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03 Oct 2005 11:30
A United States soldier convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners said, in remarks made public late on Sunday, she knew of “worse things” happening at Abu Ghraib and insisted military commanders were fully aware of what was going on in Iraq’s infamous jail.
The comments, made by Private First Class Lynndie England in her first post-court-martial interview, contradicted assertions by top Pentagon officials that a small group of out-of-control soldiers were responsible for abuse at Abu Ghraib, and that no matter how repulsive that mistreatment was, it did not amount to torture.
England, who became the face of the scandal because of a photograph of her holding a naked prisoner by a leash, was sentenced last Tuesday to three years in prison and ordered to be dishonorably discharged from the army after a military jury found her guilty of maltreating prisoners and committing an indecent act.
The trial capped a damaging scandal that erupted in 2004, following publication of pictures that showed Abu Ghraib inmates piled up naked on the floor in front of US soldiers, cowering in front of snarling military dogs, chained to beds in stress positions and forced to stand naked in front of female guards.
But England, appearing on NBC’s “Dateline” programme, said the pictures did not convey the full extent of the abuse that took place in the cell block.
“I know worse things were happening over there,” admitted the 22-year-old convict.
She said one night she heard blood-curdling screams coming from the block’s shower room, where non-military interrogators had taken an Arab detainee.
“They had the shower on to muffle it, but it wasn’t helping,” she recalled.
“They never screamed like that when we were humiliating. But this guy was like screaming bloody murder.
I mean it still haunts me I can still hear it just like it happened yesterday.”
The interrogators were not identified, but several investigations into the abuse have disclosed that Central Intelligence Agency operatives worked at Abu Ghraib alongside US military intelligence, mining for useful information.
A total of nine low-ranking soldiers have now been convicted or voluntarily pleaded guilty in the scandal that has sparked condemnation of the United States around the world.
But a Defence Department probe has cleared all top US commanders of criminal responsibility in the matter.
Taking issue with that finding, England argued stripping prisoners naked and handcuffing them to steel bars was part of an officially-sanctioned strategy designed to soften inmates before interrogation and make them more cooperative.
“It was just humiliation tactics and things that we were told to do.” she said.
She insisted Specialist Charles Graner, a senior prison guard and her boyfriend, would always show pictures of intimidation procedures to military intelligence (MI) officers when they came to work in the morning.
“And the MI would be like, ‘Oh, thats a good job! I never would have thought of that,’” England recalled.
US human right advocates argue additional light could be shed on the events at Abu Ghraib with the release of 87 more photographs and four videotapes made by guards at the prison but kept by the Pentagon under lock and key.
A federal judge in New York, responding to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ruled on Thursday these materials should be made public.
But the Defence Department was expected to appeal, arguing such a release would fuel anti-American propaganda and help recruit new Islamic extremists in Iraq and elsewhere. - AFP
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