Iraqi television yesterday broadcast what it claimed were interviews with three American and four allied military airmen shot down in the war for Kuwait, evoking memories of prisoners-of-war presented for public spectacle in past military conflicts.

Only the audio portion of the Iraqi tape was available for broadcast in the United States, but all the prisoners were shown in uniform, according to a reporter for Cable News Network who viewed the program in Baghdad. They also identified themselves as airmen whose planes were shot down, and gave names, ages and ranks that corresponded to published lists of those missing in action. Two of the men reportedly had bruised faces and one man had a bandaged hand.

Five of them, including two who were said to be Americans, criticized the war during brief questioning by their Iraqi captors, but Defense Department officials said they could not confirm that the men were correctly identified and did not know if the statements were coerced.

The State Department responded last night by calling in the Iraqi charge d'affaires here to protest Iraq's "apparent treatment of U.S. prisoners {in the broadcast} . . . as contrary" to international accord and by demanding immediate access to "any prisoners" for representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Bush administration was particularly concerned about the "apparent unlawful coercion and misuse of the prisoners . . . for propaganda purposes," and by Iraq's "failure to respect their honor and well-being" by subjecting them to "public humiliation."

The protest appeared designed to convey U.S. outrage over the broadcast even though the capture of the men had not been formally confirmed.

On a BBC television broadcast in London, Iraq's ambassador to France, Abdul Rezak Hashimi, said Baghdad would respect prisoners' rights only if the allied coalition acknowledged they were being held.

The commander of Operation Desert Storm, U.S. Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, when asked before the broadcast about reports that at least two American airmen were seen in Baghdad, said, "It's entirely likely." He said yesterday on ABC television that 12 U.S. airmen were missing in action. Nine allied airmen are also missing: six British, two Italians and one Kuwaiti.

Other officials said later that allied forces were continuing an intensive search for survivors of the 15 planes lost in combat over Iraq. Nine of the planes were American, three were British and one each were Italian, Saudi and Kuwaiti.

One of the men in the Iraqi broadcast, who identified himself as Marine Lt. Col. Clifford Acree, 39, said he simply wanted to tell his family he was alive and well. Another said he was Navy Lt. Jeffrey Norton Zaun, 28, and added, "I think our leaders and our people have wrongly attacked the peaceful people of Iraq." A third, who said he was Marine Warrant Officer Guy Hunter Jr., 46, said, "I think this war is crazy and should never have happened."

Zaun's parents, Calvin and Marjorie Zaun, of Cherry Hill, N.J., said they refused to believe their son's statement. The Iraqis are "putting words into his mouth," Calvin Zaun told the Associated Press. "It doesn't sound like Jeff." Zaun's mother wept, but said, "I'm smiling for the first time because he's alive."

Mary Hunter, whose husband Guy was listed by the official Iraqi News Agency as a prisoner of war, told the Associated Press yesterday that the broadcast made her feel "very good" because it indicated her husband was alive. "Until I get told by the military, I can't get my hopes up real high, even though I have," she said from her home at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Cindy Acree, meanwhile, immediately prepared a letter to her husband urging him to persevere, which she read to reporters yesterday. "I wish I could be there to comfort you and hold you," she wrote.

The State Department had already delivered a diplomatic note to Iraqi charge Khalid Shewayish on Saturday reminding Baghdad of its obligation under the 1949 Geneva Convention not to mistreat prisoners. Washington also promised to provide "humane and safe detention and medical care" to captured Iraqi soldiers, which numbered 23 as of midday yesterday (EST).

"It's obviously good news, if in fact there are some Americans who are prisoners and can subsequently be accounted for," Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney told NBC television last night. "We're taking good care of Iraqi prisoners that we hold and we certainly expect them to do the same."

Audio portions of the broadcast by Iraqi television on its nightly news program were recorded in Baghdad by CNN reporter Peter Arnett, and played repeatedly by the network -- which Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is said to watch constantly.

"We have seen. . . written reports on what was said but I don't know yet that anyone here in the {Pentagon} has actually seen the video," Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams said. "We haven't been able to intercept the transmission."

The voices of those presented on Iraqi television were flat and unemotional, lacking in vigor but showing no obvious unease. It could not be determined from the tape whether the statements had been edited.

Arnett said the men were interviewed at an undetermined location, seated against a white wall. Two presented details of the shooting-down of their planes that did not precisely match Pentagon data, according to a senior defense official. "The others were less implausible," he added.

The haunting image of Americans in captivity protesting actions by their government was last presented during the Vietnam conflict, when officials in Hanoi released film of U.S. airmen allegedly confessing to involvement in war atrocities. Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird denounced the films at the time as "staged and edited" for political effect.

Similar confessions were given by four U.S. Air Force officers captured by North Korea during the 1950-53 war there, and the commander of the USS Pueblo signed a detailed confession after his ship was captured off the North Korean coast in 1968.

In one celebrated case, Navy officer Jeremiah Denton was eventually given a medal for blinking his eyes in a coded message of distress while giving a confession coerced by the North Vietnamese. Pentagon officials expressed hope that they could eventually analyze yesterday's Iraqi broadcast for similar clues. Denton was elected to a term as U.S. senator from Alabama in 1980.

The Geneva Convention requires that prisoners of war "at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation, and against insults and public curiosity." It also bars stationing of prisoners in areas expected to be under fire. A manual provided to U.S. Army troops says prisoners also cannot be used to shield military installations against air bombardment.

The U.S. Code of Conduct for captured military personnel states that they should "make no oral or written statements disloyal to {their} country and its allies or harmful to their cause." But military officials have typically treated critical remarks with leniency because of the atmosphere of coercion at wartime prisoner camps.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former Navy pilot who spend several years as a POW in Vietnam, said the statements yesterday were "obviously made under duress." He added, "I think we can assume these men are being mistreated."

Britain said it too had asked the Red Cross to probe Iraqi reports that two of its airmen had been captured. "We cannot confirm this yet," a defense ministry spokesman told Reuters.

A man who identified himself as British Lt. Adrian Nichols, 27, said "I think this war should be stopped. . . . I do not agree with this war." Another who said he was Lt. Peters, and who may have been missing British airman John Peters, 29, spoke in a hoarse voice and could barely be heard.

Another who said on the audio tape that he was Italian Air Force Capt. Maurizio Cocciolone, 30, described the war as "a bad thing" and called for a political solution. The seventh man, whom the Iraqis described as Kuwaiti Air Force pilot Mahamoud Mubarid, was interviewed in Arabic and said it was dishonorable for an Arab to fight other Arabs, according to CNN's Arnett.