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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 05:32 GMT
New Abu Ghraib images stoke US fears
By Adam Brookes
BBC Pentagon correspondent

The images are, as the state department's legal adviser put it, disgusting. Chained, terrified and humiliated Iraqis people the photographs.

Images of suspected Abu Ghraib abuse. Courtesy SBS television
The new images show worse abuse than those released earlier

One man - apparently deranged - slams his head against a wall while a video camera runs.

Detainees are forced to perform sexual acts. A young girl holds up her shirt, bearing her breasts for the soldier's camera.

A man stands naked and smeared with excrement.

These new images seem to depict abuse worse than anything we had already seen.

They imply much greater violence. Empty cells inexplicably spattered with blood, a man with a serious gash across his throat, a man with blood leaking from a head wound, corpses, a torso dotted with small circular wounds - are they cigarette burns?

A few of the images appear to have been taken for medical purposes. Most do not.

They are all fresh and awful reminders of what happened in Abu Ghraib prison in 2003.

Pentagon concerns

Nine soldiers were prosecuted for the abuses in the prison. A dozen or so more were reprimanded - their careers finished.

The US government professed shock at the contents of the images, but said they should not have been released for privacy reasons, apparently.

Prisoners at Abu Ghraib
The US says it has already investigated all abuses at Abu Ghraib

"We felt that it was an invasion of the detainees themselves to have these photographs come out," said John Bellinger of the state department.

It could also "fan the flames around the world and cause potentially further violence", he added.

At the Pentagon, military officials said they too were worried the images could fuel anti-American feeling worldwide.

Those feelings are already running high - with protests in Pakistan and elsewhere following the publication of cartoons in European newspapers which satirised the prophet Mohammad.

And, of course, the video from Iraq, which seems to show British troops beating young Iraqi men.

A Pentagon spokesman was keen to point out that 12 investigations had been carried out into the treatment of detainees in US military custody.

"None of those investigations," he said, "found that Department of Defence policy ever condoned or encouraged the mistreatment of detainees."

He said, too, that none of the abuses had been carried out during authorised interrogations.

Calls for investigation

This has consistently been the Pentagon's stance: that the abuses were the work of a few ill-disciplined and warped soldiers, and are not representative of the way detainees are treated.

No senior officer or civilian official was ever charged with a crime in relation to the Abu Ghraib abuses. The Pentagon would like to consider the case closed.

Civil liberties groups, on seeing the new images, renewed their calls for fresh - and fully independent - investigations into Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities, and into whether America's military leadership may have played a role in allowing the abuse to take place.

"I think we need to know what role did [Defence Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld have in creating an atmosphere, or creating a policy, that led to this," said Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Their calls will probably go unheeded. They will certainly be resisted by the White House and the Pentagon.

Whether the public has the appetite for revisiting the searing scandal that was Abu Ghraib remains to be seen. But only one out of three network television news bulletins carried a story about the new images on Wednesday night.

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