CORONADO, Calif., Dec. 3 -- The military has launched a criminal investigation into photographs that appear to show Navy SEALs in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees, and photos of what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head.
Some of the photos have date stamps suggesting they were taken in May 2003, which could mean they are the earliest evidence of the possible abuse of prisoners in Iraq. The far more brutal practices photographed at the Abu Ghraib prison occurred months later.
A photo found posted on a commercial photo-sharing Web site operated by a woman who said her husband brought the photos from Iraq after his tour of duty appears to show a member of the U.S. military in a truck with what appear to be Iraqi prisoners. The Navy SEALs have launched a criminal investigation into photographs that appear to show commandos in Iraq sitting on hooded and handcuffed detainees, and photos of what appear to be bloodied prisoners, one with a gun to his head.
An Associated Press reporter found more than 40 of the pictures among hundreds in an album posted on a commercial photo-sharing Web site by a woman who said her husband brought them back from Iraq after his tour of duty. It is unclear who took the pictures, which the Navy said it was investigating after the AP furnished copies when it sought comments for this story.
These and other photos found by the AP appear to show the immediate aftermath of raids on civilian homes. One man is lying on his back with a boot on his chest. A man is shown with an automatic weapon pointed at his head and a gloved thumb jabbed into his throat. In many photos, faces have been blacked out. What appears to be blood is shown dripping from the heads of some. One photo shows a family huddling in a room, while others show debris and upturned furniture.
"These photographs raise a number of important questions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war and detainees," Navy Cmdr. Jeff Bender, a spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, said in a written response to questions. "I can assure you that the matter will be thoroughly investigated."
The photos were turned over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which instructed the SEAL command to determine whether they show any serious crimes, Bender said Friday. That investigation will determine the identities of the troops and what they were doing in the photos.
Some of the photos recall aspects of the images from Abu Ghraib, which led to charges against seven soldiers.
Though they have alarmed SEAL commanders, the photographs found by the AP do not necessarily show anything illegal, according to experts in the laws of war who reviewed the photos at the AP's request.
Gary D. Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge who teaches at the U.S. Military Academy, said the images showed "stupid" and "juvenile" behavior -- but not necessarily crimes.
Retired Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, who served as the Navy's judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000, said the photos suggest possible violations of the Geneva Conventions.
Those international laws prohibit the taking of souvenir photos of prisoners of war.