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Kerry takes aim at Bush over prisoner abuse scandal

Democrat says he would 'take responsibility'

Stay with CNN-USA for frequent updates on the Bush administration's show of support for Donald Rumsfeld, and for a look ahead at Tuesday's testimony on the Hill by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who wrote a U.S. Army report on abuse of prisoners in Iraq.
CNN's Ed Henry on Rumsfeld's coming testimony.

Sen. Tom Harkin calls for Rumsfeld's resignation.

• Gallery: Abuse allegations in Iraq
• Gallery: Reaction to allegations
• Interactive: Geneva Conventions
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry

(CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry took a swipe at President Bush over the growing controversy of some Iraqi prisoners being abused by their U.S. captors, declaring Thursday that, if elected commander-in-chief, he would "not be the last to know" about the actions of U.S. forces.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee did not mention Bush by name in his comments, but the reference was clear.

"When I was in the Navy, the captain of the boat was in charge, and the captain always took responsibility," Kerry said, prior to delivering a speech on education in Colton, California.

"I have a message for the men and women of our armed forces," Kerry said. "As commander-in-chief, I'll honor your commitment and I'll take responsibility for the bad as well as the good. As president, I'll not be the last to know what is going on in my command.

Bush has said that he only saw pictures of the abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad after they were broadcast on television last week.

White House officials said the president was informed about the abuses by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sometime after U.S. Central Command put out an advisory on January 16, but they do not have an exact date, or details of exactly what Bush was told.

For a second day in a row, Kerry criticized the abuse of the prisoners.

"These despicable actions have endangered the lives of our soldiers, and they have frankly made their mission harder to accomplish," the decorated Vietnam War Navy veteran said. "We are seeing things that contradict everything that the brave men and women of the armed forces of the United States of America are fighting to defend."

Again, without mentioning Bush by name, Kerry implied the president had failed to respond to the situation adequately.

"I'll demand accountability from those who serve and I'll take responsibility for their actions and I'll do everything that I can in my power to repair the damage that this has caused to America, to our standing in the world, and to the ideals for which we stand."

Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, took issue with Kerry's comments.

"If Senator Kerry wants to take responsibility for his choices, he can start by simply taking one position and sticking to it," Schmidt said in a written statement. "John Kerry has consistently played politics with Iraq -- voting for the use of force, then voting against support for our troops in the field, then declaring himself an antiwar candidate."

Kerry's comments came as several Democrats in Congress called for Rumsfeld to resign

Kerry called for Rumsfeld's resignation in September 2003, accusing him of underestimating the demands of the Iraq war and weakening the military as a result, and he restated that call Thursday.

"The entire way in which they rushed the nation to war on these assumptions he was making, which were incorrect, is a huge, historic miscalculation," Kerry told reporters. "I thought he should resign then -- period."

On Wednesday, Kerry called the administration's response "slow and inappropriate."(Full story)

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