A US Army Reserve general whose soldiers were photographed as they abused Iraqi prisoners said she knew nothing about the abuse until weeks after it occurred and that she was "sickened" by the pictures.
Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski said she suspected the reservists were acting with the encouragement of military intelligence units that ran the special cell block used for interrogation and that CIA employees often joined in the interrogations.
General Karpinski's allegations are supported by a still-classified US Army report on prison conditions in Iraq documenting many of the worst abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, including the sexual humiliation of prisoners.
The magazine The New Yorker says in its latest issue that the report, by Major-General Antonio Taguba, found that military police at the prison were urged by officers and CIA agents to "set physical and mental conditions for favourable interrogation of witnesses".
According to the magazine, the army report offered accounts of gruesome abuse that included the sexual assault of an Iraqi detainee with a chemical light stick or broomstick.
In a phone interview in which she offered her first public comments about the episode, General Karpinski, who is still the commanding officer of the 800th Military Police Brigade, said the special high-security cell block at Abu Ghraib had been under the direct control of army intelligence officers, not the reservists under her command.
A diary by a soldier, Sergeant Ivan Frederick, has added further fuel to the furore, painting a nightmarish picture of overworked, undertrained guards coping with hostile Iraqi prisoners and using tactics that flagrantly violate international rules for treatment of detainees.
A disturbing repeated assertion in the diary is that the abuse was encouraged by interrogators from military intelligence and the army's Criminal Investigation Division. Both are under intense pressure to help stop attacks on US troops.
But no intelligence or CID personnel are among the 17 people whom the army has charged or named as being under investigation. The diary - mailed to the US - is replete with dates, names and grisly details and it accords with complaints lodged for months by the human rights group Amnesty International, which has called for a "fully independent, impartial and public investigation" of the treatment of prisoners in Iraq.
The scandal has expanded to include British soldiers who are also alleged to have abused Iraqi prisoners. Pictures of their misconduct were published in London's Daily Mirror newspaper.
Six junior non-commissioned officers serving with the Queen's Lancashire Regiment are being questioned over claims that they abused Iraqi civilians last northern summer. They are expected to be formally arrested within days.
They face court martial and may be imprisoned if found guilty of any assault charges.
Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said any abuse was "completely and totally unacceptable".
Doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the latest photographs, but the editor of the Daily Mirror, Piers Morgan, said he was "completely satisfied with the veracity of the photographs", adding: "We went to great lengths to check them out."
However, the BBC's defence correspondent quoted sources as saying aspects of the photographs were extremely suspicious. They said the type of rifle and the floppy hats pictured were not used by troops in Iraq, and the type of truck shown in the background had not been deployed there.
The New York Times; The Telegraph, London; The Baltimore Sun; Reuters
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