WASHINGTON – President Bush and the U.S. military on Friday condemned the publication of photographs of a near-naked Saddam Hussein (search) in prison and said an investigation had been started to find who took and released the photos.
A front-page picture in the British tabloid The Sun showed the former Iraqi dictator, clad only in white briefs, folding a pair of trousers. Another on an inside page showed Saddam hand-washing a piece of clothing.
The Sun said it obtained the photos from "U.S. military sources." In the United States, the New York Post ran a story, reprinted the photos and used the same image on its front page. Click here to read the story (registration required).
(The Sun, the New York Post and the FOX News Channel are all owned by News Corp.)
Bush was briefed by senior aides Friday morning about the photos' existence, and "strongly supports the aggressive and thorough investigation that is already under way" that seeks to find who took them, White House press spokesman Trent Duffy said.
The White House (search) declined to say what decisions news organizations should make about disseminating the photos. "That's your job," he said.
With the inquiry ongoing, he also would not comment on how the pictures may affect the U.S. image abroad. But the president downplayed the importance of the photos in stirring up the Iraqi insurgency.
"I think the insurgency is inspired by their desire to stop the march of freedom," Bush said.
U.S. military sources told FOX News that the photo is about a year old judging from the way Saddam looks today. Saddam was captured in December 2003 and remains in custody. He is charged with war crimes, but no date has been set for his trial.
According to the New York Post, closed-circuit cameras monitor Saddam's every movement, including when he is in the bathroom.
The military said it was "aggressively" investigating to determine who took the pictures.
"We take seriously our responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all detainees," a Pentagon statement released Friday read.
Senior defense officials are extremely upset with the release and said the investigation is "very serious."
"If someone thought this was meant to make Saddam look bad, it has really made us look bad," one official told FOX News.
A statement by 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 Red Cross also said the pictures may violate the Geneva Conventions.
Former ambassador Marc Ginsberg (search), who served in various posts in the Middle East, said that given the recent brouhaha over Newsweek falsely reporting that U.S. troops at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Korean down the toilet and recent U.S. efforts to change its image in the Arab world, the timing of the Saddam photos is unfortunately.
"This is a time in which we're tring to repair the damage and these pictures can't do anything but anger Arabs and the Arab world," said Ginsberg, a FOX News foreign affairs analyst.
Bush said he did not think photos of would incite further anti-American sentiment in Iraq. "I don't think a photo inspires murderers," the president said.
"These people are motivated by a vision of the world that is backward and barbaric," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office where he met with the prime minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
FOX News' Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.