BAGHDAD, Iraq – British and American newspapers published photos Friday showing an imprisoned Saddam Hussein clad only in his underwear and washing his laundry, prompting an angry U.S. military to launch an investigation and the Red Cross to say the pictures may violate the Geneva Conventions (search).
Britain's The Sun and the New York Post said the photos were provided by a U.S. military official they did not identify. The photos not only angered the U.S. military, which issued a condemnation rare for its immediacy, but also were expected to further fuel anti-American sentiment in a country edging toward open sectarian conflict.
[The Sun, the New York Post and FOX News Channel are all owned by News Corporation.]
"This is an insult to show the former president in such a condition. Saddam is from the past now, so what is the reason for this? It is bad work from the media. Do they want to degrade the Iraqi people? Or they want to provoke their feelings," said Abu Barick, a 45-year-old Baghdad businessman.
President Bush was briefed by senior aides Friday morning about the photos and "strongly supports the aggressive and thorough investigation that is already under way" that seeks to find who took them, White House spokesman Trent Duffy said.
With that inquiry ongoing, he would not comment on how the pictures may affect the U.S. image abroad.
"The investigation needs to take place and the president supports that," Duffy said.
Iraqis gathered in coffee shops in Baghdad and elsewhere watched as some Arab satellite networks showed the front page of The Sun, with its picture of Saddam standing in his underwear. Other photos show him clothed and seated on a chair doing some washing, sleeping and walking in what is described as his prison yard.
In northern Kirkuk (search), Marwan Ibrahim, a 31-year-old civil servant, said the pictures were a "humiliation for a man who in the near past was the leader of Iraq and a top Arab leader in the region."
Others, however, were not so kind.
"Saddam Hussein and his regime were bloody and practiced mass killing against the people, therefore, whatever happens to Saddam, whether he is photographed naked or washing his clothes, it means nothing to me. That's the least he deserves," said Hawre Saliee, a 38-year-old Kurd.
The U.S. military in Baghdad said the photos violated military guidelines "and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals."
"The specific issue here is that these images are against [Department of Defense] policy. It's not the content of the photo that is the issue at hand, but it is the existence or release of the photos," U.S. military spokesman Staff Sgt. Don Dees said.
He added that the military would question the troops holding Saddam as part of its investigation.
"We take seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all detainees," a military statement said.
The military said the source of the photos was not immediately known, but they were believed to have been taken more than a year ago.
The International Committee for the Red Cross (search), which is responsible for monitoring prisoners of war and detainees, said the photographs violated Saddam's right to privacy.
"Taking and using photographs of him is clearly forbidden," ICRC Middle East spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas said. U.S. forces are obliged to "preserve the privacy of the detainee."
Aside from U.S. soldiers, the only others with access to Saddam are his legal team, prosecuting judge Raed Johyee and the ICRC.
Khalil al-Duleimi, Saddam's defense lawyer in Iraq, criticized the American handling of Saddam but said he would not comment on the photographs until he learned whether they were genuine.
"I don't doubt such behavior from the American forces because they don't respect the law. They impose the law of force and the law of the jungle," al-Duleimi said about the pictures being taken. "They don't respect human rights and I expect them to do anything."
Saddam was captured in December 2003 while hiding in a concealed hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. He is charged with war crimes, but no date has been set for his trial.
It is not the first time there has been an outcry over images of Saddam.
Pictures and video images of Saddam being examined by a medic after his arrest were widely criticized — even by the Vatican. A top Vatican cardinal said at the time that American forces treated the captured Iraqi leader "like a cow."