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Iraq prisoner images anger Arabs, Bush
(Agencies)
Updated: 2004-05-01 08:46

Arab outrage flashed across the Middle East on Friday as TV stations showed graphic images of naked Iraqi prisoners being humiliated by smiling U.S. military police. US President Bush condemned the mistreatment, saying he shared "a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated."


A US soldier makes a thumb-up sign as she ordered one naked Iraqi prisoner of war sit on the back of another. [cbs]

The photographs, shown on the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya and the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, included pictures of prisoners naked except for the hoods that covered their heads. They were first broadcast Wednesday on CBS' "60 Minutes II" and have led to charges against six U.S. soldiers.

The Arab TV stations led news bulletins with the photos of hooded prisoners piled on top of each other in a human pyramid and simulating sex acts, with their genitals blurred. Two U.S. soldiers standing near the prisoners hammed it up for the camera.

At the White House, Bush said the mistreatment of prisoners "does not reflect the nature of the American people. That's not the way we do things in America. I didn't like it one bit."

But many in the Middle East saw the mistreatment as the latest example of American disregard for Arabs.

"They were ugly images. Is this the way the Americans treat prisoners?" asked Ahmad Taher, 24, a student at Baghdad's Mustansiriyah University. "Americans claim that they respect freedom and democracy but only in their country."

Last month, the U.S. Army announced that six members of the 800th Military Police Brigade faced court martial for allegedly abusing about 20 prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. The charges included dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault and indecent acts with another person.

Their boss, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, and at least seven others have been "suspended" from their duties at Abu Ghraib prison.

In Baghdad, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the commander of the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, was being sent to Iraq to take over the coalition detention facilities.

Kimmitt said the Army is taking "very aggressive steps" to minimize the chances of such acts happening again, and "we are also taking a hard look at interrogation practices."

The photos, taken last year, were inflammatory in an Arab world already angry at the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Arabs consider public nudity dishonorable.

"I was disgusted and angered by those humiliating pictures," Egyptian insurance agent Omar Boghdady said. "The scenes were really ugly."

One of the photos showed a hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands. CBS reported the prisoner was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted, although the wires were not really connected to a power supply.

Bathsheba Crocker, an expert on Iraqi reconstruction at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the images are likely to "fuel the feeling of anti-American, anti-occupation sentiment among Iraqis."

"It doesn't help a situation in which the United States is already viewed very badly. From a public relations perspective, it is yet another image for Arabs to add to pictures of civilians being killed in Fallujah," she said.

Abu Ghraib was the most notorious of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's detention centers. Its jailers are alleged to have tortured and killed thousands of Iraqis; a cemetery outside has dozens of unmarked graves.

"This will increase the sense of dissatisfaction among Iraqis toward the Americans," said a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Mahmoud Othman. "The resistance people will try to make use of such painful incidents."

"The Saddam era was full of executions and torture, and we want the new Iraq to be clean of such images," Othman added.

Part of the problem, said Hurst Hannum, a professor of international law at the Fletcher School at Tufts University outside Boston, is that Bush has "put this war on such a high moral plane that any moral deviance will be taken more seriously by critics, and will be interpreted as either being arrogance or hypocrisy."

Any investigation into the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners should include not only the soldiers involved, but also their superiors, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"The brazenness with which these soldiers conducted themselves ... suggests they felt they had nothing to hide from their superiors," said Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed "what appears to be a clear determination on the part of the U.S. military to bring those responsible to justice," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Amnesty International, in a statement from its London headquarters Friday, warned the evidence of prisoner abuse "will exacerbate an already fragile situation."

"The prison was notorious under Saddam Hussein," it said. "It should not be allowed to become so again."

British military officials said they are investigating new allegations that their soldiers abused a prisoner in Iraq. The report followed confirmation from the Ministry of Defense in a separate case that military authorities are considering whether to prosecute eight soldiers for allegedly abusing prisoners.

 
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