Iraq Prisoner Scandal Provokes Disgust

Mon May 10, 1:14 PM ET

By WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer

VIENNA, Austria - America's allies in Iraq (news - web sites), voicing disgust at abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops, demanded Monday that the Pentagon (news - web sites) track down, put on trial and punish those responsible.

The scandal threatened to further unravel the unity and resolve of a coalition already severely tested by escalating bloodshed and last month's pullout of troops by Spain.

"The Americans were pigs," said Melinda Agoston, 21, a sales clerk in Romania, which has about 700 soldiers in Iraq. "Our Romanians should come home, since it's an endless war."

Some of the fiercest criticism came from Portugal, which has 128 police officers in Iraq. Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso gave no indication his government would change its policy, but denounced abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison as "vile, degrading, repugnant and revolting."

"You cannot, in the name of the struggle against terrorism and for the sake of freedom, contravene the very values and principles on which that struggle is based," Durao Barroso said. "We have already expressed to the American government our disgust at that kind of behavior and the need to find out who was responsible to put on trial and to punish those who carried out such vile acts."

Jarring images of prisoners being abused and humiliated by U.S. and British troops appeared at least in part to have prompted Hungary's leading opposition party to reconsider its support for keeping troops in Iraq.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, leader of the opposition Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union, called the situation in Iraq "morally unsustainable." He said party leaders would meet Tuesday to redefine their position on Hungary's 300 troops in Iraq.

"We are less and less certain of the feeling that we are siding with a good cause," Orban said.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called the images "terrible" while reaffirming that his country's 3,000 troops will stay in Iraq. But Cabinet minister Rocco Buttiglione hinted that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld should resign.

"The principal difference between democracies and dictatorships is that in the former, those who are politically responsible for disgraces should resign and those who fulfill them go to prison, while in dictatorships it's permitted," the ANSA news agency quoted Buttiglione as saying.

The Vatican (news - web sites) newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, criticized what it called a Pentagon cover-up and took sharp aim at the photograph of a soldier holding a prisoner by a leash. The paper said the soldier's goal was clearly to dehumanize the prisoner, but the image achieved the opposite effect.

"On the contrary, it is the torturer who with her leash stifles within herself any residue of humanity," it said.

Such photos haven't increased enthusiasm in the Netherlands for keeping its 1,300 troops in Iraq beyond June 30, said Boris Dittrich, leader of the centrist D-66 party.

"You're afraid to think that there's more waiting to come out," he told the newspaper De Volkskrant. "You don't want to belong to this kind of a coalition in Iraq."

Denmark's 496 troops in Iraq will make more unannounced visits to prisons in their sector, Danish Defense Minister Soeren Gade said, conceding the photos "were a problem for the coalition."

"Torture, to put it mildly, isn't helping to shape the general mood," said Tadeuz Iwinski, a commentator in Poland, which has deployed 2,400 troops and commands multinational forces in Iraq. He said reaction so far has been muted because Americans are held in high regard in Poland and Poles haven't been linked to prisoner abuse.

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, whose government last month withdrew all 1,300 of its troops from Iraq, delivered a stinging rebuke to the United States.

"In the international society of the 21st century, and even less in Western societies, where we have not only the responsibility but the will to spread universal values and principles, no one can be anything but horrified by these practices and situations," Moratinos said.

Gatis Miglans, a university student in Latvia, which has 122 soldiers in Iraq, thinks the troops should come home.

"Most people here were against the war to begin with," he said. "I don't know what we are doing there because it seems like things are getting worse."