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Bush Calls Iraqi Prisoners' Treatment 'Abhorrent'

Washington, 5 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush told Arab viewers today that the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by some members of the U.S. military was "abhorrent."

Shortly after Bush's television appearance, the White House said the U.S. president is "deeply sorry" for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody. The president's sentiments were conveyed by spokesman Scott McClellan.

Bush was speaking in Washington in an interview with Al-Hurra, a U.S.-government-funded Arabic-language television station. He said the actions do not represent the true sentiments of the American people.

"People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent. They must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent America that I know," Bush said.

Anger has erupted among Iraqis and Arab states after the recent publication of pictures apparently showing U.S. troops mistreating Iraqi prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

Bush said the soldiers responsible for the actions will face justice.

"The actions of these few people do not reflect the hearts of the American people. The American people are just as appalled at what they have seen on TV as Iraqi citizens have. The Iraqi citizens must understand that. And therefore, there will be a full investigation and justice will be served," Bush said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general, also commented on the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. Powell said the cases appear to be isolated to the Baghdad prison facility.

"We are a nation that believes in justice. We are a nation that is governed by the rule of law. And nowhere is that more the case than in the armed forces of the United States," Powell said.

In Washington, the U.S. Army said 10 investigations are under way of prisoner deaths, including some at Abu Ghraib and 10 pending cases of possible assaults on prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2002.

In his interview, Bush also reaffirmed that transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people will take place this summer as scheduled.

"The people of Iraq must understand sovereignty will be transferred on 30 June. And there's a process now in place to make sure that there's an entity to which we transfer sovereignty. And then there will be elections. And I think the timetable we're on is a realistic timetable. It's one that will be met. And I believe that the elections will help the Iraqi citizens realize that freedom is coming," Bush said.

U.S. military officials say they plan to keep as many as 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq through the end of 2005 to provide security to Iraq after it is scheduled to regain its sovereignty.

In a separate interview today with Al-Arabiya television, a satellite channel based in the United Arab Emirates, Bush reaffirmed his decision to keep U.S. troops in Iraq.

"The Iraqi citizens must understand America's not going to leave until the job is complete. We want to help Iraq. We've made a commitment, and the United States will keep that commitment because we believe the people Iraq want to be free."

(with wire reports)

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