US President George W Bush may have apologized already, but it may take more than words to repair the damage done to US credibility by the pictures of humiliated Iraqi prisoners at the US-run Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad, Phnom Penh students said last week.
Students said they felt pity toward the prisoners, who were shown naked and hooded in poses beside smiling US military captors in photographs published in newspapers and on television.
In Cambodia, where the photographs of tortured prisoners at the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 Tuol Sleng prison still weigh heavily on people’s minds, the students said such reported acts of abuse damaged the reputation of a country that others have looked up to as a model.
“They should not have treated prisoners in this way,” said Sok Phany, 24, a third-year student at the National Institute of Management.
“The American people are supposed to be civilized. But when they do this, it means they are not civilized,” he said.
Bun Ra, 20, of the University of Phnom Penh, said he wanted to appeal to the US government “to ensure the rights of the prisoners.”
“I think in prison, people are already serving their punishment. Prison guards should not do anything more abusive to the prisoners,” he said.
“When they do this, it gives a bad image of the US, so it is important that Mr Bush take immediate action,” he added.
But Rany, 19, also warned the US of waning international
“I want America to look into this closely, otherwise the American image is ruined,” she said.
The photographs, along with testimony from former Iraqi prisoners and US officials claiming prisoners were sexually abused, beaten and deprived of sleep, have sparked outrage from observers worldwide.
Some have shown naked prisoners piled on top of each other with grinning US soldiers behind. One photograph made public last month showed a naked prisoner being dragged across the floor on a leash by a female soldier now identified as US Private Lynndie England.
The reports prompted US President George W Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to apologize for the scandal last week, though Rumsfeld warned more photographs have yet to be made public.
“It’s going to get still more terrible, I’m afraid,” Rumsfeld said, according to The Associated Press.
“As a student, I don’t like these acts of torture, whether they happen in Cambodia or anywhere else in the world,” said Y Chanpheavy, 20, a student at the National Institute of Management.
Say Phea, a 24-year-old student at the University of Phnom Penh, agreed.
“I feel pity on those Iraqi prisoners. They should not have been mistreated by the people who invaded their country,” he said.
Heide Bronke, spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, said the Embassy was concerned about how the scandal might affect the US’ reputation internationally.
“It’s an appalling thing. We share the outrage of others,” she said Thursday, adding that the “reprehensible acts” were against the policy of the US.
“We’re a nation of justice,” she said, adding the US will take efforts to ensure such incidents are never repeated.