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Senators Discuss New Iraqi Prisoner Photos

May 12, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Now to the powerful pictures coming out of Iraqi prisons and who should see them. Ray Suarez has that story.

RAY SUAREZ: With me are two senators who have seen the pictures the Defense Department made available for viewing today: Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison and Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor. Senator Pryor, tell me about what you saw this afternoon.

SEN. MARK PRYOR: Well, I saw photographs that were very graphic in nature, that showed violence, that I must tell you some were impossible to tell the context of, and I think your viewers need to understand that, that we saw a lot of maybe we could talk photographs today, but some of these, it was just impossible to understand exactly what was going on because there was no context.

RAY SUAREZ: What do you mean by that, tell context of who was involved, what act was being accomplished? What do you mean?

SEN. MARK PRYOR: Well all of those things. In fact, in some of these, you are not even sure what the photographs are taken. There is very little visual reference in the photographs. We assume most of these were taken in the prison, but we don’t even know that. And you know, it’s hard to know this these photographs were taken over a short period of time, over a long period of time. You know, again, we just don’t have the contextual parameters around these photographs.

RAY SUAREZ: The Defense Department said they supplied 1800 images. Did it take you a long time in the secure room to look at them?

SEN. MARK PRYOR: It did. You know, we scrolled through those images as quickly as we could, sometimes only spending a second or maybe even less — a second or two on many of these. But it took a long time. Again, these were very graphic. There were so many, it is almost overwhelming. There were a lot of duplicates as well. And I think they said there were about 1800 total images, but I think probably when you take all duplicate, all the repetitive photos and video out, probably, you know, my guess is we are talking about roughly a thousand images.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator Hutchison, maybe you could describe your experience this afternoon.

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: It was disgusting. It really was. I have to say though, Ray, that there were different categories of pictures. I think what Mark has said is that in some cases, I wasn’t even sure it was in a prison. In some cases, I think they took private photographs and I think you have to really separate what has to do with prison abuse and what were voluntary pictures or other kinds of images that were taken in a different context.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, in those photos that showed American personnel interacting with Iraqi prisoners, did it really raise the bar? Were there things, as some of your colleagues suggested, when they left the secure room today, that were much worse than what the public has seen before?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: Well, for one thing, the public has seen photos where certain things have been retouched because you couldn’t put them really out in the public. We saw them untouched. So we saw the unvarnished photos that many people have already seen touched up. Secondly though, there were new ones that we hadn’t seen before, and they’re bad. I mean there’s no doubt about that.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator Pryor, does it widen the range of crimes that be implicit in these images? There had been talk today of assault, coerced sexual activity, rape, even dead bodies.

SEN. MARK PRYOR: You know, it’s hard for to us know right now because, again, given the lack of context in these photographs, we don’t know exactly how many people are involved. We don’t know who exactly took the photographs. These were kind of a random selection of shots that apparently were kind of collected there in and around the prison, but I think that one thing is very clear, and that is I think it’s crystal clear in my mind, that we need to make sure that the investigation does not stop with this small handful of enlisted men and women; that we need to investigate and prosecute anyone and everyone who should be investigated and prosecuted.

RAY SUAREZ: Was there anything in the photos to indicate that more people were involved than the original images that you’ve seen?

SEN. MARK PRYOR: You know, my guess, again this is a guess without knowing, my guess is that there is an indication to me at least that there were more people involved than just a small handful. It’s hard to know exactly though, Ray, and I can’t emphasize that too much because I’m really speculating here.

But we saw so many images. A lot of these were repeat images. Almost the images were overwhelming. I think that’s one thing that probably senators said today. It’s not just the graphic nature, the violent nature of what we saw today but it is the sheer volume of what we saw, really is almost overwhelming. It is hard for you to digest all these images in one sitting like we tried to do today.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Senator Hutchison, what conclusion did you come to about whether or not the public should see remaining images?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: I think the first consideration, Ray, has to be the evidentiary portion of these pictures and not doing anything that would jeopardize the ability to prosecute people who went beyond the bounds of our standards and our laws.

Secondly, I think there is an inflammatory question here. We have seen already the inflammatory nature of the pictures that have been shown to the public and what that has done in Iraq where we have 130,000 people who could be in harm’s way.

