Daily Breeze

May 13, 2004

California lawmakers call new Iraq prison photos 'disgusting'

By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- California lawmakers, including South Bay Rep. Jane Harman, used words like "shocking" and "disgusting" to describe new images of prisoner abuse in Iraq that they viewed privately Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

"There's obvious depravity and young soldiers gloating," Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said of the photographs and videos that Pentagon officials showed to members of the House and Senate. "I saw some real sick stuff."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters, "The whole thing is disgusting and it's hard to believe that this actually is taking place in a military facility."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., echoed that sentiment in a written statement, saying, "The brutal images I saw today sear the soul."

In an interview, Harman described images of male prisoners masturbating and a "tragic video" of a prisoner who was shackled and repeatedly banging his head against a wall in what she said appeared to be "abject despair."

Other lawmakers said there were scenes of forced sex, snarling dogs and prisoners with what appear to be wounds. They also described separate images of what seemed to be consensual sex between U.S. soldiers, apparently unrelated to prisoner abuse.

"Many of these photographs ... appeared to relate to the abuse of prisoners. And then there were many, many others that were unrelated, but very, very appalling to all of the senators who saw them," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.

Some lawmakers played down the significance of the new images, which were contained on three data discs that Pentagon officials brought to a secured room in the Capitol.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told CNN they were "not dramatically different" from photographs that have already been made public of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

But the pictures and videos seemed to stoke the outrage in Congress over the incident and raise new questions in some lawmakers' minds about the extent of the mistreatment and its ramifications for U.S. policy in Iraq.

"Even if it is a small minority of people, these images (psychologically) wipe out thousands of acts of kindness and courage," Harman said.

The photographs and videos indicate a "command failure," she added.

"The climate that permitted these abuses has to be changed this minute. Even depraved kids didn't come up with this on their own," she said.

Feinstein, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, agreed.

"It is clear to me that there was not a strong chain of command in place and the Geneva Convention was winked at," she said, referring to international standards on the treatment of detainees. "Somebody gave the order that prisoners had to be softened up and someone came up with this idea of doing it in this disgusting way. Now who that was, I have no way of knowing at this time."

Harman also renewed questions she raised earlier about why the reports of abuse, which were investigated last winter, didn't make it up the Pentagon chain of command and to the White House and Congress sooner. Many top officials said they were unaware of the details until they started leaking out in the media more than a week ago.

"When those pictures hit the Pentagon, the bells and whistles should have gone off. They were radioactive," Harman said. "It's taken enormous effort to get materials Congress should have had a month ago."

Feinstein said "very strong action should have been taken" when U.S. officials in Iraq received reports about prisoner abuse from the International Red Cross in February."

Debate has been intense about whether the fresh images should be made public. "I think it should be considered carefully. I am for the public's right to know. But I think we also need to consider fundamental decency and a desire not to taint the ongoing prosecutions," Harman said.

Feinstein said she didn't see "any constructive purpose" in releasing the images.