WASHINGTON – The U.S. troops who killed Saddam Hussein's sons had no chance of capturing them alive once a gun battle began, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Thursday.
Some Iraqis say they would have preferred that the sons had been captured and put on trial, but Rumsfeld said there was no reason to second-guess the actions of the 101st Airborne (search) troops who carried out the quick-reaction mission Tuesday at a villa in the city of Mosul.
"Given the amount of gunfire that came from that building ... it is I think obvious that there was no chance of taking them alive," the defense secretary told a Pentagon news conference.
He added that "there are people speculating" that the sons killed themselves to avoid being taken alive but that the facts will not be known until the bodies have been more fully examined.
On the broader issue of U.S.-Iraq policy, Rumsfeld said that, despite extensive prewar planning, key government expectations about conditions in the country were shown to have been wrong once a U.S. reconstruction team arrived following the capture of Baghdad in April.
"Once you get on the ground and you find out what the problems actually are, we found there was not a humanitarian disaster" as had been expected, he said. Also, the economic backbone of the country turned out to be "considerably worse than people anticipated, and it has taken longer to ... get it up to speed than anyone would have hoped."
As for the photos released Thursday of the bodies of Saddam's sons (search), Rumsfeld said it was his decision and it was "not a close call." He did, however, acknowledge that it ran counter to the U.S. military's unwritten convention of not showing images of enemy war dead.
"It is not a practice that the United States engages in on a normal basis," he said. "I honestly believe that these two are particularly bad characters, and that it's important for the Iraqi people to see them, to know they're gone, to know they're dead and to know they're not coming back."
Some in the military preferred the photos of the bloodied bodies not be released, out of concern for U.S. war dead in future conflicts.
Rumsfeld said he took this into consideration.
"As the one who made the decision to do it, I can say that it was not a snap decision," he said.
He likened the circumstance to 1989 when the Romanian Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (search) was overthrown and executed.
"It was not until the people of that country saw him — saw his body — that they actually believed that the fear and the threat that his regime posed to them was gone," Rumsfeld said.
L. Paul Bremer (search), the top civilian administrator of Iraq, appeared with Rumsfeld at the news conference. He said the value in releasing the photos lay in making the point that the Baathists who ruled under Saddam "are finished."
Asked about the status of the informant who tipped American troops Monday to the presence of Uday and Qusay in Mosul (search), Bremer said only, "He is safe."
Rumsfeld said he believed that offering proof of the sons' deaths to ordinary Iraqis will have the indirect benefit of saving American soldiers' lives by bringing Iraqi resistance to an end sooner.
"To get closure that those two particularly vicious members of that regime are in fact dead (is), I believe, something that will contribute to more Iraqi people being willing to come forward with information (and) less enthusiasm and heart on the part of some of the lower-level Baathists to continue to fight," he said.
On Capitol Hill, Gen. Richard Myers (search), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the photos release, "I think we have done it in a way, a dignified way, where we don't denigrate the bodies and we don't allow any other atrocities to happen to those particular bodies, and I think it was done appropriately."
Sen. John Warner (search), R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, "It sends a strong message to those still in hiding — be it Saddam Hussein or others — that, `Hey, morale is good among our forces. They are able to conduct the toughest of operations. And if you wish to have the fate that the others experienced — the two sons — stand by."