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To Arabs, photos confirm brutal US

Amnesty International says it has uncovered a 'pattern of torture.' US officials say there's no systematic abuse.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 3, 2004


Nour Dandash stares with pursed lips at the photograph of naked and hooded Iraqi detainees piled in a heap before two laughing American soldiers.

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"It's sick, horrible, disgusting," says the 17-year-old Lebanese student.

"The Americans say they went into Iraq to stop these abuses. But now they're doing exactly the same thing as Saddam Hussein."

That is a typical reaction here to the graphic picture and several others like it taken by American soldiers guarding Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad.

But to some extent the impact of the pictures has been blunted, as many Arabs say they expect no less from the United States given the widely held view that it is running a brutal and oppressive occupation in Iraq.

"Will the pictures make a difference in the Arab world? Probably not," says Michael Young, a Lebanese political analyst. "It simply confirms what people already think about the Americans. But it will be embarrassing for the Americans in Iraq, and that's where it's going to count."

Since they were released last week, the pictures have aired continuously on Arabic TV and been splashed on the front pages of newspapers, drawing reactions of outrage and condemnation.

Sunni Muslim leaders in Iraq have said that the abuse constituted "war crimes" while Amr Musa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, has expressed "shock and disgust" at the "shameful images."

But the Americans are not the only members of the coalition to face accusations of human rights abuses. On Saturday, the British Daily Mirror published photos it said were of British soldiers torturing an Iraqi prisoner in the back of an Army truck. The paper's front page carried a picture of a British soldier apparently urinating on the hooded and manacled detainee. The prisoner was badly beaten before being thrown out the back of the moving truck, the Mirror said.

"People will be extremely angry. sexual abuse is the worst thing in that part of the world," said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Al-Quds newspaper. "I think this is the end of the story, the straw that broke the camel's back, for America," he added. "The British job will be extremely difficult because we are associated with this torture and abuse, the closest ally of a country which tortures prisoners."

London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said it had uncovered a "pattern of torture" of Iraqi prisoners and demanded a full independent investigation into the claims.

Among the Abu Ghraib photographs was one of two naked men forced to simulate a sex act. Another portrayed a row of naked and hooded prisoners standing in a line. A grinning female American soldier with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth points at their genitals, which had been discreetly blurred by television stations. Arabs find public nudity especially distasteful, let alone naked men being humiliated by foreign women.