The United States’ treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq has done serious damage to the country’s image abroad, Republican Senator John McCain was quoted as saying by a German paper on Saturday.

Prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib jail led to heavy criticism of American policy in Iraq, while the U.S. detention of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without trial has been criticized as an infringement of human rights.

Moreover, both have been blamed for generating anti-American sentiment and undermining support domestically and abroad for Washington’s war on terrorism.

“I think Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have done a lot of damage to the image of America and have been used to arouse anti-American feelings,” McCain told Welt am Sonntag, according to the preview of an article due to be published on Sunday.

Arizona senator McCain has been tipped by many as a likely Republican candidate for the 2008 U.S. presidential election.

He told the paper President George W. Bush had placed too much confidence in elections to bring about change in the Middle East.

“Elections are the easy part of a democracy and maybe too many of us — and I would admit to being guilty myself — underestimate the difficulties of bringing real democracy to countries that never knew it before,” he said.

McCain said the United States needed to become more realistic in its desire to promote democracy and national self-determination.

“We obviously don’t want to see the ruling House of Saud replaced in Saudi Arabia by extremists, for example, like in Iran after the toppling of the Shah,” he said.

“But we need to understand that if no progress in Saudi Arabia is made, the House of Saud will fall sooner or later.”

© 2006 Reuters