JERUSALEM—Iraqi television on Sunday broadcast the first images of captured and dead American soldiers from the four-day-old war, showing five anxious-looking POWs saying they were only following orders and at least one dead American soldier who appeared to have been shot in the forehead.
The grim images were beamed across the Middle East by the Qatar-based al Jazeera news network, and also broadcast on state-run Israel Television. But television networks in the United States and Britain declined to air them, at the Pentagon's request.
Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, briefing reporters at coalition headquarters in Doha, Qatar, angrily blasted al Jazeera for airing the images when one of its reporters asked an unrelated question.
Abizaid said he does not consider al Jazeera—which broadcasts to 55 million people in Arabic—as "hostile media." But, he said, "Those pictures were disgusting."
"I regard the showing of those pictures as absolutely unacceptable."
After the briefing, the al Jazeera reporter, Omar al Issawi, 36, said Westerners should realize that Arab media often show such scenes because they are more accustomed to dealing with violence.
"Barring the events of Sept. 11, your society has been isolated from this. We have been exposed in this region to violence right next door.
"How come nobody said anything about the dead Iraqi civilians thatwe showed today that were even worse? Nobody said a peep."
In the tape, the POWs were asked to identify themselves, but there was no official confirmation of their identities from the Pentagon. U.S. defense officials said that an Army maintenance company based at Fort Bliss, Texas, had been overtaken by Iraqi forces, consistent with what the POWs said.
"How do you see Iraqi people?" an interviewer asked a shaken-looking, spectacled solider.
"They don't bother me, I don't bother them," he replied.
In response to another question, he said he had not come to the Gulf to kill Iraqi people, but "to fix broke stuff... . I'm told to shoot only if shot at ... . I don't want to kill nobody."
One of the five POWs was a woman soldier who sat on a sofa, licking her lips. She was bootless and had a bandaged left ankle.
Like all the captives, she was wearing an Army issue T-shirt but not her camouflage over-blouse, which might have spelled out her family name.
None of the POWs looked critically wounded, but the images of the dead, all men, some sprawling on the floor, showed the signs of battle, and perhaps more. One American soldier clearly had a bullet through his forehead, blood pooling in back on the floor. The dead apparently were on the floor of an Iraqi morgue.
Some were arranged in rows, others haphazardly, with one dead soldier's boot on the face of another. At one point in the footage, a rubber-gloved hand with the sleeves of hospital-style scrubs covers up what looks like a wound; in another a smiling mustachioed man in street clothes drags a soldier's body as if to rearrange it on the floor.
Because the footage didn't offer a single clear image of the morgue floor, it was impossible to know how many dead were there. But they appeared to number seven or eight. Some were blood-soaked; others appeared to have scorch or burn marks.
In one shot, the corpse of an American soldier had his battle green trousers pulled down around his thighs, revealing his briefs and stomach, but no evident signs of abuse. As the film rolled, a man leaned over to cover him with the blouse of a desert camouflage shirt, a U.S. flag briefly visible, which did not match his pants.
Some of the corpses appeared bandaged, as though they had received field dressings. One soldier had been shot through the side, while another had a wound in his chest.
The POWs were questioned in turn on the footage. One was seated in a wheelchair, but he had no visible wounds.
Another with a bandage over his right arm lay on a mattress on a floor, swallowing hard as the camera approached. An Iraqi pulled him upright, cupping his hand behind the soldier's head and pulling him to a sitting position to speak to the camera. Either grease or blood streaked from his eyebrow down the side of his nose.
"Why do you come . . . . to Iraq?" asked the Iraq TV interviewer in broken English of one soldier.
"I follow orders," the soldier replied.
Iraq interviewer: "How many officers with you?"
U.S. soldier: "I do not know, sir."
(Peter Smolowitz of Knight Ridder Newspapers contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, The Miami Herald.
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