First Published: 2004-05-15

US soldiers in Iraq fear retribution for prison scandal

Most Task Force Olympia soldiers reluctant to talk about abuses by their fellows.


Middle East Online

By Deborah Pasmantier - MOSUL, Iraq

Dangerous liaisons

US soldiers patrolling the mean streets of Mosul are livid the barbaric abuses committed at the Abu Ghraib prison will expose them to vicious retribution.

Most Task Force Olympia soldiers, based at one of Saddam Hussein's glitzy former palaces in the northern city, are reluctant to talk about the abuses by their fellow soldiers.

When they do, words like "appalled" "disgusted" "shocked" and "disappointed" are on the tip of their tongue.

Above all, they fear paying the price for the crimes of a few and are furious their efforts to drive reconstruction projects will be undermined.

"I'm hurt and angry to see that some will compromise the values that I hold -- leadership, loyalty, respect, duty," says Captain Angi Bowman, 33.

"I'm proud to be a US soldier and it (the scandal) is diminishing in the eyes of the world what we are doing here," she adds.

On the ground, soldiers who for months have been trying to repair factories and hospitals to improve desperate living conditions, are obsessed with the "negative image" portrayed of the army.

"I was upset. My first idea was it's gonna set back all the good work we have done here," says Corporal Brown Davis, 27.

Fears of reprisal attacks took on a sinister edge following the gruesome beheading of a 26-year-old Jewish American businessman. He was buried Friday in his home state of Pennsylvania.

"This couple of bad soldiers have endangered the lives of other soldiers," says Captain Phil Ludvigson, 30 -- the grainy video of a terrified Nicholas Berg kneeling before his executioner in an orange boiler suit -- uppermost in his mind.

"Sure it will motivate some people against us," adds Sergeant Alan Bjerke, 41.

All slammed excuses proffered by soldiers at the centre of the scandal that they were forced by their superiors to abuse prisoners.

Bjerke says there was "no way" soldiers posing in the pictures with naked Iraqis stacked in a heap were "forced" to misbehave, pointing to a "lack of supervision, of inspection, of discipline".

Bowman says she would have disobeyed her superiors if they had ordered her to violate what she had been taught, stressing that soldiers are not obligated to follow "unlawful or immoral" directives.

"But what about Berg's decapitation and all the horrible things that happen outside the USA? Seven bad guys that's nothing," adds one 35-year-old captain who asked not to be named.

Others remember the horrifying murder of four American civil contractors in late March in the Sunni Muslim rebel bastion of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

The men were killed in an ambush as they drove through the town. Their bodies were burned and mutilated beyond all recognition.

"Prisoners don't deserve such treatment. It's wrong, but the press should look at what they are doing to us instead what we are doing to them. They are killing us for no reasons ... soldiers and civilians," said the captain.

Faced with the choice of death or being held captive in Abu Ghraib, he said he would choose jail any day.


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