Downed Air Force pilots captured during U.S. bombing raids on Iraq were treated "somewhat harshly" and were injured during their captivity, though an Air Force general declined to describe the treatment as torture.
"They parachuted into a very hostile environment," Brig. Gen. Robert W. Poel said Monday. "They were captured by people who were threatened by their presence, and they treated them in a very severe fashion. Some of their injuries were a product of their captivity."Asked if this meant some of the five U.S. pilots were tortured, Poel said "that's not the word I used," but said that some did suffer injuries "from their captivity."
Other injuries, he said, could have come from ejecting from aircraft at a high rate of speed.
Poel, who is commander of Malcolm Grow Air Force Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., refused to elaborate or to give specific details of the injuries.
Asked if any of the pilots received surgical repair of injuries received in captivity, Poel said one was to undergo surgery "and I don't know how he got his broken bone."
Meanwhile, CBS News reported Monday night that ex-POW Jeffrey Zaun told military officers that some of the wounds to his face were self-inflicted in an attempt to discourage Iraqi captors from displaying him on television.
The attempt failed and his swollen and bruised face set off American fears that the POWs were being beaten. The 28-year-old Navy lieutenant who flew with a Navy attack squadron deployed on the USS Saratoga appeared on Iraqi television Jan. 20.
A Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jim Mitchell, said authorities there would not comment on information from the debriefing of POWs.