LOS ANGELES - As graphic images of abuses of detained Iraqis by American military personnel shock the world, the US army may turn to an unusual tool to teach soldiers how to treat prisoners humanely -- video games.

The army already uses a video game called America's Army to train and recruit soldiers and distributes a free version of that software.

The military officer overseeing the game's development, Col Casey Wardynski, told Reuters on Wednesday that America's Army could also be modified to include lessons on prisoner treatment.

Saying that even though the game already demonstrates the consequences of negative behaviour for players, Wardynski added that it could be changed to more directly address the current scandal.

"If we don't get asked, we'll do something anyway ... If we get asked, of course we'll do it," he said.

In recent days, the public has been confronted with a steady stream of images of US soldiers abusing and humiliating captive Iraqis at facilities like the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, leading to questions about how much they were told they could do to gather information from the prisoners.

While many video game players have played the consumer version of America's Army, the military maintains multiple development teams, one to produce the public version and another that counts the US government as its client.

The government team, Wardynski said, can turn out new elements for the game in a few months, whether for an application to train military policemen or to train soldiers how to drive and operate the latest assault vehicles.

One training system being demonstrated at the E3 video game trade show in Los Angeles incorporates the controls of a robotic device into a large briefcase, allowing soldiers to practice disposing of explosives.

Another version, available only to the military and law enforcement, is a US$13,000 ($21,764) system to teach people how to shoot a range of weapons.

"Northrop Gruman and Lockheed have approached us about a way to embed America's Army in a new weapons system," Wardynski said.

The PC-based game, which the army recently licensed to French games maker Ubi Soft Entertainment to make a console version, is frequently updated with new missions.

Another project in the works is Overmatch, where players playing as the US army will have to deal with a superior force.

Wardynski, who also teaches economics at West Point and conceived of the army's video game as a way to more efficiently train and recruit, said it was likely that forces hostile to the United States, like al Qaeda, had seen and played the game. But he added that would not matter on the battlefield.

"Part of beating an enemy is beating them in their own mind," he said. "If they know what we're bringing to the table, that's not such a bad thing."


Herald Feature: Iraq

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