Anger over US abuse of Iraqi prisoners.

The United States was facing mounting outrage today over pictures of US troops torturing Iraqi prisoners.

Seventeen soldiers have been suspended, including one senior officer, over the abuse. Six are facing court martial.

The photographs, which were shown on prime-time US TV, show prisoners naked except for hoods covering their heads, stacked in a human pyramid. One had a slur written in English on his skin.

Americaís senior general in Baghdad immediately denounced the actions of the troops.

But outraged politicians said today that the damage had already been done.

Former defence and Foreign Office minister Doug Henderson said: "It will do the Americans no good among moderate Arab people and I think people in the West will also think this behaviour was disgusting.

"This is the sort of thing you expect from the troops of a tinpot dictator not a sophisticated Western army. The soldiers involved need to be prosecuted and punished." Labour MP Ronnie Campbell, whose son Barry served as a Royal Marine in the invasion of Iraq, added: "This is disgraceful and outrageous.

"You might expect this from Saddam Hussein and his troops but not from the Americans."

And Edinburgh MP Mark Lazarowicz said the incident emphasised the need for an early transfer of power to the Iraqi people.

The soldiers at a prison outside Baghdad were accused of forcing Iraqi prisoners into acts of sexual humiliation and other abuses.

The charges, first announced by the military in March, were documented by photographs taken by guards in the prison.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmet appealed to the American people to keep faith with their troops in Iraq.

Some of the photographs, and descriptions of others, were broadcast in the US on Wednesday by a CBS television news programme and were verified by military officials. One shows a hooded prisoner standing on a box.

Wires were attached to him and he was told that if he fell off the box he would be electrocuted.

"The pictures show Americans, men and women, in military uniforms, posing with naked Iraqi prisoners," the programme said.

"And in most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing or giving the camera a thumbs-up."

One of the soldiers accused of the abuse insisted it was the Armyís fault for not training its troops properly in how to treat prisoners.

In his diary, Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick said he told senior officers about conditions, but one replied: "I donít care if he has to sleep standing up."

The programmeís producers said the Army also had photographs showing a detainee with wires attached to his genitals and another that showed a dog attacking a prisoner.

The photographs were taken inside Abu Ghraib prison, where US forces have been holding hundreds of Iraqis. Brig Gen Kimmet said: "This is wrong and reprehensible. But it is not representative of [US] soldiers over here."

He added: "Weíre appalled. These are our fellow soldiers, they represent us, they wear the same uniform as us, and they let their fellow soldiers down."

"If we canít hold ourselves up as an example of how to treat people with dignity and respect, we canít ask that other nations do that to our soldiers."

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said last month that many former detainees in Iraq claimed to have been tortured and ill-treated by coalition troops during interrogation.

Meanwhile, American forces have begun withdrawing from the Iraqi city of Fallujah after a month of bloody clashes with rebels.

A new Iraqi force, led by one of Saddam Husseinís former generals, is expected to move into the city while the US keeps a presence outside Fallujah.

Fresh clashes in Fallujah overnight saw US aircraft hit insurgent targets in the city.

[Source: The Scotsman, Scotland, 01May04]

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