White House Handling of Iraq Abuse Charges
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And now to Washington, where we get a look at the White House reaction. NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams is here. And Juan, how is the White House handling these stories?
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
Well, so far, Madeleine, the President has tried to make the case - he was on television speaking from a cabinet meeting just yesterday - that the military is going to reinforce the idea to its troops, much beleaguered, fighting a difficult war, that they have to protect core values. And so they're going to put the troops through retraining to reaffirm how they should handle Iraqi civilians, how they should deal with difficult situations, even under tremendous stress.
BRAND: And what about for the public? What kind of things does the administration have to say to the public, to the news media?
WILLIAMS: Well, it's really - you're right, there's speaking to the public and there's speaking to a public - and you know, not to be cynical about it, Madeleine, but with mid-term elections looming and with the war in Iraq and the troubles of that war weighing heavily on the Republican Party. And so the initial line was, gosh, this is a particularly sort of unit that's out of control, something that's not in keeping with the behavior of most American troops, don't focus on this as representative of the larger war effort, not to give ammunition to the critics of the war, and therefore part of it was to separate it out as a matter of line of authority, to say that this is not a reflection of problems with the war, with inadequate number of troops on the ground or poor supervision. They've already been talk about, you know, is this an opportunity for Secretary Rumsfeld to either resign or to be let go, to be the fall guy in this situation. And so far the White House has that's not going to be the case.
BRAND: Well, what about the idea that the administration was behind this Haditha story? Time Magazine actually informed the Pentagon about it. And then we heard yesterday that the President was only told of Haditha a month after the Pentagon began its investigation. What's going on there?
WILLIAMS: Well, you're exactly right. I mean, there's a sense here. Haditha, you know, the incident took place in November. And it's not as if it's far away. It's only about 150 miles outside of Baghdad. So the word got back, and there have been various investigations. Some would say that some of this has involved cover-ups. But the President was only in the loop, so to speak - Washington language there for you - recently. And the question is why is that? Is it the result of, again, Secretary Rumsfeld feeling it was insufficiently important to convey it to him? You'll recall that there's a little bit of shades there of what happened with Abu Ghraib. The President, again, not having been told early on about this. And you could go on. I mean, you know, questions about behavior of U.S. troops in Guantanamo, how we treat prisoners. Just this week, we had another conviction of a military man for letting his dog, you know, abuse a prisoner. That kind of thing.
What does the President know? And why is the President oftentimes caught behind in this kind of - not only in terms of the actual consequences of the investigation, but in terms of being able to get our front and speak to the American people about what's taking place?
BRAND: And is Donald Rumsfeld in the hot seat?
WILLIAMS: He is. As I said earlier, I think a lot of people would say, you know, this is - again, there's been pressure on Rumsfeld to go, that people have criticized the whole war effort, the way that it's been handled, questions about the size of the troops and whether or not we are going to hold to the promise to try to reduce troops this year or whether we need more troops on the ground, given the fact that the insurgency seems to be, you know, stronger than ever. You have Congressman Murtha saying that what you're having is troops overreacting, and really, that the command structure is a problem here.
BRAND: All right, NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thank you, Juan.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.