Private says: I was told to stand there, hold the leash and look at the camera

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The Independent US

The female soldier at the centre of the Iraqi prison abuse scandal yesterday maintained that she only posed in the infamous pictures of naked detainees because she was told to do so by her superiors, as a means of softening up the prisoners for interrogation.

The female soldier at the centre of the Iraqi prison abuse scandal yesterday maintained that she only posed in the infamous pictures of naked detainees because she was told to do so by her superiors, as a means of softening up the prisoners for interrogation.

Hours before the Pentagon privately showed what were by some accounts even more shocking photos to senior politicians on Capitol Hill, Private Lynndie England, 21, said she was given specific instructions on how to pose in the pictures. Asked who gave those instructions, she replied "persons in my chain of command", refusing to be more specific.

Her claim, in an interview with a television station in Denver, Colorado, echoes those of six of her colleagues in the 372nd Military Police Company, who are also facing courts martial for their part in the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. It will intensify suspicions that responsibility for the abuse is not confined to them, or even to the six middle-ranking officers who face dismissal from the armed forces.

Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of running US military prisons in Iraq, told The Washington Post she had tried to block decisions by more senior officials to put military intelligence in effective charge of the prisons and authorising the use of lethal force to keep order.

She put the blame on Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, the top American commander in Iraq, and Major-General Geoffrey Miller, the former commander at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, who was sent to Iraq in 2003 to "improve" the results of prisoner interrogations. Both generals have denied that they gave any such orders.

Pte England, who in one photo was shown holding a leash around the neck of a naked Iraqi detainee, said she was "instructed by persons in higher rank to 'stand there, hold the leash, look at the camera'." She said: "They then took pictures for PsyOps [psychological operations]. I didn't really want to be in any pictures. It was all rather weird."

In a separate TV interview, Pte England's lawyer claimed those who gave the orders were "from MI [Military Intelligence] and OGA [other government agencies]", the latter a widely used reference to the CIA.

After the pictures were taken, Pte England said she was praised by her superiors, who told her: "Hey, you're doing great, just keep it up." She added that things had happened at the prison even worse than those depicted in the pictures already made public.

As she spoke, congressmen and senators were being shown some of the "hundreds" of further photos and "dozens" of video clips showing prisoner abuse including forced sex, rape and torture, now in the Pentagon's possession. One emerging Senator, clearly shaken, described them as "stomach-churning". Others said the new material made clear that responsibility extended higher up the command chain.

At Pentagon insistence, the viewings took place in secure rooms on Capitol Hill. Sharp divisions have emerged about whether the pictures should be released to the public, with some arguing that the sooner everything is out in the open the better. Others senators and congressmen contend that, after the airing of the video showing the beheading of the US businessman Nick Berg by Islamic militants, the release of more prison abuse photos would only further inflame the situation.

However the argument is resolved, intense pressure will continue on the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, despite strong public support from President George Bush.

Yesterday at a Senate hearing on the White House request for $25bn (£14bn) of supplementary funds for the Iraq operation, Mr Rumsfeld dismissed complaints that the interrogation techniques used in Iraq violated the Geneva Convention. He told Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, that Pentagon lawyers had approved sleep deprivation, dietary changes and other methods. Mr Rumsfeld flatly rejected Mr Durbin's charge that these went "far beyond the Geneva Conventions".

Military specialists and political observers believe the Defence Secretary could yet be forced from office, possibly by the publication of the thus-far secret material.

Even Republican senators loyal to the administration maintain that junior officers and NCOs cannot be the sole scapegoats. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, insisted yesterday that Mr Rumsfeld was anything but indispensable, and that "any number of people" could replace him. He said suitable candidates included the Republican senators John McCain and John Warner, their Democratic colleague Carl Levin of Michigan, and Bill Clinton's defence secretary William Perry.

THE HALL OF SHAME

His is the grinning face that will be associated for ever with sexual torture in Baghdad. But there is another image of Charles Graner, a photograph that his lawyer says proves he was acting under orders from American intelligence officers.

Guy Womack contends that a picture which first appeared in newspapers last Friday shows the officers overseeing the staging of a photograph of naked, shackled, writhing Iraqi prisoners.

He claims the photograph is the only one that shows military intelligence officers. It does so, he says, because the shot was taken without their knowledge.

Mr Womack claims those in the photograph are:

Specialist Charles Graner, a military police reservist who appears in many of the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad

A civilian contractor with his hand on the neck of one of the shackled prisoners

A Military Police reservist who appears poised to take a photograph

A Military Intelligence officer of the rank of specialist

A Military Intelligence officer of the rank of sergeant.

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