SAN DIEGO – Preliminary findings of a military inquiry suggest that some of the recently published photographs of Navy special forces capturing detainees in Iraq (search) were taken for legitimate intelligence-gathering purposes and showed commandos using approved procedures, a Navy spokesman said Monday.
The photos, which have drawn a strong reaction in Arab media, also appear to show Navy SEALs (search) sitting or lying on top of hooded and handcuffed detainees in the back of a pickup truck.
Citing the ongoing investigation, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command (search) in Coronado declined comment on the pickup truck pictures, among 40 images of detainees which an Associated Press reporter found on a commercial photo-sharing Web site posted by a woman who said her husband brought them from Iraq.
Senior officers at the SEALs headquarters said other photos are "consistent with the use of tactics, techniques and procedures in the apprehension of detainees," Navy Cmdr. Jeff Bender said.
He cited as an example a photo in which a uniformed man is holding the head of a prisoner to pose him for a picture for "identification purposes." A gun with an attached flashlight is being used to illuminate the detainee's face for the photograph, Bender said.
Taking photos of prisoners for administrative or intelligence purposes is an exception to Navy regulations that generally forbid unofficial photos of prisoners of war.
In another photo, a commando standing with upraised fists next to a detainee is using hand signals to communicate with other troops who do not appear in the image, according to Bender.
The two photos are part of a larger group of mug shots of detainees, whose faces were blacked out in the pictures posted online. Some drip blood, which experts on the law of war said was not by itself a sign of abuse. It was unclear whether the detainees resisted capture by Navy special forces.
"No one knows what's on the other side of the door," Bender said, adding that the inquiry is ongoing.
Some of the people in the photos have been identified as SEALs, Bender said.
Date stamps on some of the photos suggest they were taken in May 2003, which could make them the earliest evidence of possible abuse or questionable handling of prisoners in Iraq. The far more brutal practices photographed inside Abu Ghraib prison occurred months later.
It is unclear who took the pictures, which the Navy began investigating after the AP furnished copies to get comment for a story first published Friday.
The photos were widely published in Arab media, including one on the front page of the daily Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram showed three hooded prisoners pressed against one another on a floor with what appear to be white sheets wrapped around their torsos. The photo caption read: "Signs of a new scandal."