bothered at not having been told that the photos of the abuses were in circulation, even though Pentagon officials knew that CBS had obtained them, the senior official said.