Images released on Thursday show a bloody-mouthed Saddam Hussein pressed to the ground with a US occupation soldier holding him up for a joint photo. The soldier’s face has been blacked out.

Another picture shows the ex-president, hair a mess, slumped dejectedly in an armchair.

After the 13 December capture of Saddam Hussein, the US military released an “official” picture of the captured ex-president – both bearded and shaven, and receiving a medical examination.

The International Committee of the Red Cross was quick to condemn the publication of the images, which appeared on the BBC and CNN websites.

“Article 13 of the Geneva states that POWs should not be subject to public curiosity or humiliation – and while the media is not legally bound by the Conventions, we expect it to be an ethical issue for them, that they uphold and respect dignity for all individuals.”

But Pete Clifton, editor-in-chief of BBC news online defended the corporation’s decision to publish the unauthorised Saddam photos regardless of the ICRC concerns of Geneva Convention violations.

POWs are not allowed to be shown
according to the Conventions

'Editorial decision'

“We have taken an editorial judgement and decided to run the images. Saddam Hussein is an easily identifiable person and we are convinced that the pictures are authentic,” Clifton said.

Other BBC journalists, who wished to remain anonymous said wide circulation of the images made it easier for the BBC to publish them as well.

“Public interest has guided us to publish the pictures; I wouldn’t have wanted to be the first person to produce this, but the fact is that they are widely published – has made it easier for us.”

US officials denied having any involvement in the release of the unauthorised photos.

“We released the pictures we thought were appropriate and dignified. We do not have any other photos,” said military spokesman Colonel William Darley.

Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez added to Darley’s comments:

Sanchez did not single out any
news organisations for criticism

“There are no photos of Saddam Hussein on an authorised army website. There are on other websites that are out there, and those are not official photo releases that were done by the coalition. That’s all I have to say.”

No criticism

But absent from Darley or Sanchez’s comments was any criticism towards media organisations that published the unauthorised photos.

During the war on Iraq, US military officials specifically lashed out at Aljazeera TV for airing images of American POWs and dead soldiers.

Officials were quick to accuse Aljazeera of violating the Geneva Conventions by airing the controversial images.

Aljazeera officials declined to comment on the whether or not they felt there was a double standard in how news organisations were treated after airing images of POWs.

Media observers however, suggested that although parading Saddam Hussein in front of the cameras is a violation of the Conventions, it serves as evidence that news organisations will be treated differently depending on what images they decide to air, and who the POWs are.