WASHINGTON – Iraq has executed prisoners of war, the Pentagon's No. 2 general said Wednesday night as he listed a series of what he called unprecedented Iraqi violations of the laws of war.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apparently was referring to some of the U.S. Army troops captured Sunday by Iraqi forces in the city of An Nasiriyah. Iraqi state television later showed video footage of five living POWs and the bodies of at least five U.S. soldiers.
Defense officials who have viewed the tape have said privately that several of the bodies had execution-style gunshot wounds to their heads.
Intelligence officials have received one uncorroborated report indicating that at least some of the dead soldiers had been captured alive and executed in public, a senior Pentagon official said Wednesday on condition of anonymity. The information -- which did not come from an intercepted communication, as the New York Times reported Wednesday -- is of undetermined reliablility, the official said.
Pace, in a televised interview, said Iraqis had engaged in many atrocities in the six days since the war began.
"They have executed prisoners of war. ... They have used women and children as human shields and they have pretended to surrender and then opened fire," Pace said. "I've never seen anything like this. It's disgusting."
Pentagon officials said Wednesday the International Committee of the Red Cross still had not been granted access to the five Army soldiers captured Sunday and the two Army helicopter pilots captured a day later. All seven were questioned in front of Iraqi video cameras and the tapes were later played on Iraqi television -- which U.S. officials say violated Geneva Convention prohibitions on subjecting POWs to public humiliation.
The first group of Army soldiers captured were part of a maintenance convoy which made a wrong turn in the south-central Iraqi town of An Nasiriyah on Sunday and was attacked by Iraqi forces. Of that unit, the Army says, two soldiers are confirmed dead, five are confirmed as prisoners of war and eight are missing.
Pentagon officials say the prisoners thought to have been executed are among the eight formally listed as missing. Final determinations that they are dead and how they were killed can only happen once the bodies are located, officials said.