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Abu Ghraib Photos Spread; U.N. Targets Guantanamo

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Abu Ghraib Photos Spread; U.N. Targets Guantanamo


Abu Ghraib Photos Spread; U.N. Targets Guantanamo

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Today the web site published previously unreleased photos of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003. The website's editor said it has more than 1,000 photos and videos showing U.S. service personnel humiliating and abusing prisoners. The pictures were provided to them by a member of the military. Their publication comes on the same day as a new damning report about the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

NPR's Jackie Northam has our report and a warning, it contains some graphic descriptions.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The pictures that appear on are perhaps the most graphic, most disturbing images that have been released to the public since the abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison broke nearly two years ago. Two of the pictures show long blood smears leading out of a jail cell, as though someone had been dragged by their hands or legs. Another shows a bound prisoner apparently sodomizing himself with an object.

It's an open secret that dozens of CDs containing these types of photos were copied by soldiers working at Abu Ghraib. What's surprising is that they haven't leaked out sooner. The Defense Department has fought back at least one lawsuit seeking the release of the images. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says there's concern about what would happen if all the photos were released. He points to the recent deadly protests following the publication of cartoons in European newspapers that satirize the Prophet Muhammad.

BRYAN WHITMAN: This is why we have continued to argue that these are images that should be withheld and not further propagated, because we do believe that it could inflame and entice unnecessary violence in parts of the world.

NORTHAM: But, many parts of the world can now see the newly published Abu Ghraib photos. On Wednesday, an Australian television network ran its own batch. They were quickly rebroadcast on Arab satellite networks. The images are available to anyone who has a computer. Even if the photos are old, there's concern of renewed anger, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, over the treatment of Iraqi prisoners and that only low ranking U.S. soldiers have been punished. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today portrayed the incident as something that won't happen again.

DONALD RUMSFELD: That behavior's been punished. The Department of Defense from the beginning of this conflict has had a policy that prohibits torture, it has not permitted it, we do not today. The people are trained to avoid it.

NORTHAM: Rumsfeld's statements and the publication of the Salon photos come on the same day that a United Nations report said the U.S. should close its military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The report, compiled by five UN special envoys, said that interrogation techniques such as the use of dogs, extreme temperatures and sleep deprivation, especially if used simultaneously, amounted to torture. Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said the open-ended detentions for the more than 500 prisoners amount to inhuman treatment.

MANFRED NOWAK: People who have been detained there for many years, three to four years, without having been brought to any judge, haven't been charged for any crime, amounts to a deprivation of liberty that must be considered as arbitrary.

NORTHAM: Nowak said at the very least, prisoners must be tried by a competent court or released. But, the White House dismissed any notion of releasing prisoners or closing the Guantanamo detention center. White House spokesman Scott McClellan described the UN report as a rehash of allegations made by lawyers for some detainees.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN: We know that these are dangerous terrorists that are being kept at Guantanamo Bay. They are people that are determined to harm innocent civilians or harm innocent Americans, they were enemy combatants picked up on the battlefield in the war on terrorism. They are trained to provide false information.

NORTHAM: The European Union today also called for the closure of the Guantanamo detention center saying every prisoner has the right to be treated under international humanitarian laws. Scott Silliman, a professor at Duke University and an expert on military law, says every time there is a new revelation, such as the Abu Ghraib photos, the U.S. risks losing its allies and its standing in the world.

SCOTT L: It focuses the world's attention on the fact that we are doing something that they do not agree with, we are doing something, particularly at Guantanamo Bay, that is extremely controversial and that just about every other country in the world believes we should close it.

NORTHAM: But, the U.S. has no intention of closing Guantanamo. In fact, it's building a new prison, a new psychiatric hospital for the detainees and is beefing up its housing for the U.S. service personnel.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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