Powell apologises to Iraqi prisoners

Time of article published May 16, 2004

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Dead Sea Coast, Jordan - United States Secretary of State Colin Powell apologised on Sunday to Iraqi prisoners abused by US soldiers, one day after he gave a speech in which he promised justice but left many Arabs angry and distrustful.

US President George Bush on May 6 said he was "sorry for the humiliation" of Iraqis who were kept naked, stacked on top of each other, forced to engage in sex acts, struck by American jailers and photographed at the Abu Ghraib prison.

"The president has expressed an apology on behalf of the nation. (I will) reinforce that apology. We are devastated by what happened at Abu Ghraib. We apologise to those who were abused in such an awful manner," Powell told reporters.

Powell spoke in Jordan one day after he gave a speech designed to blunt Arab anger at the abuse of prisoners but in which he failed to offer an explicit apology.

Arab businessmen and politicians who heard the speech on Saturday at a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan questioned his sincerity and doubted his promise that the United States would investigate and prosecute those accused of abuses.

US credibility in the Arab world has been shredded by the prisoner abuses in Iraq, which remains a cauldron of violence since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein a year ago.

"We are doing everything we can to deal with what you describe as the frustrations within the Arab world," Powell told reporters.

"Everybody says we should return sovereignty to the Iraqi people so that it no longer looks like an occupation. That's exactly what we are trying to do and what we plan to accomplish by the end of June," he added.

With UN assistance, the United States hopes to install a still undefined interim government in Iraq on July 1 that it says will enjoy sovereignty even though it will not control its own troops. Critics argue the interim government will have little real say in running the country of 25 million people.

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