BAGHDAD, Iraq—The two-star general charged with reforming the notorious Abu Ghraib prison assured reporters Saturday that detainees are being properly treated now, even as photographs of past abuse by U.S. jailers were aired continuously on Arab media.
The photos continued to incite angry reactions from the Iraqi public and may have been a factor in new violence that flashed in the once-quiet southern city of Basra, where British military forces clashed with growing numbers of militiamen loyal to renegade cleric Moqtada al Sadr.
In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, assigned to oversee the U.S.-run prison system in Iraq, sought to quell the outrage.
"I will tell you today that I am satisfied that that system is following the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, said Miller, who previously ran the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Miller added that detainees were still "assisting the coalition in providing actionable intelligence to help us win this fight for the freedom of Iraq."
"Our actions must demonstrate our continuing focus" on treating the prisoners with dignity," Miller said. "I give you my personal guarantee that we will continue to do that seven days a week, 24 hours a day."
Miller's assurances came a day after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld apologized before Congress for the mistreatment of detainees and warned that even worse photos and videos exist of abuses at Abu Ghraib that took place between October and December 2003.
Apologies from U.S. officials and even from President Bush have not quieted the outrage in Iraq. One prominent newspaper in Baghdad filled the entire front and back covers with the pictures, which include images of naked male Iraqi detainees engaged in simulated sex acts.
Despite repeated assertions by U.S. officials that the troops' acts were abhorrent, a prominent Sunni Muslim leader, Sheik Mohammed al Alosee, said on Saturday that the images "reflect the nature and morals" of the Bush Administration.
Miller told reporters he'd been busy revamping training and procedures for military police officers and interrogators working at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities.
He said he would develop a plan within two weeks to compensate prisoners for instances of abuse in the detainment system. A board that meets daily to determine prisoner releases will decide who gets compensation, he said.
The release process will be expedited to help reduce the population at Abu Ghraib from 3,800 to less than 2,000, he said.
Conditions at Abu Ghraib already are improving, with prisoners getting hot meals and a rebuilt shower system, he said.
"We're going about this in a scientific manner, a systematic manner, to help improve the health of every detainee," he said.
As the U.S.-led coalition scrambled to conduct damage control on the prisoner abuse issue, violence intensified in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city. The clashes occurred a day after a top aide to al Sadr there offered a reward for the capture or killing of coalition soldiers. The aide said female coalition soldiers could be kept as slaves.
A senior military official said British forces came under attack several times Saturday morning with rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms fire and improvised bombs.
Fighters with al Sadr's so-called Mahdi Army attacked the governor's office and seized two bridges before being repelled by British soldiers.
Several coalition soldiers were wounded and between 30 and 40 militiamen with injured or killed, the military official said on condition that he not be identified.
Coalition forces are engaged in a standoff with al Sadr's militia in the holy Shiite cities of Najaf, Kufa and Karbala.
Late Saturday, coalition soldiers raided al Sadr's office in the Baghdad slum neighborhood of Sadr City, which is named for al Sadr's revered late father. Three people in the office were arrested.
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040507 USIRAQ prison map