GOP leaders oppose release of more abuse images
Other lawmakers disagree
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Stay with CNN for the latest updates, reactions and perspective on the evolving situation in Iraq and its impact on the U.S. political season.
CNN's Bill Hemmer talks with Sen. Carl Levin about the new abuse photos.
CNN's Jeff Greenfield on the power of imagery, now and in history.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre on the Taguba testimony.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top GOP leaders said Wednesday they oppose the release of hundreds of fresh images showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, saying they could compromise the prosecution of those soldiers implicated in the acts and further inflame tensions in Iraq.
The congressional leaders made the statements after lawmakers gathered behind close doors to view what several described as "appalling" and "horrifying" pictures, slides and video clips of abuse and sexual acts.
"Take our word for it. They're disgusting," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority whip.
McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, and Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, all said the pictures should be kept under wraps.
"In my view, and it's solely my view, these pictures, at this time, by the executive branch, should not be released into the public domain," Warner, R-Virginia, said, citing the possibility that more images of abuse end up "inspiring the enemy."
But other lawmakers said the images should be released, arguing withholding them would only prolong the controversy.
A handful of pictures shot at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad were leaked to the news media late last month.
They showed prisoners cowering before attack dogs and forced to pose in sexually humiliating positions. One widely publicized photo showed a hooded man standing on a box with wires attached to his hands.
Seven soldiers face criminal charges in the case, and investigations into the apparent mistreatment at the prison continue.
The Army has been investigating the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib since January, but the case erupted last month when CBS broadcast graphic photographs of American troops posing for photographs with naked, hooded prisoners.
The images have sparked outrage across the globe, particularly in the Arab world.
Iraqi captors who recently beheaded American Nicholas Berg, 26, -- an act captured on videotape by those who held him -- said the killing was in part a response to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.(Full story)
Some lawmakers have urged the Bush administration to allow the photographs to be released in order to prevent further shocking disclosures.
"I think the only hope that we have, really, of redeeming ourselves here and winning back some of the support that this incident has cost us [is] if we act as an open society that will deal with problems openly, that will hold people accountable," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, agreed.
"Every time we have these photographs dribbled out or some expansion of that situation, it is not good for America," Chambliss said. "And we need to conclude it. And getting all of these photographs out at one time is the way to do it."
Warner conceded that even if defense officials decide not to release the material, it will get out anyway.
"No one knows how many copies have been made and the distribution, whether it's in the United States or worldwide," he said.
As lawmakers emerged from the private viewings -- one was held for House members and another for senators -- they described what they saw.
Rep. Jane Harman, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the images "stomach churning." The California Democrat said one image showed a handcuffed man beating his head against a wall. Lawmakers said they also saw several images of hooded men masturbating.
"Twelve sick, sadistic kids could not have acted alone," Harman said, apparently challenging statements from Pentagon leaders that the acts were limited to some lower-level military police.
Asked if the pictures were worse than those already public, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, "They're all bad."
The Senate's 100 members were given three hours to come and see the material; the 435 House members were provided with a 45-minute slide show that was repeated several times to allow as many lawmakers as possible to view it.
Congressional aides estimated that more than half of the Senate saw the pictures. The crowd at the viewing in the House was described as standing room only, but some lawmakers expressed no interest in seeing the pictures, describing them as more of what has already been released.
Among those who did not attend was House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois. A spokesman said he "already guessed the general gist of it, he understands it and he doesn't need to get into all that pornography."
Senators were not allowed to make copies of the images during Wednesday's session, and all pictures -- which were contained on CDs displayed on a computer -- will remain in Pentagon custody. Nor were congressional aides allowed in the room.
"What we saw is appalling," Frist said. "It is consistent with the photos that you're seen in the press to date. They go beyond that in many ways, in terms of the various activities that are depicted."
Pentagon sources told CNN that as many as 300 photographs detail the abuse of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib. Some photographs depict Iraqi prisoners being sodomized with chemical lights known as "glow sticks," and a video shows two U.S. soldiers having sex in the prison facility, the sources said.
Rumsfeld on the Hill
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- who has been strongly criticized for not alerting the president and Congress earlier about the pictures -- was on Capitol Hill, appearing before a Senate appropriations subcommittee.
"We all go through strong emotions when something like this occurs," Rumsfeld said, referring to the prisoner abuse. "We see it and we're shocked and we're stunned and we're disgusted, and we know in our hearts that we are better than that, and, yet, that is what is being seen in the world as presenting our country."
Congress has already held several hearings about the matter, and lawmakers are focusing on how high up the chain of command culpability for the abuse goes.
While Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials have described the abuse as an aberration, some lawmakers have suggested in their questions that the military police -- who acted as guards for the prisoners -- may have been taking their cues from military intelligence.
The author of a military report on the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, has also questioned the role of military intelligence at the prison. But he told a Senate panel Tuesday that there were no "direct orders" or written policies that sanctioned the abuse of prisoners.
In a related development, one of the seven U.S. soldiers facing criminal charges in connection with the abuse scandal told a Denver, Colorado, television station that she was ordered to pose in photographs with naked Iraqi prisoners.
Pfc. Lynndie England told KCNC-TV that she was told by "persons in my chain of command" to appear in the pictures. (Full story)
Another member of the unit, Spc. Jeremy Sivits, faces a military trial May 19. (Two more face court-martial in prison abuse case)
CNN's Ed Henry, Joe Johns, Ted Barrett and Steve Turnham contributed to this report.