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New pictures and videos will deepen the mire for Rumsfeld
Shocking new pictures of US soldiers using dogs against naked Iraqi prisoners emerged yesterday - along with compelling fresh evidence that the mistreatment and abuse were a widespread practice, extending beyond the jail of Abu Ghraib.
On the day the Pentagon announced the first court martial of one of the seven US military police personnel so far charged in the scandal, The New Yorker magazine published a photograph of a naked prisoner cowering in terror in front of a pair of German shepherd dogs held on leashes by their handlers, who are in full combat gear.
The author of the article, Seymour Hersh, says they are part of a series that shows the dogs snarling at the Iraqi and straining at their leashes, and then the same prisoner with at least one wound and his leg covered in blood, apparently the result of a bite.
But even these chilling pictures may not be the end. The Pentagon now has other photos and videos in its possession, showing acts of rape and the desecration of a dead body, which it plans to show to various Congressmen shortly. That alone makes it likely they will become public knowledge.
Officials fear that other damning material could be circulating privately, and that could go public at any time. The US command in Baghdad said yesterday that Specialist Jeremy Sivits, of the 372nd Military Police company, would face a court martial on 19 May.
He will be the first soldier to be tried for his part in the abuse of detainees that has created global uproar and disgust at the US, and prompted demands for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, and other senior officials.
Those calls have temporarily abated, though fresh revelations could yet make Mr Rumsfeld's position untenable. In a sign of how the White House is circling the wagons around him, Vice President Dick Cheney praised his old mentor as "the best Secretary of Defence in history," telling critics to "get off the case". But Spec. Sivits and his colleagues are unlikely to be the sole scapegoats for an episode that increasingly appears part of a wider problem. The New Yorker article, and a detailed reconstruction of the debacle at Abu Ghraib in at least two leading US newspapers yesterday, blame senior commanders for putting military intelligence in charge of the prison guards and ordering these latter to "soften up" detainees for interrogation.
The accounts suggest that the behaviour was fostered by the well-publicised tough line of the Bush team, which paid little heed to international norms governing the treatment of prisoners, in its determination to do "everything it takes" to prevail in the "war on terror".
The scandal was "deeper and wider than I think most in this administration understand," Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said, claiming that some 30 Pentagon investigations were under way into prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Washington Post revealed yesterday that, in spring 2003, the Pentagon approved new techniques for interrogations at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, including making detainees stand for long periods, depriving them of sleep and having female interrogators question male prisoners. That approach may well have been taken to Iraq. The military insists that the methods did not involve torture - and the paper quoted Mark Jacobson, a former Pentagon specialist on detainee treatment as saying the US was "not aggressive enough" in interrogation of suspects: "I think we are too timid."
The New Yorker cites an internal Pentagon memo urging Mr Rumsfeld "to break the belt-and-suspenders mindset" within the military, and allow operators in the field freer rein. Unnamed Pentagon officials accuse Mr Rumsfeld's top civilian aides, as well General John Abizaid, in charge of US central command, and General Ricardo Sanchez, the top US commander in Iraq, of keeping the prisoner abuse under wraps after learning of it in January, because they foresaw major diplomatic problems. As they kept up the heat on the Defence Secretary, some Democrats took aim directly at the President. Carl Levin, the ranking minority member of the Senate Armed Services which grilled Mr Rumsfeld last Friday, said the problem reached into the White House.
Mr Bush's aides had argued that whether to observe the Geneva Conventions [on the treatment of prisoners of war] was "a bunch of legalese. The President helped create the climate in which this happened," Mr Levin told NBC's Meet the Press programme. Mr Rumsfeld in 2002 described complaints about US treatment of prisoners as "isolated pockets of international hyperventilation".
Publicly, the administration is sticking to its guns, that the decision to invade Iraq was correct, and that current policies are right. But retired General Wesley Clark, supreme commander of Nato before running unsuccessfully for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, warned that there was now a "two to one chance of a catastrophic outcome" in Iraq after the latest revelations.