The U.S. Defense Department says it did not orchestrate the release of photos of Saddam Hussein in jail, wearing only underpants in one picture, and is investigating how the shots were taken and published.
A statement issued by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq says it is 'aggressively' investigating who took the pictures and how they were made public. The statement says the photos were taken in what it calls "clear violation" of procedures, and appear to be more than a year old. It says the command is "disappointed at the possibility that someone responsible for the security, welfare and detention of Saddam would take and provide these photos for public release."
At the Pentagon, spokesman Brian Whitman expressed regret at the release of the photos. "Clearly these are images that should not have been released to the public," he said.
The pictures were first published by The Sun newspaper in London. The paper reported it received them from a U.S. military source who hoped the humiliating photos would hurt the Iraqi insurgency, which has been conducting an intensified bombing campaign in recent weeks. The Sun quotes its source as saying the pictures show that Saddam is a "humble, old man now" and that they prove that his Baath Party is "never coming back."
But Brian Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman, says the Defense Department did not release the photos officially. "No, it wasn't an official release by the military, and I'm not sure that's an accurate representation of how these things made it into the media, either," he said.
Mr. Whitman acknowledged that the pictures could have been released by an individual soldier, in violation of Defense Department policy. And he said they could be a violation of the Geneva Convention, too. "Well, it's possible. Clearly, these are in contravention to our policies and, depending on when they were taken, possibly could be a violation of Geneva Convention guidelines for humane treatment of detained individuals," he said.
The Pentagon spokesman says the question of whether there was a Geneva Convention violation would in part depend on whether the photos were taken when Saddam was officially a U.S. prisoner, or more recently when he has technically been in Iraqi custody, with U.S. help in providing his security. Either way, he says if a U.S. soldier was involved in the photo release, it would be a violation of Defense Department procedures.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon declined to comment for publication on a New York Times report detailing widespread abuses of prisoners in U.S. custody in Afghanistan. The Times says it obtained a confidential file from a U.S. Army investigation. It reports that young, poorly trained soldiers chained a prisoner's hands to the ceiling of his cell for most of four days, stood on a prisoner's neck and kicked at least one in the genitals, among other abusive practices. The report appears to provide details of incidents that were already known, and which resulted in the deaths of two detainees and criminal charges against seven soldiers.