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Now British army is in the dock as Allies outrage world opinion

By Rupert Cornwell in Washington

01 May 2004

As pictures of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners caused outrage across the world yesterday, human rights rights campaigners warned that they were just the tip of the iceberg.

The international rights group Amnesty International claimed it had received numerous accounts of torture and illegal detention by troops.

The US and British Governments said the American pictures represented the isolated actions of a handful of renegade GIs. But, hours later, the allegations of a more widespread problem were given dramatic support, with the emergence of a second, even more shocking set of photographs. This time, the pictures were of British soldiers appearing to beat up and urinate on an Iraqi detainee.

The two sets of images are likely to be disastrous for the Alliance's attempts to pacify Iraq, endangering itstroops in the country and shattering what remains of its standing in the Arab world.

Already, the firestorm over the pictures may have had an impact on the broader military strategy in Iraq. Quite possibly the first images influenced the decision to pull back the US Marines from Fallujah ­ just a few days after those same commanders were insisting that insurgents would be crushed, and those responsible for the murder there of four US security contractors on 31 March would be brought to justice.

Instead, the US has been obliged to enlist a general from Saddam's disbanded Republican Guard to head an all-Iraqi force in the city, and the insurgents can claim a moral victory.

Even beforehand, General John Abizaid, who is in overall charge of US military operations in Iraq, was privately warning the White House that the subjugation of Fallujah might lead to more, not less, resistance across Iraq.

That calculation would surely have been doubly true had a full-scale military assault followed the revelation of the demeaning treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Now, even assuming a "peaceful" solution in Fallujah, the prison abuse footage will be used by opponents of the US to turn public opinion decisively against the occupation.

The new Iraq, it was said, would be different from Saddam's dictatorship. Now it transpires that the US military has been conducting its own ­ admittedly less murderous ­ maltreatment of the Iraqis it was supposed to be rescuing, in the Abu Ghraib prison that was the symbol of Saddam's repression.

Yesterday the prison pictures were being shown on television throughout the Arab world by the cable channel al-Jazeera, which denounced the "immoral practices" of Iraq's occupation forces.

Among the images were those of a hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands, and a pile of naked prisoners entwined as if engaged in a sex act. Most humiliating of all perhaps, for a culture in which male nudity is considered shaming, was the footage shown by al-Jazeera and the al-Arabiya station of a young female soldier, grinning and apparently smoking a cigarette, standing near a hooded naked prisoner and pointing at his genitals.

Maybe, as their lawyers claim, the six military policemen who are facing criminal charges were poorly trained and acting on the orders of superiors. These latter include intelligence officers and private-sector "investigators" hired by the Pentagon, who had told the low-ranking soldiers to soften up the prisoners ­ and then congratulated them for the "fantastic job" they were doing.

Maybe the soldiers had not been properly trained, and were badly supervised. Such niceties may mitigate their punishment by a court martial. But they will surely be lost on Arab public opinion. So too will the expression of "deep disgust" by President George Bush yesterday, and his insistence that the servicemen responsible "do not reflect the true nature of the American people ... or the nature of the men and women we send overseas". For all too many people in the Arab people, one suspects, they do.

Even without mentioning the prison abuse controversy, Richard Holbrooke, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, described the situation in Iraq as "disintegration verging on collapse". On Capitol Hill too, the voices of protest have been drowned out by partisan exchanges to mark the first anniversary of Mr Bush's "mission accomplished" appearance on an aircraft carrier flight deck, and the grim daily tidings from Iraq, where more US soldiers died in April than in the seven-week-long war last year.

One exception was the Republican congressman Jim Leach of Iowa, an opponent of the war. "The US has historically prided itself on treating prisoners of war with decency and respect," he said. "This has to be investigated, and accountability obtained, within the American military justice system."

The US authorities are trying to repair the damage. The commander of Camp X-ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba ­ another US military prison where the treatment of detainees has drawn fierce controversy ­ will take charge of the various detention centres in Iraq.

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of US forces in Iraq, has also ordered administrative punishment for seven officers who supervised the six military policemen who have been charged. But this will not resolve the issue of the privately contracted security personnel ­ estimated to number 20,000 in Iraq ­ whose relationship with the US military is as murky as their legal status.

Five Democratic senators are now demanding a formal inquiry into the activities of private military contractors, virtually unregulated by the federal government.

But the damage, almost certainly, has been done.


Brigadier General Janis Karpinski

Put in charge of the Iraqi prison system last June, General Karpinski, left, the commander of the 800th military police brigade, is the only female of her rank in Iraq.

Karpinski, who has been suspended,faces possible disciplinary action and could face a court-martial.

Karpinski, 50, is a reservist who served in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. Before her suspension she was in charge of 15 jails and had 3,400 troops under her command. She is married to a lieutenant colonel who is based at the US embassy in Oman.

In civilian life Karpinski runs corporate executive training programmes.

Ivan 'Chip' Frederick, 37, who is among six officers facing a court martial from the 800th brigade's 372nd unit, is a correctional officer who has been in the reserves for 20 years. His lawyer said "higher ranking people" taught him how to humiliate Arabs. Frederick is the only soldier involved in the abuse to have spoken on camera to 60 Minutes.

Lynndie England, 21, is one of the soldiers who were photographed hamming it up in front of a pile of naked Iraqi prisoners. She told her mother in January ­ just before the charges were laid ­ about potential problems with the prisoners.

Jeremy C Sivits from the same unit, told his father he "was told" to take the pictures.

Sgt Javal S Davis Sgt Davis, 26, who faces court martial, has been in the region since February 2003. His wife Zeenethia, also an army reservist, says he believes he is a scapegoat.