Latest images shock officials

Lawmakers say photos `reinforced' prison abuse

`What I saw was cruel, sadistic'

No real-time evidence of rape, murder is seen

Crisis In Iraq

May 13, 2004|By Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Laura Sullivan | Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Laura Sullivan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Images of U.S. soldiers forcing Iraqi prisoners to perform sex acts and to injure themselves as part of their abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison shocked members of Congress, who spent a grim afternoon yesterday viewing hundreds of new photos and videos that are off-limits to the public.

"What I have seen is disgusting, and it is disappointing," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat. A hard-to-make-out video clip appeared to show people preparing to sodomize Iraqi prisoners, he said, although the actual act was not shown. Nelson said it was not clear whether the assailants were U.S. soldiers or other Iraqi detainees.

"What we left the observation period with is a sick feeling, appalled by what we saw, a range of photographs that reinforced abuse," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.

Included in the images seen yesterday was the batch of photos taken by U.S. soldiers that first ignited an international furor over abuse at the prison near Baghdad, beginning two weeks ago with the airing of photos on CBS' 60 Minutes II. Additional images have since emerged in newspapers and magazines.

As wrenching as the images were, lawmakers said they saw no real-time evidence of the brutal violence - including rape and murder - that had been rumored to be shown in the new photographs and videos. But there were images of wounds and of injuries that lawmakers interpreted as the results of beatings, dog-bites or other abuse. Other pictures, they said, seemed to suggest preparations for soon-to-come brutality.

The 17 video clips included in yesterday's presentation provided what many described as a horrifying vividness to what went on at Abu Ghraib. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, choked back tears each time she was asked by reporters about the video material.

The Bush administration is considering whether to publicly release the images, which lawmakers said included videos of a group of prisoners being forced to masturbate and of a handcuffed prisoner beating his head against a door until he collapsed.

One photo image showed a prisoner being forced to sodomize himself with a banana, said Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican.

"What I saw was cruel, sadistic torture," said Rep. Jane Harman of California, the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

Lawmakers filed into sound-proof chambers - senators in the Capitol, House members in an office building nearby - to watch what they said was a computerized slide show of hundreds of images seized by the military, depicting abuse and humiliation of detainees.

"If you sat there long enough, you could almost forget that these were human beings - there was just so much of it, and such things they were being made to do," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "Most of us were speechless - just kind of looked at each other and shook our heads."

`Err on side of caution'

Before the presentations began, Sen. John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Armed Services Committee, urged senators to "err on the side of caution" in describing the images they would see, "so as not to incite anger, in any way further, against our forces or others working in the cause of freedom."

He and other Republican leaders said they worried that publicly divulging the contents of the pictures could violate the privacy of those soldiers involved, compromise their prosecution and even infringe on the civil rights of the prisoners depicted.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican, said she felt "a sense of dread" as she headed to the viewing, but she said "it's our responsibility" as members of Congress to view the material.

Lawmakers described a bizarre experience in the secure rooms, as they sat among colleagues watching images of brutality and humiliation, interspersed with other photographs taken by soldiers that included innocuous travel snapshots as well as images of American soldiers having sex with one another.

"It looked like someone was trying to put together a porno film or something," said Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, referring to the graphic sexual pictures of the soldiers.

Congress members saw the images after one of the soldiers pictured prominently in them - Pfc. Lynndie R. England - told a Denver television station that she posed in pictures with humiliated Iraqis under orders from "persons in my chain of command" to put psychological pressure on prisoners. England is one of seven members of Maryland's 372nd Military Police Company, based in Cresaptown, who face courts-martial in the abuse.

"I was instructed by persons in higher rank to `stand there, hold this leash, look at the camera,' and they took pictures for [psychological operations]," she told KCNC-TV in an interview broadcast Tuesday night.

England said she didn't want to take part in the pictures and thought "it was kind of weird."

`How far up the chain?'

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