Lawmakers outraged at new Iraq prison photos

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The Independent US

Senior American politicians expressed outrage and disgust after they were shown fresh photographs showing US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners with forced sex and snarling dogs.

Senior American politicians expressed outrage and disgust after they were shown fresh photographs showing US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners with forced sex and snarling dogs.

In separate private screenings on Capitol Hill, members of Congress saw images and film of Iraqi corpses, military dogs menacing cowering Iraqi prisoners, Iraqi women forced to expose themselves and other sexual abuses.

Some lawmakers said the pictures included forced homosexual sex; others said the quality of the photos were too poor to discern what was happening.

The 1,600-plus photos, which included scenes of abuse mixed in with travelogue-type snapshots, were in addition to the those that already surfaced publicly depicting abuse and sexual humiliation at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. The photos have created international condemnation and threatened to undermine US military and rebuilding efforts in Iraq.

Lawmakers differed over whether the new batch of photos should be released — a decision likely will be left up to the US administration. Some said they feared releasing photos would only further inflame international passions; others argued it would demonstrate the openness of American society and limit the damage caused by the gradual leaking of photos to media outlets.

They also disagreed about whether the photos they saw were much worse than the ones already made public.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden said, "It was significantly worse than anything that I had anticipated. Take the worst case and multiply it several times over."

But Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican, said, "Anything like this is shocking ... but it's generally the same as what's in the public domain — no huge surprises."

The private Capitol Hill screening marked the latest turn in a scandal that has prompted George Bush to apologise to the victims and Democrats to demand the dismissal of the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The Senate Armed Services Committee has been holding hearings to determine whether prisoner abuses were limited to the Abu Ghraib facility. The committee also wants to see whether responsibility went beyond a small group of enlisted soldiers and their immediate supervisors, who the Army says provided inadequate training and supervision.

Among the uncertainties is whether military intelligence officials directly or indirectly encouraged the abuse in order to "soften up" detainees for interrogations.

The Defence Department is investigating the abuse, and the courts-martial of three military police guards have been ordered.

Lawmakers said the new photos showed small groups of soldiers — fewer than a dozen — abusing the prisoners. Many of the soldiers' faces were already familiar from photos published worldwide. It wasn't clear whether all the abuse took place at Abu Ghraib or at other locations, they said.

Senators said the photographs were presented as a rapid slide show on a screen in the classified hearing room. Defense officials were present, but did not answer questions about the pictures, apparently fearing they might interfere with the any prosecutions.

The photos were seized from service members and included many shots unrelated to the investigation, such as pictures of historic sites. Some photos showed what appeared to be soldiers having sex. Because of the vast number of photos, not all saw the same slides, and impressions varied.

"I saw cruel, sadistic torture," said Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, who added that some of the images were of male prisoners masturbating. She said she saw a man hitting himself against a wall as though to knock himself unconscious.

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, said he did not see acts of violence, but what appeared to be "results of acts of violence."

He said he saw people in body bags and a person with a face "virtually gone." He saw "people being stitched up above the eyebrow apparently unconscious."

Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman said, "There were people who were forced to have sex with each other."

Republiacn Rep. Trent Franks said, "There were some pictures where it looked like a prisoner was sodomizing himself" with an object. He said blood was visible in the photograph.

But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Republican, said he thought "some people are overreacting".

"The people who are against the war are using this to their political ends," he said.