The chief of the US Army Reserve said he has ordered a study of whether reservists are sufficiently trained in ethical conduct and how to treat prisoners following the release of photographs allegedly showing Iraqi PoWs being abused by US soldiers.
Following a meeting yesterday with families of the reserve unit at the centre of the investigation, Lieutenant General James Helmly said photographs of naked inmates forced to assume humiliating positions beside grinning military police reservists “go against the grain of everything America’s Army stands for”.
General Helmly, commander of 1.1 million reservists, said that if the allegations against six reservists are true, “it undermines our values of respect, dignity and honour, and we hold those values deeply”.
The reservists, members of the 372nd Military Police Company, have been charged with crimes including dereliction of duty, cruelty, assault and indecent acts.
Their boss, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, and at least seven others have been suspended from their duties at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, according to the US military.
The New Yorker magazine obtained an Army report that said Iraqi detainees at the prison were subject to “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses”.
Some of the family members said after the closed meeting with Gen Helmly that they worried about their loved ones’ safety because the outrage that the pictures, aired on the CBS television programme 60 Minutes II, have provoked in the Arab world.
“We were notified that the same pictures that were used on 60 Minutes now are being displayed on all Iraqi television programmes, which probably puts our soldiers at greater risk,” said Lora Maddas, whose cousin, Russell Gibbs, is a unit member but was not charged.
Jennifer Bird, 23, said her husband, Specialist Rodney Bird, told her about the investigation months ago. He is not among those charged.
“I think it’s awful,” she said. “I think it makes them all look bad.”
Army Reserve spokesman Al Schilf said questions from the approximately 90 family members at the meeting mainly concerned the unit’s extended deployment through early September. Around 130 soldiers in the unit had already left Iraq and were preparing to return home last month when their active duty was extended.
Earlier yesterday, the father of one accused reservist, Staff Sergeant Ivan “Chip” Frederick, told NBC’s Today show that he did not believe the allegations.
“None of the photos that I’ve seen has shown my son abusing anybody, which I don’t think he ever would,” said Ivan “Red” Frederick.
President George Bush has condemned the mistreatment, saying he shared “a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated.”
Meanwhile, photographs of British soldiers apparently beating an Iraqi prisoner have been condemned by British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “completely and utterly unacceptable”.
The shocking pictures, published in the Daily Mirror, appeared to show UK troops beating the hooded man, pointing a gun at his head and urinating on him.
Mr Blair insisted that any misconduct by British troops was “exceptional” and should not detract from the good work being done by UK personnel in the south of Iraq.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the photographs involving UK soldiers had been passed on to the Royal Military Police’s Special Investigations Branch so they can begin an inquiry.