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Apology too little, too late

Dubai, May 8 (Reuters): His apology was late and the damage done, Arab and European commentators said today, reacting to US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“While he (Rumsfeld) has been in charge, murder, torture and humiliation were heaped on Iraqi detainees almost as a matter of course,” the Saudi daily Arab News commented.

“Rumsfeld’s apology came too late,” said Jordanian analyst Hani Hourani. “I believe Rumsfeld should resign because the torture reflected a widespread policy adopted by the US army in Iraq and maybe Afghanistan as well,” he added.

Rumsfeld took responsibility yesterday for abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US troops and offered his “deepest apology” to victims during US Senate hearings broadcast live in the Arab world as well as the US. But he said he would not resign just to satisfy his political enemies. Arabic newspapers, from Egypt’s opposition al-Wafd to Saudi Arabia’s semi-official Okaz, fronted pictures of Rumsfeld looking troubled with his hands over his face.

The abuses by US forces recalled the brutality of Saddam Hussein’s regime, said Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah. “For us in Kuwait these (abuses) mean a lot of things, and recall the brutal acts by Saddam Hussein’s regime in the same prison, Abu Ghraib, which held many Kuwaiti detainees,” he was quoted today by newspapers as saying.

The Arab News dismissed Rumsfeld’s review of the scandal. “Rumsfeld’s suggestion that an independent inquiry be set up into what happened is a waste of time, and Iraqis simply do not have time to waste,” it said.

Of 60,000 respondents to a poll on the website of leading Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera, some 87 per cent said the US would be unable to improve its image among Arabs and Muslims. Rumsfeld failed to impress ordinary Iraqis. “Apology is not enough. What they have committed against the Iraqis won’t be erased from our memory,” said Taha Duraib Hussein, 41, a shopowner in Baghdad.

Lynndie England, 21, one of six soldiers facing a criminal investigation over behaviour at the Abu Ghraib jail was charged yesterday with abusing prisoners.

“The job of the military police was to keep them awake, to make it hell so they would talk,” one of England’s co-accused, Sabrina Harman, told the Washington Post. Relatives of the six say they were following orders.

Fresh charges

British troops faced fresh accusations today that they abused prisoners in Iraq, with one detainee saying he was viciously beaten by laughing soldiers.

In a witness statement obtained by the Independent newspaper, Iraqi engineer Kifah Talah said he suffered renal failure after he was beaten by British soldiers over three days in September 2003. “The soldiers would surround us and compete as to who could kick-box us the furthest,” he said in the statement.

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