Scantily Clad Saddam: Geneva Conventions Violation?


May 20, 2005 -- -- A British tabloid scored big Friday with yet another scantily clad celebrity gracing its cover. This time, however, the cover girl was a man accused of war crimes, including gassing his own people.

A mustachioed Saddam Hussein, 68, appeared in his underwear with the headline "Tyrant's In His Pants" on the front page of The Sun, one of Britain's best-selling newspapers.

The U.S. military condemned the tabloid for publishing the pictures and expressed disappointment that a prison guard allegedly sold them. A military spokesman said the photographs were a year old and may be a direct violation of the rules governing the protection of prisoners of war.

But experts say the Geneva Conventions have become harder to follow as warfare has evolved and enemies break the rules.

The International Committee for the Red Cross, responsible for monitoring prisoners of war and detainees, said the photographs violated Saddam's rights.

"Taking and using photographs of him is clearly forbidden," ICRC Middle East spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas told The Associated Press.

The Geneva Conventions' guidelines require that POWs "be treated humanely" and must not be killed, seriously endangered, mutilated, or subject to medical or scientific experiments. In addition -- and here's where the photos of Hussein could violate the rules -- POWs must be protected against acts of violence or intimidation, and against "insults and public curiosity."

The rules were drafted and adopted during a convention in Geneva in mid-August 1949.

There were actually four Geneva Conventions. The first was agreed to in 1864 and protected all medical facilities, their personnel and any civilians helping the sick. The first convention, originally signed by 12 nations, didn't include the United States. The United States signed the second convention in 1882, which added wounded combatants at sea and sailors to the first convention.

The third Geneva Convention, gathered in 1929, set out specific protections for POWs. Twenty years later, nations signed the fourth Geneva Convention, which reaffirmed the rules of the first three and added protections for civilians during wartime.

The conventions may be showing their age. The rules state that "combatants must be clearly distinguishable from civilians." But some combatants, such as the insurgents in Iraq, no longer wear uniforms with clear insignia, making enforcement much harder.

"There are some challenges faced by the U.S. military in regards to the application of Geneva Conventions," said Mark Garlasco, a senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. "Insurgents are violating the Geneva Conventions to use them as an advantage."

According to the Sun, U.S. "military sources said they handed over the photos in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq."

Garlasco said that overall he thinks the United States makes a good-faith effort of respecting combat laws. "This shows the importance of upholding international law because the moment you violate international law, you give the enemy ammunition to use against you," he said.

In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld criticized the Arab channel Al Jazeera for violating the Geneva Conventions by broadcasting pictures of American POWs. But a year later, photos of U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison provided visual evidence of the U.S. Army violating the conventions themselves.

Charges of prison abuse in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have also fueled Anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world with many critics accusing the United States of not following the rules.

The Bush administration has pledged to abide by the main provisions of the conventions yet maintains that when it comes to the wider campaign against terrorism, those same rules don't necessarily apply.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the Geneva Conventions also protect the uncharged terrorist, noting that anyone who has been captured is entitled to protection until "their status has been determined by a competent tribunal."

As for the former cigar-smoking, gun-toting Middle East bad boy who has been in custody since December 2003, the Geneva Conventions also apply to him. "Hussein is considered a prisoner of war since he was the commander in chief of the Iraqi military," said Garlasco.

His lawyer, Ziad al-Khasawneh, said he would sue the Sun and everyone who helped in showing the pictures. He said this was "an insult to humanity, Arabs and the Iraqi people," according to the AP.

Garlasco explained that since the Bush administration didn't condone the release of the photos, the United States is not in violation of the Geneva Conventions. However, the person who took the pictures and sold them might be.

The military in Baghdad says that it investigating to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. And the Bush administration is also on the case. White House spokesman Trent Duffy said President Bush "strongly supports the aggressive and thorough investigation that is already under way."

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