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.
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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.)
More revealing pictures were published Saturday in the British tabloid, The Sun, including one of Saddam seen through barbed wire wearing a white robe-like garment, and another of Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali (search )," in a bathrobe and holding a towel.
Saddam's lawyer said the photos were leaked by U.S. forces.
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"It is clear that the pictures were taken inside the prison, which means that American soldiers have leaked the pictures," said the ex-dictator's chief attorney, Ziad al-Khasawneh. He said the photos "add to acts that are practiced against the Iraqi people, and of course we remember what happened in Abu Ghraib and we remember what happened in Guantanamo."
The Sun said the photos it published Friday and Saturday were provided by a U.S. military official it did not identify who hoped their release would deal a "body blow" to the insurgency.
Sun managing editor Graham Dudman said that the newspaper paid "a small sum" for the photos. He would not elaborate except to say it was more than 500 British pounds, which is about $900.
Saddam's attorney said he would sue the newspaper "and everyone who helped in showing these pictures."
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.
Officials also are attempting to determine whether the images were taken from a surveillance camera or hand-held camera. In any case, release of the photos was a violation of U.S. procedures, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
According to the New York Post, closed-circuit cameras monitor Saddam's every movement, including when he is in the bathroom.
"This is something that should not have happened," Whitman said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said Rumsfeld was informed of the photos' publication and told that the matter is being "aggressively" investigated by U.S. officials in Iraq.
"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 Koran down the toilet and recent U.S. efforts to change its image in the Arab world, the timing of the Saddam photos is unfortunate.
"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.
Later, however, Duffy said the photos could be perceived by members of the insurgency in much the same way as revelations of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib (search) prison in Iraq.
"This could have serious impact, as we talked about, with the revelations of prisoner abuse," he said. "What the United States did in both of those situations, however, is recognize that, take immediate steps to investigate and get to the bottom of why it happened and how it happened and take steps to make sure that ... people are held to account."
Alongside the photo of Saddam in Saturday's editions, The Sun ran photos of a man and a woman. They were identified as al-Majid, who faces charges for his role in poison gas attacks against Iraq's Kurdish minority, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash (search), a biotech researcher dubbed "Mrs. Anthrax." who got her nickname for her alleged role in trying to develop bio-weapons for Saddam.
The man, grizzled and gray, is shown hunched wearing a bathrobe, leaning on a cane and holding a towel as he rises out of a chair. The woman can be seen wearing a headscarf, walking outdoors and looking forlornly in the distance.
Sen. Patrick Leahy told FOX News that the media isn't necessarily to blame, in this case, for any violent acts done by insurgents.
"I don't blame the news media for reporting they had him [pictures of Saddam], I blame the people who took them and I agree with President Bush that this is probably, in all likeliehood, is a violation of the Geneva Convention. I'm glad to see our Pentagon looking into it," the Vermont Democrat told FOX News.
"The person who took it should be punished but if anybody's claiming it's going to inflame passions, come on, the president is actually right ... these are evil people doing evil things."
FOX News' Bret Baier and The Associated Press contributed to this report.