BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – New images showing Iraqis abused by U.S. guards at Abu Ghraib prison three years ago threatened to enflame public anger already running high over footage of British soldiers beating youths in southern Iraq.
Some key Iraqi officials urged their countrymen to react calmly since the pictures released Wednesday were old and the offenders had been punished.
Images of naked prisoners, some bloodied and lying on the floor, were taken about the same time as earlier photos that triggered a worldwide scandal and led to military trials and prison sentences for several lower-ranking American soldiers.
Many of the images broadcast by Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service, including some that appear to show corpses, were more graphic than those previously published.
One of the video clips depicted a group of naked men with bags over their heads standing together and masturbating. The network said they were forced to participate.
Al-Jazeera TV later aired some of the pictures in the Middle East, at a time of widespread anti-Western protests over published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.
The Arab satellite station refrained from showing some of the most shocking and sexually explicit images, however.
Excerpts were also broadcast on CNN. Iraq’s acting human rights minister, Nermine Othman, said she was “horrified” by the pictures and would study whether any action could be taken against those responsible, even though some offenders have been imprisoned.
“There will be two kinds of reactions from Iraqis,” she told The Associated Press. “One will be anger and others will feel sorry that they (SBS) didn’t give them to the Iraqi government to investigate. Why use them? Why show them? We have had enough suffering and we don’t want any more.”
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Defense Department believed the release of additional images of prisoner abuse was harmful and “could only further inflame and possibly incite unnecessary violence in the world.”
Whitman said he did not know whether the photos and video clips were among images the Pentagon has been withholding from public release since 2004.
But another defense official said Army officials had reviewed the photographs posted on the Sydney Morning Herald’s Web site and matched them to images that were among those turned over to military authorities in 2004 by a U.S. soldier.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to address the matter publicly, said the photos contained no new information about abuse.
In Australia, the opposition Labor Party called for a thorough investigation into the new photos. The party’s defense spokesman, Robert McClelland, said Thursday it was crucial to discover whether the abuse had been carried out by those who had already been punished, or if there were others that must be brought to justice.
“One of our strongest weapons in the fight against terror is our commitment to uphold the rule of law,” McClelland told The Associated Press.
Although the Abu Ghraib case was exhaustively reported here years ago, the new images could revive the issue of treatment of Iraqis by U.S.-led occupation forces, who face the ever-present threat of death or serious injury at the hands of insurgents.
This week’s release of video showing British troops beating Iraqi youths during a violent 2004 protest in the southern city of Amarah prompted the Basra provincial administration to severe ties with British authorities.
Members of Shiite political groups opposed to the U.S.-led coalition appeared to have engineered that move. They were apparently seeking to exploit public sensitivities after attempts by the British to crack down on Shiite militias.
The fresh Abu Ghraib pictures were broadcast as the United States is trying to reach out to the disaffected Sunni Arab community, the backbone of the insurgency, in hopes of encouraging Sunni insurgents to lay down their arms and join the political process.
Most of those who suffered abuse at Abu Ghraib were believed to have been Sunni Arabs. Sunni leaders have also alleged mistreatment by Shiite-led Iraqi government security forces, a development that has sharpened sectarian tensions.
Mindful of the risks, some key Iraqi officials either avoided comment or sought to play down the images, noting the Americans had already punished Abu Ghraib guards.
“I feel bringing up these issues is only going to add heat to an already fragile situation in Iraq and they don’t help anybody at all,” said Labeed Abbawi, an adviser to Iraq’s Foreign Ministry. “It will only lead to extra condemnation of Americans, British and later Iraqis” who have also been accused of abuse.
National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said he would discuss the pictures with U.S. authorities. “They don’t help in forming a good relationship between the multinational forces and Iraqi citizens,” he said.
Presidential security adviser Lt. Gen. Wafiq al-Samaraei called the abuse “unjustifiable” but added that it was important to remember that the actions occurred more than two years ago, offenders had been punished and rules on treatment of prisoners were tightened.
“The effect of something that happened two years ago is not the same as if it were repeated, for example, three months ago,” he said. “When we recall that these pictures were published two years ago, things were different.”
The Australian station refused to say how it obtained the images, and their authenticity could not be verified independently.
However, they were consistent with earlier photographs of abuse by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Nine American soldiers, all low-ranking reservists, were convicted in the abuse and sentenced to terms ranging from discharge from the Army to 10 years imprisonment.
“The abuses at Abu Ghraib have been fully investigated,” Whitman said. “When there have been abuses, this department has acted upon them promptly, investigated them thoroughly and where appropriate prosecuted individuals,” he said.
He said more than 25 people have been held accountable for criminal acts and “other failures” at Abu Ghraib.
The network, which aired the pictures on its “Dateline” program, did not identify anyone in the images. However, several photos appear to show former Spc. Charles Graner Jr., who is serving a 10-year prison term for his role in the scandal.
In one image, men wearing combat-style uniforms and holding dogs on leashes appear. Another showed two naked men whose hands were cuffed together. Another depicted an Iraqi’s face in agony.
Other images showed what appear to be dead bodies, as well as wounded people and prisoners performing sex acts. SBS said the bodies were of people who died at the prison.
The SBS also showed photographs of a bloodied cell block and the corpse of a man it said was killed during a CIA interrogation.
Another video, also aired by Al-Jazeera, showed a man described as mentally disturbed beating his head against a wall. Al-Jazeera’s brief excerpts included a hooded Iraqi male in his underwear, a naked figure lying on the floor next to what appeared to be a pool of blood and another with a man who appeared to be Graner smiling as he held a male prisoner.
The SBS broadcast said many of the new photos showed Graner having sex with Lynndie England, a 23-year-old reservist from Fort Ashby, W.Va., who is serving a three-year prison term for abusing detainees. England said Graner fathered her young son. Those photos were not shown.
SBS said the images it showed were among photographs the American Civil Liberties Union was trying to obtain from the U.S. government under a Freedom of Information request.
The ACLU said it did not know how the images broadcast by SBS corresponded to its litigation. But it called on the U.S. government to investigate whether the abuse was systematic instead of blaming it on a few individuals. “Well, these photographs are out and what really remains to be seen is how the government will respond to them,” Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the ACLU, told AP Television
News in New York. “Will the government take this opportunity to really do an independent investigation into why this abuse happened and who is ultimately responsible for it?”