Saturday, December 04, 2004

New Iraq Abuse Investigation

Pre-Abu Ghraib Photos May Show Bloodied Prisoners

December 4, 2004 By SETH HETTENA, Associated Press

CORONADO, Calif. -- The U.S. military has begun a criminal investigation into photographs that appear to show Navy SEALs in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees, and photos of what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head.

Some of the photos have date stamps suggesting they were taken in May 2003, which could make them the earliest evidence of possible abuse of prisoners in Iraq. The brutal practices photographed in Abu Ghraib prison occurred months later.

An Associated Press reporter found more than 40 of the pictures among hundreds in an album posted on a commercial photo-sharing websiteby a woman who said her husband brought them from Iraq after his tour of duty. It is not clear who took the pictures, which the Navy said it was investigating after the AP furnished copies to get comment for this story.

These and other photos found by the AP appear to show the immediate aftermath of raids on civilian homes. One man is lying on his back with a boot on his chest. A mug shot shows a man with an automatic weapon pointed at his head and a gloved thumb jabbed into his throat. In many photos, faces have been blacked out. What appears to be blood drips from the heads of some. A family huddles in a room in one photo and other photos show debris and upturned furniture.

"These photographs raise a number of important questions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and detainees," Navy Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, said in a written response to questions.

"I can assure you that the matter will be thoroughly investigated."

The photos were turned over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which instructed the SEAL command to determine whether they show any serious crimes, Bender said Friday. That investigation will determine the identities of the troops and what they were doing in the photos.

Some of the photos recall aspects of the images from Abu Ghraib, which led to charges against seven soldiers accused of humiliating and assaulting prisoners. In several of the photos, grinning men wearing U.S. flags on their uniforms, and one with a tattoo of a SEAL trident, take turns sitting or lying atop what appear to be three hooded and handcuffed men in the bed of a pickup truck.

A reporter found the photos, which since have been removed from public view, while researching the prosecution of a group of SEALs who allegedly beat prisoners and photographed one of them in degrading positions. Those photos, taken with a SEAL's personal camera, have not been publicly released.

Though they have alarmed SEAL commanders, the photographs do not necessarily show anything illegal, according to experts in the laws of war who reviewed some of the photos.

Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches at the United States Military Academy, said the images showed "stupid" and "juvenile" behavior.

John Hutson, a retired rear admiral who served as the Navy's Judge Advocate General from 1997 to 2000, said they suggested possible Geneva Convention violations. Those international laws prohibit souvenir photos of prisoners of war.

"It's pretty obvious that these pictures were taken largely as war trophies," Hutson said.

"Once you start allowing that kind of behavior, the next step is to start posing the POWs."

At a minimum, the pictures violate Navy regulations that prohibit photographing prisoners other than for intelligence or administrative purposes, according to Bender, the SEALs spokesman.

The Navy goes to great lengths to protect the identities and whereabouts of its 2,400 SEALs, many of whom have classified counterterrorist missions around the globe.

The above came from the Hartford Courant website.

Fair use of copyrighted material

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