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Sunday, March 23

Al-Jazeera broadcast depicts injured, dead U.S. POWs

By Robert Hodierne | Army Times

Updated 5:05 p.m., March 23

DOHA, Qatar - Four American soldiers captured by Iraqi soldiers were caught in an ambush after apparently taking a wrong turn near An Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, U.S. military officials said Sunday.

A videotape aired on the Arab television network Al-Jazeera showed the three men and one woman in captivity being interviewed. U.S. officials said the man doing the interview worked for state-run Iraq television.

Five more people, apparently dressed in American uniforms, were shown dead on a concrete floor in the videotaped broadcast.

The videotape clearly showed the faces of the dead. At one point, a smiling Iraqi turned the head of one dead man so the camera could more clearly see the face.

At least two of the dead appeared to have bullet holes in their foreheads.

U.S. officials said the prisoners and dead were among 12 soldiers who were in a six-vehicle supply convoy that was ambushed by what the officials described as Iraqi irregulars.

Three wounded survivors were rescued, the officials said.

The supply group was working with the 3rd Infantry Division, which is encountering stiffer than expected in fighting around the city 180 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Marines fighting in the same area suffered their most serious losses. An American spokesman put the losses at "less than 10" Marines killed.

The video drew immediate condemnation from U.S. officials.

Central Command deputy commander Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, at news briefing, said, "I would say the pictures were disgusting."

After answering a question from an Al-Jazeera reporter, he glared at the man and said, "You‘re from Al-Jazeera television. I‘m very disappointed that you would portray those pictures of our servicemen. I saw that and I would ask others not to do that."

No one from Al-Jazeera was available to explain its decision to air the tape.

Appearing on the Sunday morning CBS show "Face the Nation," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld called the tape Iraqi propaganda.

"It seems to me that showing a few pictures on the screen, not knowing who they are and being communicated by Al-Jazeera, which is not a perfect instrument of communication, obviously is part of Iraqi propaganda," he said.

Also, Rumsfeld said, "The Geneva Convention indicates that it‘s not permitted to photograph and embarrass or humiliate prisoners of war. And if they do happen to be American or coalition ground forces that have been captured, the Geneva Convention indicates how they should be treated."

On the videotape, the POWs were interviewed briefly by a man speaking broken English. The microphone he used was labeled "Iraq TV."

Several of the Americans had trouble understanding the interviewer‘s questions. All of them looked terrified.

Some of the captured soldiers identified themselves as being from the 507th Maintenance Company, which is based at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas.

One of the captives appeared to be in pain from wounds that weren‘t clearly visible. He was flat on his back, grimacing, when an arm with a microphone appeared in the picture.

There was blood on the soldier‘s face and on one arm. The interviewer forced the man to sit up to answer questions. The American soldier identifies himself only as "Edgar" from Texas.

"How do see the Iraqi people?" he was asked.

"People their own country," is what the slightly garbled response sounded like. He said he was 31.

The woman gave her name as Shawna, and she said she was 30. She appeared to have a slight wound on her left ankle.

Only one of the soldiers identified himself by name, which Gannett News Service has withheld pending confirmation of his identity. He appeared to be uninjured. Asked what his hometown was he answered, "New Jersey."

Journalists traveling with U.S. and British forces are prohibited from taking recognizable photographs of Iraqi POWs, but the rule has been repeatedly violated by television networks, none of which have had their right to accompany the troops revoked.

But Sunday, a Fox News team was kicked out of the 101st Airborne Division after the network aired footage of Americans wounded by grenades the military believes was thrown by a soldier from the division.