Americans are expecting more shocking photographs and searing public debate as the Bush administration works to calm the storm over US soldiers’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Senators scheduled another hearing today with top military and intelligence officials, including Army Major General Antonio Taguba, author of a Pentagon report that found numerous “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” at a US-run prison complex near Baghdad.
Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defence for intelligence, was among those scheduled to testify as the committee delved into “chain of command” issues in the prison abuse cases.
The hearing was set up as the Pentagon agreed to disclose as-yet unreleased photos and at least one video to the Senate Armed Services Committee. The administration would not say whether it would allow the public to see them.
Senators and the Pentagon worked late to determine when and under what circumstances lawmakers would view the material. It was part of what Taguba said were numerous photos and videotapes taken by troops of sessions of abuse at the Abu Ghraib complex.
A Democratic Senate aide said the committee’s chairman, Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and its ranking Democrat, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, were asked to come up with a plan to allow senators to view the pictures and videos.
Warner has said he wants declassification of as much of the material as possible so that it can be shown to the American public. The Senate aide said the Pentagon will retain control over the material and decide how to handle further releases.
Any viewing by senators would be restricted to a secure room in the Capitol to protect against leaks that might violate the privacy of prisoners or endanger the prosecution of any military personnel charged in the case, according to several officials.
Several lawmakers said they expected the photos and videos eventually would become public.
“Sooner or later they’re going to have to be released,” said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts. He predicted they would come out piecemeal if the administration does not release them on its own.
In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said US-led coalition intelligence officers had told it that up to 90% of Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake.
A 24-page Red Cross report cited abuses, some “tantamount to torture,” including brutality, forcing people to wear hoods, humiliation and threats of imminent execution.
President George Bush visited the Pentagon yesterday, saw some of the photos and issued a strong endorsement of embattled Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. “You are doing a superb job,” Bush said.
Bush was shown more than a dozen photos, not yet seen by the public, which depicted scenes of US troops abusing Iraqi prisoners, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
“The president’s reaction was one of deep disgust and disbelief,” he said.
Bush spoke to reporters just outside Rumsfeld’s office and twice ignored questions of whether the photos and videos should be made public.