London, April 30 (Reuters): Photos of US soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners drew international condemnation today, prompting the stark conclusion that the American campaign to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a lost cause.
“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for America,” said Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. “The liberators are worse than the dictators. They have not just lost the hearts and minds of Iraqis but all the Third World and the Arab countries,” he said.
President George W. Bush today said he was deeply disgusted by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US troops and vowed that those responsible would be “taken care of”. Bush blamed a“few people” for the abuses and defended the conduct of US forces as the White House scrambled to head off a backlash in Iraq and across the Arab world.
The CBS News programme 60 Minutes II on Wednesday broadcast photos taken at the Abu Ghraib prison late last year showing American troops abusing some Iraqis held at what was once a notorious centre of torture and executions under toppled President Saddam Hussein.
The pictures showed US troops smiling, posing, laughing or giving the thumbs-up sign as naked, male Iraqi prisoners were stacked in a pyramid or positioned to simulate sex acts with one another. One Iraqi had a slur written on his skin in English. Another was directed by Americans to stand on a box with his head covered, and wires attached to his hands, and was informed that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was “deeply disturbed” by the pictures and that he hoped it was an isolated incident, his spokesperson Fred Eckhard said.
The pictures were widely condemned in Britain yesterday.
“When it comes to winning hearts and minds, the US army hasn’t got a clue,” wrote the Daily Mirror, one of several British papers to splash the photos on its front page. “Nobody underestimates how wrong this is,” Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesperson said. “Actions of this kind are in no way condoned by the coalition.”
The publicity could not have been worse in the Arab world with the sexual humiliation depicted in the pictures particularly shocking.
“That really, really is the worst atrocity,” Atwan said. “It affects the honour and pride of Muslim people. It is better to kill them than sexually abuse them.”
Saudi Arabia’s English-language Arab News daily said: “The greatest loss the Americans face is to their reputation, not simply in West Asia but in world at large. US military power will be seen for what it is, a behemoth with the response speed of a muscle-bound ox and the limited understanding of a mouse.”
Many said the photos shattered the credibility of the US as a promoter of democracy and human rights. Egyptian Mahmoud Walid, 28, said: “It quite clearly showed to me the whole insanity of this war. These soldiers are being touted as the saviours of the Iraqi people and America claims to be the moral leader of the world, but...they have been exposed.”
Jamal Khashoggi, media adviser to Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in London, said US officials responsible for policy in Iraq should be held responsible for such acts, which he said reflected “deep contempt” for Arabs.
“It is a big failure. It is going to make people say ‘what was wrong with Saddam'’” he said.
In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross voiced concern. “We take this extremely seriously. Torture is forbidden in any circumstances of any person detained in the world. Humiliation and degrading treatment is a form of torture,” chief spokesperson Antonella Notari said.
The photographs were splashed across leading newspapers in Italy, which is anxiously following the fate of three Italians held hostage in Iraq. “Torture in Iraq: American horrors revealed on TV”, the Left-wing L’Unita said in a headline while la Repubblica said the images were “irrefutable” proof of torture.