LONDON (Reuters) – Photos of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners drew international condemnation on Friday, prompting the stark conclusion that the U.S. campaign to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis is a lost cause.
“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back for America,” said Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi. “The liberators are worse than the dictators.”
“They have not just lost the hearts and minds of Iraqis but all the Third World and the Arab countries,” he told Reuters.
The CBS News program “60 Minutes II” on Wednesday broadcast photos taken at the Abu Ghraib prison late last year showing American troops abusing some Iraqis held at what was once a notorious center of torture and executions under toppled President Saddam Hussein.
The pictures showed U.S. troops smiling, posing, laughing or giving the thumbs-up sign as naked, male Iraqi prisoners were stacked in a pyramid or positioned to simulate sex acts with one another.
Britain has been America’s staunchest ally in Iraq but alarm has spread over strong-arm U.S tactics, support for Prime Minister Tony Blair has plummeted and the pictures were widely condemned on Thursday.
“When it comes to winning hearts and minds, the U.S. Army hasn’t got a clue,” wrote the Daily Mirror tabloid, one of several British papers to splash the photos on its front page.
“Nobody underestimates how wrong this is,” Blair’s spokesman told reporters. “Actions of this kind are in no way condoned by the coalition.”
The publicity could not have been worse in the Arab world with the sexual humiliation depicted in the pictures particularly shocking.
“That really, really is the worst atrocity,” Atwan said. “It affects the honor and pride of Muslim people. It is better to kill them than sexually abuse them.”
Saudi Arabia’s English-language Arab News daily said: “The greatest loss the Americans face is to their reputation, not simply in the Middle East but in the world at large.
“U.S. military power will be seen for what it is, a behemoth with the response speed of a muscle-bound ox and the limited understanding of a mouse.”
In Geneva, the International Committee of The Red Cross voiced concern.
“We take this extremely seriously. Torture is forbidden in any circumstances of any person detained in the world. Humiliation and degrading treatment is a form of torture,” chief spokeswoman Antonella Notari told Reuters.
The photographs were splashed across many leading newspapers in Italy, which is anxiously following the fate of three Italians being held hostage in Iraq.
“Torture in Iraq: American horrors revealed on TV,” the left-wing L’Unita said in a headline while la Repubblica daily said the images were “irrefutable” proof of torture.
“It wasn’t psychological pressure or simple mistreatment or illegitimate detention as in Guantanamo, but true, classic and irrefutable torture,” the paper wrote in an editorial, citing forced, public sodomy as one of the gravest offences.
Calling for an independent inquiry, Amnesty International said: “There is a real crisis of leadership in Iraq with double standards and double speak on human rights.
“The prison was notorious under Saddam Hussein — it should not be allowed to become so again,” said the human rights pressure group.
“Our extensive research in Iraq suggested that this is not an isolated incident,” it said. “Detainees have reported being routinely subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment during arrest and detention.”