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Iraqi TV Airs Footage of Captured American Troops

Iraqi TV Airs Footage of Captured American Troops

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- Looking by turns frightened or stoical, five captured U.S. soldiers were thrust in front of an Iraqi TV microphone and peppered with questions Sunday. The footage also showed at least four bodies.

U.S. officials confirmed that 12 soldiers were missing after Iraqi forces ambushed an army supply convoy around An Nasiriyah, a major crossing point over the Euphrates northwest of Basra.

The scenes of interrogators questioning four men and a woman were broadcast by the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera with footage from state-controlled Iraqi television. Each was interviewed individually. They spoke into a microphone labeled "Iraqi Television."

A senior defense official said the Pentagon did not know precisely how many captives there might be and would not identify the unit. Some of the prisoners are from Fort Bliss, Texas, said Jean Offutt, a U.S. Army spokeswoman at the base.

Several families of the soldiers had gathered at the base Sunday evening, she said. "The mood, of course, is very tragic."

The 507th Maintenance, part of the 111th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, is stationed at Fort Bliss, and at least two of the interviewed prisoners said they were with the 507th.

Al-Jazeera quoted unidentified Iraqi officials as saying the Iraqis are using a defensive tactic of falling back, allowing their enemy to overextend itself and become vulnerable to attack behind the lines.

President Bush, returning to the White House from Camp David, said he did not have all the details of what he called a potential capture but added: "We expect them to be treated humanely, just like we'll treat any prisoners of theirs that we capture humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."

Speaking on CBS, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld charged that if those seen on television were indeed coalition soldiers, "those pictures are a violation of the Geneva Conventions."

International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman Nada Doumani said the showing of the prisoners on TV violates Article 13 of the Geneva Conventions, which says prisoners should be protected from public curiosity. But she stressed that the priority at the moment is to get access to them.

"It does contradict the conventions because it's public curiosity," she said. "But our priority is not to put blame on any side but to check that the prisoners are safe."

Each prisoner shown on television spoke American-accented English.

One woman held her arms tightly in her lap as she was questioned, her eyes darting back and forth and her voice very shaky. She said she was 30 years old, from Texas, and part of the 507th Maintenance. At one point, the camera panned back, showing a big white bandage around her ankle.

Another prisoner, who said he was from El Paso, Texas, stared directly at the camera and spoke in a clear, direct voice. He often shook his head and cupped his ear slightly to indicate that he couldn't hear one of the questions being shot at him from around the room.

A 31-year-old sergeant from New Jersey sat bolt upright in a chair with brown armrests. His hands in his lap, he answered questions in a clipped fashion and said he was with the 507th.

One of the prisoners, sitting up, was interviewed by an unseen person holding a microphone labeled "Iraqi TV" in Arabic. The prisoner at one point said: "I'm sorry. I don't understand you."

The narrator provided an Arabic translation, but it was possible to hear some of the comments in English.

Some of the prisoners looked terrified. One captive, who said he was from Kansas, answered all his questions in a shaky voice, his eyes darting back and forth between the interviewer and another person who couldn't be seen on camera.

Asked why he came to Iraq, he replied, "I come to fix broke stuff."

Prodded again by the interviewer, he was asked if he came to shoot Iraqis.

"No, I come to shoot only if I am shot at," he said. "They (Iraqis) don't bother me, I don't bother them."

Another prisoner, who said he was from Texas, said only: "I follow orders."

A voice off-camera asked how many officers were in his unit.

"I don't know, sir," the man replied.

Another prisoner, who also said he was from Texas, was lying on an elaborate maroon mat. The camera panned from his feet to his head, showing one of his arms to be wounded and folded across his chest.

Iraqi TV attempted to interview him, at one point trying to cradle his head to steady it for the camera. They eventually helped him sit up, but he seemed to sway slightly.

The camera showed four bodies on the floor of the room. The station said they and the prisoners were captured around An Nasiriyah.

U.S. officials said Sunday that U.S. Marines defeated Iraqi forces near An Nasiriyah in the sharpest engagement of the war. But they said Iraqi forces also ambushed an army supply convoy and 12 soldiers were missing.

Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid said he believed some of the 12 missing soldiers "ended up on Baghdad TV."

In Cairo, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said the casualties "showed that we're not surrendering easily. It is proof we're strong and it is not an easy invasion."

Prior to the hostilities, the Iraqi government said it would give the International Committee of the Red Cross the freedom to move about the country to perform its traditional tasks, which include monitoring the care and treatment of POWs.

The U.S. military says it has more than 2,000 Iraqi prisoners of war. (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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