U.S. forces beat three Iraqis working for the Reuters news agency, subjecting them to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation during their detention last January in a military camp near Fallujah, the three said Tuesday.
The three first told Reuters of the ordeal after their release, but decided to make it public only after the U.S. military said there was no evidence they had been abused and following the exposure of similar mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
An Iraqi journalist working for NBC, who was arrested with the Reuters staff, also said he had been beaten and mistreated, NBC said Tuesday.
All three said they were forced into humiliating acts and compelled to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs. They said they had not wanted to give details publicly earlier because of the degrading nature of the abuse.
The men said the soldiers deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and hit them, forced them to remain in stress positions for long periods and told them they would be taken to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
The U.S. military, in a report issued before the Abu Ghraib abuse became public, said there was no evidence the Reuters staff had been tortured or abused.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said in a letter received by Reuters Monday, but dated March 5, that he was confident that the investigation had been "thorough and objective" and that its findings were sound.
The Pentagon has yet to respond to a request by David Schlesinger, global managing editor for Reuters, to review the military's findings about the incident in light of the scandal over the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Asked for comment Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "There are a number of lines of inquiry underway with respect to prison operations in Iraq. If during the course of any inquiry, the commander believes it is appropriate to review a specific aspect of detention, he has the authority to do so."
The abuse happened at Forward Operating Base Volturno, near Fallujah, the Reuters staff said. They were detained Jan. 2 while covering the aftermath of the downing of a U.S. helicopter near Fallujah. They were held for three days, first at Volturno and then at Forward Operating Base St. Mere.
The three Iraqis -- Baghdad-based cameraman Salem Ureibi, Fallujah-based freelance television journalist Ahmad Mohammad Hussein Badrani and driver Sattar Jabar Badrani -- were released without charge Jan. 5.
Ureibi, who understands English better than the two others, said that soldiers told him they wanted to have sex with him and that he was afraid he would be raped.
NBC, whose stringer Ali Muhammed Hussein Ali Badrani was detained along with the Reuters staff, said he reported that a hood was placed over his head for hours, that he was forced to perform physically debilitating exercises, that he was prevented from sleeping, and that he was struck and kicked several times.
"Despite repeated requests, we have yet to receive the results of the Army investigation," said Bill Wheatley, NBC News vice president.
Schlesinger, the Reuters managing editor, sent a letter to Sanchez Jan. 9 demanding an investigation into the treatment of the three Iraqis.
The Army said it was investigating and requested further information. Reuters provided transcripts of initial interviews with the three following their release and offered to make them available to investigators for interviews.
A summary of the investigation by the 82nd Airborne Division, dated Jan. 28 and provided to Reuters, said that "no specific incidents of abuse were found." It said soldiers responsible for the detainees were interviewed under oath and "none admit or report knowledge of physical abuse or torture."
"The detainees were purposefully and carefully put under stress, to include sleep deprivation, in order to facilitate interrogation; they were not tortured," it said. The version received Monday used the phrase "sleep management" instead.
The U.S. military never interviewed the three for its investigation.
On Feb. 3, Schlesinger wrote to Lawrence Di Rita, special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying the investigation was "woefully inadequate" and should be reopened.
"The military's conclusion of its investigation without even interviewing the alleged victims, along with other inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the report, speaks volumes about the seriousness with which the U.S. government is taking this issue," he wrote.
The Associated Press reported from London:
At least one British soldier was arrested Tuesday in an investigation of faked photographs purporting to show Iraqi prisoners being abused by British forces, the Defense Ministry said. It said the arrest was part of its probe into the origin of the photos and that no charges were filed.
The photos appeared in Britain's Daily Mirror. The tabloid printed a front-page apology Saturday after announcing that its top editor would step down.