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VATICAN-PRISONERS (SECOND UPDATE) May-10-2004 (700 words) xxxi
Vatican newspaper condemns 'inhuman acts of torture' by U.S. soldiers

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican newspaper expressed new condemnation of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers, saying that "inhuman acts of torture" had violated the dignity of inmates.

In its May 10 edition, L'Osservatore Romano commented on the widely published photo showing a U.S. soldier holding a naked Iraqi detainee on a leash. Of all the images that have been released, this one is the most "tragically symbolic" because it shows a desire to treat the enemy almost as an animal, it said.

The second-page commentary was the third time in a week the newspaper voiced strong criticism about the alleged torture and abuse of Iraqi captives at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

Under the front-page headline, "Horror and shame," on May 8, the newspaper said the war in Iraq, already marked by destruction and pain, "now assumes even more tragic connotations with the discovery of inhuman acts of torture inflicted on Iraqi detainees."

"The abuse and cruelty against the prisoners represents the radical denial of human dignity and of fundamental human values. Brutal cruelty against one's own kind is in tragic opposition to the basic values of civilization and democracy," it said.

The newspaper said the whole world -- including the U.S. population -- had been dismayed at the revelations and was watching the scandal unfold with "feelings of horror and shame."

It said Americans feel "deeply betrayed" that such acts were perpetrated "under their flag, dishonoring it."

In similar remarks May 6, the newspaper said the abuse of prisoners represented an "unequivocal and inadmissible contrast with the principles of a great democracy."

The scandal erupted after CBS released pictures showing grinning U.S. soldiers allegedly abusing and humiliating prisoners, some of them naked, in the Iraqi prison. One photo showed a hooded prisoner with wires attached to his hands and feet, standing on a box; he had been told he would be electrocuted if he stepped off.

Administrative and criminal investigations have begun and President George W. Bush, in interviews broadcast on Arab TV stations May 5, promised that the soldiers responsible would be punished.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department was said to be investigating the role of CIA agents in three suspicious deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cardinal Roberto Tucci, in remarks to Vatican Radio, condemned the abuse of Iraqi prisoners but said he was encouraged that the United States was addressing the problem.

"This is a matter of crimes, real crimes, because even in war there are rules to be respected," said Cardinal Tucci, a retired director of the radio.

He said that until recently Iraq was governed by a regime that did not hesitate to use torture as a routine method of political control.

"But this in no way justifies that those going into Iraq to export democracy can turn to the same system, even in a limited way," he said.

"We need to pray for the victims of these acts of torture and for those who committed them, so that they recognize what they have done before the U.S. justice system, which I hope will run its course," he said.

Jesuit Father Justo Lacunza, head of the Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies in Rome, told the Italian Catholic news agency SIR that the reports of abuse could be expected to further upset many Iraqis about the ongoing military occupation of their country.

"Perhaps more now than before, I think Iraqis feel like telling the Americans: 'We're still poor, without schools and without medicine, but we're not willing to suffer physical wounds and torture as well,'" he said.

Father Lacunza said Bush's words of regret to Arab peoples did not go far enough. He said the president must take bigger steps to heal the wounds and diminish the hatred being caused by the war.

"It's time to recognize that the war is a failure," he said.

Iraqis who endured Saddam Hussein's mistreatment and torture "find themselves suffering the same treatment in the same prison by those who had come to bring democracy," he said.

"For Iraqis, this episode is a stab in the back," he said.


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