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WASHINGTON, May 4: US soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners were following orders and are being used as scapegoats to protect their superiors , the wife of one of the soldiers and the lawyer for another said on Tuesday.

Martha Frederick defended her husband, a soldier who faces prosecution for the abuse of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison. "He was told to do these things and when he did them he thought that he was doing them in the sense of national security," Martha Frederick said.

The US military has brought charges of assault, cruelty and maltreatment against six soldiers, members of a military police battalion. It has also reprimanded six officials in connection with abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.

In e-mails to his wife, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick questioned some of the abuses he witnessed, such as leaving inmates naked in their cells or making them wear female clothing and handcuffing them to the doors of their cells.

"He questioned it from my understanding and he even tried to come up with some rules knowing that pretty much this was something he did not normally do," said his wife in an interview on NBC's "Today" show.

She complained her husband was being thrust into the limelight while others were protected. "Those who are responsible are standing behind the curtain and watching him take the fall for it. It's almost like being a pawn in a chess game," she said.

Houston lawyer Guy Womack, who is representing reservist Charles Graner in the abuse case, said his client should not be court-martialled and that pictures taken of him abusing Iraqi prisoners were staged.

"You court-martial the right person. You don't court-martial the soldier who is following orders. He was under the command and the direction of intelligence officers, both military and civilian," Mr Womack said on the NBC morning show.

Charles Graner, who was a corrections officer at a North Carolina prison, was on duty in Iraq for a military police unit. "These pictures themselves are abhorrent, but you have to put them in context," Mr Womack said.

But US Sen. John McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, told reporters after a closed-door hearing on the prison abuse scandal that the rules were clear about the treatment of prisoners.

Reserve Brig Gen Janis Karpinski, who oversaw prison facilities in Iraq, said she took responsibility for some of what had happened, but pointed out military intelligence was in charge of interrogation - not the military police under her command.

Her lawyer, Neal Puckett, told CNN: "What's clear in all of this and what's apparently yet to be investigated is that the military intelligence personnel were the folks that had complete, exclusive control over what went on in the interrogation rooms." -Reuters

Comprehensive inquiry

MAUMEE: The White House confirmed on Tuesday that the Pentagon had launched an investigation to ensure that abuse of Iraqi detainees was not widespread and never happened again.

The US Defence Department is "taking a comprehensive look at the entire prison system to make sure there's no systematic problem", spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. -AFP