WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s administration strongly denied a British report on Thursday that images of apparent rape and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners are among photographs that it is trying to prevent being made public.
In unusually forceful terms, the Pentagon attacked the report in the Daily Telegraph newspaper while the White House went so far as to cast doubt on the accuracy of the British press in general.
The Telegraph quoted retired U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba as saying the pictures showed “torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.” Taguba conducted an investigation in 2004 into abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Telegraph had shown “an inability to get the facts right.”
“That news organization has completely mischaracterized the images,” he told reporters. “None of the photos in question depict the images that are described in that article.”
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs went further.
“I think if you do an even moderate Google search you’re not going to find many of these newspapers and truth within, say, 25 words of each other,” he said.
“Let’s just say if I wanted to read a write-up today of how Manchester United fared last night in the Champions League Cup, I might open up a British newspaper. If I was looking for something that bordered on truthful news, I’m not entirely sure it’d be the first stack of clips I picked up,” Gibbs said.
The Obama administration has been on the defensive over its refusal to release the pictures, which were gathered as part of U.S. military investigations into prisoner abuse.
The administration at first agreed to release the pictures, which the American Civil Liberties Union is seeking to obtain through legal action, but then reversed course, citing a likely backlash that would put U.S. troops abroad at greater risk.
The Telegraph said at least one picture showed an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.
Others were said to depict sexual assaults with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.
The Pentagon’s Whitman said he did not know if the Telegraph had quoted Taguba accurately. Whitman said he was not aware that any such photographs had been uncovered as part of the investigation into Abu Ghraib or abuses at other prisons.
In an interview with the New Yorker magazine published in 2007, Taguba was quoted as saying that he saw a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee.
Photographs of abuse at the prison outside Baghdad were published in 2004 and caused deep resentment in the Muslim world, damaging the image of the United States as it fought against insurgents in Iraq.
Whitman said the Telegraph had also wrongly reported earlier this month that some of the images whose release Obama wants to block had previously been aired on Australian television.
“I would caution you whenever you see a subsequent story on photos in this particular publication,” he told reporters. “They now have, at least on two occasions, demonstrated an inability to get the facts right.”
Taguba, who retired in January 2007, included allegations of rape and sexual abuse in his report. He was quoted in the Telegraph as saying he supported Obama’s decision not to release the pictures.
“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one,” he said. “The sequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.”
He added: “The mere depiction of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”
Additional reporting by Luke Baker in London; editing by Chris Wilson