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Lawmakers Make New Demand for Independent Probe of Prisoner Abuse

Fifty Democratic members of the House of Representatives are calling for an independent U.S. government investigation into the abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib. This comes as the Bush administration and top defense officials respond to recent media reports about alleged mistreatment of prisoners by members of the U.S military.

In a letter sent Friday to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the 50 House Democrats demand that a special counsel be appointed to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse.

Referring to investigations already undertaken by the Army Inspector General, and a separate commission, they say none connected the dots to ascertain how such acts in their words, became a widespread policy throughout American detention facilities around the world.

The focus of the letter is on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.

Congressman John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, says recent reports about the alleged desecration of a Koran by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay make the request for the independent investigation even more important.

Reports of the alleged actions at Guantanamo Bay, published first in Newsweek magazine and widely circulated by other media, sparked demonstrations by Muslims in Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan.

U.S defense officials say they have found no evidence to confirm that any such incident took place at the Guantanamo facility.

Among senior members of the Bush administration reacting to the reports, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged that action would be taken against those responsible if the allegations are proven true, adding any disrespect to the Koran would never be tolerated.

Last year, some House Democrats called on then Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint a special counsel to investigate physical abuse and sexual intimidation of prisoners.

But the latest call by House Democrats comes amid criticisms by many lawmakers that punishments for members of the military overseeing interrogations at Abu Ghraib have not been more severe.

About 130 lower-ranking and enlisted soldiers have faced punishment in connection with abuse allegations, with seven convictions so far.

The United States said in a report to the United Nations there have been 30 courts-martial, 46 non-judicial punishments, 15 reprimands and administrative actions, separations or other steps against various members of the military.

The former U.S. military intelligence chief at Abu Ghraib, Army Colonel Thomas Pappas, received a reprimand and was removed from his command. The former top U.S. commander in Iraq, Colonel Ricardo Sanchez, and three other senior officers were exonerated earlier this month.

The former Abu Ghraib commander Army Reserve General Janis Karpinski was demoted and reprimanded, but has accused the Army of using her as a scapegoat.

In an interview with ABC Television's Nightline program this past week, she said she believes higher U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, knew or should have known what was going on at Abu Ghraib.

In their letter Friday to the U.S. Attorney General, House Democrats say higher-level military and U.S. government officials have been insulated saying a special counsel is required to investigate involvement by higher-ranking Administration officials.

In approving $82 billion recently for military needs in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress included a little-noticed provision barring the use of any U.S. funds to subject individuals in U.S. custody to torture.