Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says he submitted his resignation twice to President Bush during last year’s Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal.
“I felt that he ought to make the decision as to whether or not I stayed on,” Rumsfeld said Thursday on CNN’s “Larry King Live” program. “He made that decision and said he did want me to stay on.”
Rumsfeld indicated that he felt a measure of responsibility for the scandal. At a Senate hearing in May, Rumsfeld said the abuses occurred on his watch and “I take full responsibility.”
“The problem is, this kind of thing occurs in prisons across the country and across the world,” he said. “And you have to know it’s going to be a possibility. And therefore the training and the discipline and the doctrine has to be such that you anticipate that risk. And clearly, that wasn’t done to the extent it should.”
The release of photographs last spring depicting American soldiers abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq triggered worldwide condemnation, particularly in the Arab world. Rumsfeld told Congress at the time that he would quit if he felt he could no longer serve effectively, but he also said he would not resign simply to please his critics and political opponents.
Some had speculated last fall that if Bush was re-elected he would replace Rumsfeld, but in December the president said he wanted him to stay. Rumsfeld told CNN that when Bush asked him to stay for a second term, they did not discuss whether it would be for the full four years.
At a news conference at the Pentagon on Thursday, Rumsfeld said he may skip an appearance at a security conference in Germany next week because of a lawsuit there accusing him of war crimes for the prisoner abuse.
“It’s something that we have to take into consideration,” he said when asked whether the war crimes suit was a factor in weighing whether to attend the Munich Conference on Security Policy, an annual gathering of government defense officials, lawmakers and others from Europe and elsewhere.
Rumsfeld said he had not yet made a final decision on attending the two-day conference, where an address by the U.S. defense secretary typically is a highlight. Last year, Rumsfeld stoutly defended the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was highly unpopular in much of Europe.
Attorneys from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights filed a suit with German federal prosecutors last November charging that U.S. officials, including Rumsfeld, are responsible for acts of torture against detainees at Abu Ghraib.
Rumsfeld has maintained that the U.S. government has no policy to permit or encourage torture and that U.S. investigations of the Abu Ghraib abuses showed he was not directly responsible.
The lawsuit against Rumsfeld was filed in Germany because its laws allow for the prosecution of war crimes and human rights violations across national boundaries. Because the United States is not a member of the International Criminal Court, the case could not be filed there.