U.S. Condemns Publication of Hussein Photos

By Josh White and Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 21, 2005

White House and Pentagon officials condemned the release of candid photographs of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein while in U.S. military custody, launching an investigation yesterday after a British tabloid published on its front page a picture of the deposed leader in underwear.

The Sun newspaper in London ran three pages of photos yesterday, including the full-color front-page photograph of a shirtless Hussein in white briefs. In other photos, Hussein is shown washing socks and napping at an unidentified detention facility, which is reportedly near Baghdad International Airport. The New York Post, owned by the same publishing company, also ran the photographs yesterday.

"It's troubling and unfortunate that these pictures were made public, and it's certainly contrary to what our policies and procedures are," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "That's why we're taking a hard look at what happened, and we'll look to hold someone accountable."

The international publication of the photographs comes at a particularly sensitive time for the U.S. government abroad. Violent protests raged in several Muslim countries in the past week after a Newsweek article -- since retracted by the magazine -- said military officials had confirmed allegations that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba. And for the past year the Bush administration has confronted anger and suspicion created by release of photographs showing humiliation and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and by subsequent allegations of prisoner mistreatment.

Hussein's defense team expressed outrage over the photographs. Lawyer Ziad Khasawneh told Reuters news service the release violates "human dignity." "We must sue the people responsible and the providers of these pictures, because if you look closely you can see that they were taken from his prison cell," Khasawneh said in Amman, Jordan.

Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington, said yesterday that the mere appearance of Hussein in underwear may be an affront to many Muslims who believe that the body is sacred.

"To show someone partially or almost naked is a kind of insult to Muslim sensibilities," Masmoudi said. "Arabs will feel it is an insult, ihana in Arabic, which means degrading, to all Arabs. Why are they treating him this way?"

Amnesty International had previously raised concerns about the release of video images of Hussein receiving medical treatment shortly after his capture in December 2003, and spokesman Alistair Hodgett said yesterday that the photographs will again make it harder to advocate for humane treatment worldwide.

"We have long voiced our concern about the ripple effect of either confirmed U.S. disregard for international standards or the apparent disregard of international standards," Hodgett said. "Obviously an investigation will find whether this was an unsanctioned release or something else. But it is one further incident that harms the ability of the U.S. to get others to abide by these long-standing international protections."

The Sun said that it had obtained the photographs from an unnamed member of the U.S. military who was quoted as saying that the photographs were intended to show insurgents that Hussein is no longer a legendary dictator and is instead "just an aging and humble old man."

Masmoudi said that because much of the insurgency in Iraq is made up of Baathists and former members of Hussein's government, the photos of their leader in a humiliating scene could encourage their attacks against Americans and the Iraqis working with them.

President Bush told reporters yesterday that he does not think the release of the photographs specifically will incite insurgents to action. "I don't think a photo inspires murderers," he said. "I think they are inspired by an ideology."

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush "strongly supports the aggressive and thorough investigation that is already underway."

"These photos were wrong," Duffy said. "They're in clear violation of DOD directives and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the human treatment of detained individuals. And the multinational forces in Iraq, as well as the president, are very disappointed at the possibility that someone responsible for the security, welfare and detention of Saddam Hussein would take and provide these photos for public release."

The Geneva Conventions seek to maintain dignity for prisoners of war by barring captors from exposing them to public curiosity. Pentagon officials said they no longer consider the former leader an enemy prisoner of war because he is technically in Iraqi custody, but they said the release of the photographs violated Defense Department standards in any case.

Hussein and top figures of his government have been charged with crimes against humanity and are being held at an undisclosed location, believed to be a high-security U.S.-run facility near Baghdad's airport. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari has said he expects an Iraqi tribunal to try Hussein within the year. Hussein's government was alleged to videotape and photograph abuse of detainees to intimidate them and their families.

According to military spokesmen in Baghdad and Pentagon officials in Washington, the photos published yesterday are believed to have been taken about a year ago, when Hussein was held in a small plywood cell with a chair and a desk. The background in the photographs has helped investigators narrow down the time frame, and Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a military spokesman in Iraq, said they are looking at the possibility that one or more of Hussein's jailers is responsible.

Military officials said it is possible that someone created still images from round-the-clock surveillance cameras that monitor Hussein while he is in custody. In the images, it appears that Hussein was not aware he was being photographed. Another possibility is that someone surreptitiously used a small still or video camera, officials said.

Knickmeyer reported from Baghdad. Correspondent Glenn Frankel in London and staff writer Robin Wright in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company