The United States military has announced that it is pursuing a widening criminal investigation into allegations that its own soldiers committed acts of abuse, humiliation and torture against Iraqi prisoners, as photographs of the purported incidents were aired for the first time on US network television.
CBS broadcast pictures said to have been taken last November and December inside the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad where Allied forces were holding hundreds of prisoners captured after the invasion of Iraq. One showed Iraqis naked - except for hoods - stacked into a human pyramid.
In March, US officials revealed that six soldiers faced courts martial for possible violations of the rights of Iraqi prisoners they had been guarding. But, at the time, they offered few details. Following the airing of the photographs, they now admit that the affair has become even more far-reaching.
In addition to the criminal charges against the six - all military police belonging to the 800th Brigade - investigators have recommended disciplinary action against seven US officers who helped run the prison, including Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th Brigade. She and seven other officers implicated in the case face being relieved of their commands.
The revelations are acutely embarrassing for Washington, which has emphasised repeatedly its record of liberating the Iraqi people from the inhumane repression of Saddam Hussein.
The pictures from inside the prison graphically show some of the alleged incidents.
One picture depicts an Iraqi soldier standing on a box with wires attached to his hands. He was reportedly left on the box for a long period and told that he faced electrocution if he fell off. Another shows prisoners kneeling on each other, naked except for hoods covering their heads, to form a human pyramid. Another shows naked prisoners being forced to pretend to have sex with one another.
Many of the photographs show the American guards smiling and flashing thumbs-up signs. A slur in English is scrawled on one prisoner's skin.
The investigation began when a US soldier from the prison reported the abuse and turned over the photographs, which also found their way to CBS.
One of the six, Sergeant Chip Frederick, who plans to plead innocent, asserted on CBS that he and his colleagues had had no proper guidance from commanders on how to treat the prisoners. Nor, he said, had they been given access to provisions of the Geneva Convention on the proper treatment of prisoners.