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Pentagon under fire as prisons row grows

The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon's top brass were yesterday under mounting pressure for their failure to prevent the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners by American troops and private contractors.

Politicians on Capitol Hill angrily demanded an explanation for how the abuse was allowed to happen and why it was only now fully coming to light.

Senator Edward Kennedy emerged from a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee saying he believed the allegations made public were only "the beginning rather than the end" of the abuse accusations. "This does not appear to be an isolated incident," Mr Kennedy said.

There is a growing sense in Washington that with so many separate investigations into the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib last year, it is only a matter of time before one or more senior officials are forced to resign over the issue.

Mr Rumsfeld yesterday condemned the abuse as "totally unacceptable and un-American". He said: "We're taking whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those that may have violated the code of military conduct and betrayed the trust placed in them by the American people. We will take these charges and allegations most seriously."

* The Pentagon is notifying 10,000 US Army soldiers and Marines and 37,000 Reserve and National Guard troops that they will be sent to Iraq this year to maintain the current level of 138,000 US troops there.