US soldiers 'seen raping woman' in new jail photos

The Telegraph | September 5, 2004
By Julian Coman in Washington and Colin Freeman in Baghdad

America was braced last night for new allegations of torture in Iraq after military officials said that photographs apparently showing US soldiers beating an Iraqi prisoner nearly to death and having sex with a female PoW were about to be released.

The officials told the US television network NBC that other images showed soldiers "acting inappropriately with a dead body". A videotape, apparently made by US personnel, is said to show Iraqi guards raping young boys.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, had given warning that the worst was yet to come when he gave evidence to the Senate armed services committee on Friday. He said he had looked at the full array of unedited photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and found them "hard to believe".

"There are other photos that depict incidents of physical violence towards prisoners, acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel and inhumane," said Mr Rumsfeld, offering his "deepest apology" to anyone abused.

As international anger continued to grow over the Americans' behaviour, one of the seven soldiers facing possible court martial for abusing detainees revealed that she did not read, or even see, a copy of the Geneva Convention until two months after she was charged. Specialist Sabrina Harman, 26, said she now understood that it was regularly breached at Abu Ghraib. "I read the entire thing, highlighting everything the prison is in violation of. There's a lot," she said.

Harman was accused earlier this year of a series of offences, including attaching wires to a hooded prisoner standing on a box, who was told he would be electrocuted if he fell off.

The claims made by Harman, who is confined to quarters in Baghdad awaiting trial, contradict US army assurances that all soldiers are familiar with the Geneva Convention.

She said that in the area where suspected insurgents were held, army and intelligence officers "made the rules as they went". Her own unit, based in Maryland, was not trained in internment duties. "The Geneva Convention was never posted and none of us remember taking a class to review it."

Her comments, made in an e-mail published by the Washington Post yesterday, came as members of her unit tried to offset some of the responsibility for mistreating prisoners - pictures of which have caused fury in the Arab world.

Harman's mother, Robin, said her daughter, who had taken pictures in Abu Ghraib as evidence of mistreatment, had been made a scapegoat.

In the e-mails, Harman - a former pizza parlour assistant manager - said her job at the jail was to soften prisoners before interrogation. "They would bring in one to several prisoners at a time, already hooded and cuffed," she said. "The [military police] job was to keep them awake - make it hell so they would talk."

Some would be stripped, searched and made to stand or kneel for hours. "If the prisoner didn't give what they wanted, then it was all taken away until [military intelligence] decided."

Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller, the US army commander now in charge of Abu Ghraib, said the military would continue to run the jail, despite calls from some US officials to close it.

"Our interrogation teams have to ensure they can get the best intelligence, but within the requirements of the Geneva Convention," he said. "We may have made mistakes in the past, but I will guarantee you we will fix those mistakes."

Soldiers in the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, some of whose troops have been accused of torturing Iraqi prisoners of war, have been ordered by senior officers to hand over every photograph they took while in Iraq.

The regiment is at the centre of a Royal Military Police investigation after the Daily Mirror printed pictures, now widely thought to be posed, of soldiers apparently beating up and urinating on a PoW last year. Officers want the troops' photographs to prevent potentially damaging images appearing in the media, and to compare them with the Mirror's pictures to check authenticity.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers were facing charges over abuse of prisoners in Iraq. Military police launched an inquiry last year following the discovery of pictures appearing to show Iraqis being forced to commit sexual acts.