Family of Korean hostage pleads for Iraq withdrawal

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The Independent Online

The family of a kidnapped South Korean threatened with beheading by his captors in Iraq last night pleaded with the Seoul government to rethink its plan to send 3,000 troops to Baghdad as a deadline set by militants passed.

The family of a kidnapped South Korean threatened with beheading by his captors in Iraq last night pleaded with the Seoul government to rethink its plan to send 3,000 troops to Baghdad as a deadline set by militants passed.

Muslim extremists had said they would kill 33-year-old translator Kim Sun-il by last night unless Seoul made a policy u-turn. His fate remained unknown early today.

A videotape shown by al-Jazeera television showed Mr Kim pleading for his life. A banner in the background named his captors as Jama'at al-Tawhid and Jihad, the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian accused of links to al-Qa'ida. "Please get out of here," Kim begged, referring to South Korean troops already in Iraq. "I don't want to die."

Mr Kim, an Arabic speaker and evangelical Christian who has worked in Iraq for a year as a translator for a Korean firm supplying goods to the US military, was seized in Fallujah on 17 June, the day before Seoul announced its troop plan. "We ask you to withdraw your forces from our land and not to send any more troops, and if not we'll send you this Korean's head," one of a group of armed, masked men standing around the terrified South Korean said in the videotape broadcast on Sunday night. The group said Seoul had 24 hours to comply.

Other hostages have been murdered by guerrillas claiming revenge for American prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. Yesterday, the military judge trying US guards declared the prison a crime scene and said it cannot be demolished. Last month President George Bush suggested it be knocked down and another jail built in its place.

The judge agreed during a pre-trial hearing of the case against three men that their defence team should be allowed to question senior generals. During the hearing in Baghdad the judge, Colonel James Pohl, refused to move the trial of Spc Charles Graner, Sgt Javal Davis and Staff Sgt Ivan Frederick outside Iraq.

The judge postponed the trial of one of the accused until 23 July because his defence lawyer had not turned up, citing the difficulty and danger of getting to Baghdad. The pre-trial hearing started yesterday in the heavily guarded Convention Centre in the Green Zone in Baghdad where the occupation authorities have their headquarters. The hope is that Iraqis will be impressed by the guilty being brought to justice though polls show most people in Iraq see the methods used at Abi Ghraib as typical of the behaviour of US troops in Iraq.

The main lines of defence also became evident yesterday. They are that guards were under orders to soften up prisoners before they were interrogated and what they did was authorised at the highest level.

Paul Bergrin, the lawyer for Sgt Davis, told reporters during a recess that the lower ranks in the prison had worked under intense pressure from the commanders and the CIA, and were using "Israeli methods" including nudity, believed to be effective against Arab prisoners. A total of seven soldiers were accused of abusing prisoners. One of them, Spc Jeremy Sivits, was sentenced to a year in prison in May after he pleaded guilty.

He said: "Abu Ghraib was hell; it was out of a horror movie." Spc Sivits said Spc Graner forced prisoners to strip, mocked them and "punched a detainee with a closed fist so hard in the temple that it knocked the detainee unconscious."

The defence lawyers won permission to question the US commander in Iraq, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez, and General John Abizaid, the chief of US Central Command. Mr Bergrin said: "we would like to interview [President George] Bush because we know [he] changed the rules of engagement for intelligence acquisition."

The bodies of four US soldiers were found in Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city 70 miles west of Baghdad. It is unclear how they died. A video sent to AP showed their uniformed bodies.

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