So I think the inflammatory nature of these pictures and whether it adds anything to the body of evidence should be a consideration. It is not a decision that Congress is going to make. And I think the Department of Defense needs to have the ability to make the decision. It is my guess that they will release some of the pictures, but possibly not all of them, and for good reason, because they want to prosecute to the fullest the people who did these crimes.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator Pryor, do you agree with your colleague? Before these latest release of images, were you on record saying they should be seen by public.

SEN. MARK PRYOR: Well, I do agree with her in part, and that is that first this is not a Senate decision. This decision rests firmly with the Pentagon and the White House. It’s their call. They’re in their possession, and they’re in control of these photographs.

Secondly, I’d like to say, ands echo what she said, and that is that you have to consider the Geneva conventions. You have to consider U.S. law. You have to consider the code of military justice, and I think we should release them. But I think we should release them with the proper protections in place. I think that in many of these instances, the faces should be, you know, blocked out and also various body parts should be blocked out because I think that would be appropriate under the circumstances.

RAY SUAREZ: Is there anything to indicate that some of these pictures come from places other than Abu Ghraib?

SEN. MARK PRYOR: I think there are some indications of that. But again, I’ve never… having never been in that particular location, you know, there are some outside shots, there are some inside shots. There are, you know, a couple of shots, looked to me like maybe you’re in someone’s home. It was kind of hard to tell. So, again, I think we need to keep, you know, this in perspective, that this is a huge volume of photographs and images, again some videotape. And definitely some of the videotape is taken outside. You don’t know where that was taken. But I think what the Pentagon tried to do is collect everything they could and just show it to us as senators, in its raw form. They really didn’t edit or try to go through and weed out duplicates, et cetera. They just laid it all out for us which is what I think they felt like they needed to do for Senate today.

RAY SUAREZ: Senator Hutchison, maybe we could talk a little bit about the atmosphere in the room. With so many images, with so much territory to cover at the time were you in there, were senators standing in twos and threes? Was this really a solitary act of watching? Was there much conversation in the room?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: There was no conversation except when people asked questions about something that went through. People did ask questions, but it’s very solemn. People were stunned. People were very sober about this, and we were sitting in this room, which is a secure room. We have briefings very frequently, so we were able to see the pictures. But it was a very sober atmosphere, and all of us were there, I think because we felt we had to have this information to make judgments. But no one was happy about being there.

RAY SUAREZ: And was this something that you could do on your own? Could you move through them at your own speed, or were there technicians, people there to assist in the watching of the images?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON: No, we watched them as a group. We had access to them for about three hours. So the bulk of the time was we, as a group, watching everything that we could see, then we certainly had the right to stay and ask for more detail or see the pictures again or be more individual. But I didn’t do that. I certainly had seen everything I needed to know.

RAY SUAREZ: And Senator Pryor, you feel the same way — that the impressions that you’ve now gain from this give you some sort of final insight you need on what happened over there?

SEN. MARK PRYOR: Well, I thought it was helpful for me. It was difficult to watch. I was shocked to watch along with my colleagues and, Ray, to set the room up for you, this is basically a room with a big horseshoe shaped table it in and in the middle of the horseshoe, there are probably, you know, thirty to forty seats placed in the middle and there was a big screen up front, and they were running the photos on a laptop and they were scrolling through those as quickly as they could, because, you know, part of this was just to allow us to see the extent of the photographs and kind of get a good sense of what all was in there.

But I’m going to tell you, it was very sober. Every senator I talked to afterward said they were almost sick at their stomach having looked at this and seeing that these were Americans involved in this, and I think one thing I want to emphasize to my folks back home in Arkansas, you know, is that we have over 3,000 Arkansans on the ground right now in Iraq and we all know that 99.9 percent of our men and women in uniform are over there serving honorably; they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. They are fulfilling their mission with great courage. They’re in harm’s way every day. But unfortunately in this prison and maybe a few other POW locations, there has been a stain now put on the armed forces.

My conversations with folks back home is that the people who are most outraged about this are veterans and members of the military today. They’re absolutely sick because they know in the heart of hearts this does not represent America.

RAY SUAREZ: Senators, thanks a lot for being with us.


SEN. MARK PRYOR: Thank you.