US in shame and shock

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 6.05.04
A digital photograph shows a naked prisoner tethered by a leash to guard Lynndie England. (Below) Another prisoner stands naked, bound to a bed with a female undergarment over his head. (Credit: The Washington Post)

Washington, May 6: With a feeding frenzy taking hold of the American media on Iraqi prison abuses, the odds here are that US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld may be forced to resign.

America’s capital woke up this morning to a photograph, splashed across the front page of The Washington Post, showing a female US soldier dragging a naked Iraqi detainee on the prison floor like a dog on a leash, one end of which is shown tied to the man’s neck.

The photograph, which identifies the soldier as Lynndie England of the 372nd Military Police Company, is one of more than 1,000 digital pictures which the paper claimed to have obtained from Iraq.

Among the pictures published by the Post today on its inside pages is one of a naked Iraqi handcuffed to a bunk bed in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, his arms pulled so wide apart that his back is arched. His face is hidden by panties draped over his head to humiliate him.

Angry Senators have summoned Rumsfeld to a public hearing of the Senate armed services committee tomorrow morning to give his version of events in Abu Ghraib. Later, he will brief the entire Senate at a closed-door session.

Yesterday, President George W. Bush admitted that he came to know of the prison abuse when CBS aired photographs from Abu Ghraib on April 28 and expressed his displeasure on the issue to the defence secretary at a meeting in the Oval Office.

For Americans closely following the unfolding drama on Iraq, more shocking than Rumsfeld’s action in keeping Bush in the dark about the extent of prison abuse is the callousness with which he treated complaints about the US Army’s violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, has said on record that neither he nor Rumsfeld immediately read an army general’s report two months ago confirming allegations of abuse. Rumsfeld has admitted that he only read the executive summary of the report.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) yesterday broke its silence on long-standing allegations of abuse in US-run prisons in Iraq. “We were aware of what was going on, and based on our findings we repeatedly requested the US authorities to take corrective action,” ICRC spokesperson Nada Doumani said.

As the swirling scandal deepens, the Bush administration, struggling hard to get a grip on things, is beginning to present a picture of confusion.

In an interview which has sent ripples of surprise across Washington, Larry Wilkerson, chief of staff to secretary of state Colin Powell, said: “He (Powell) is tired, mentally and physically.” Wilkerson also hinted that Powell might not stay on for another four years if Bush wins a new term.

Discussing the abuse on CNN, Powell surprisingly brought up Vietnam’s My Lai massacre in 1968 without any prompting and discussed events in Abu Ghraib in the context of My Lai.