Sunday, May 22, 2005

Saddam's Right to Privacy?

The Sun newspaper in Great Britain recently published photographs of Saddam Hussein in prison, and in at least one of the photographs he was pictured in his undergarments. Many of the people who saw these photographs simply laughed at them, but there are serious implications to the whole affair.

The sun defended the publishing of the photos, and according to the BBC claimed that the photos were provided by a US military source because:

"It's important that the people of Iraq see him like that to destroy the myth."

Whether this is true and a part of a US policy, or simply a rationalization by a guard, who may have sold the photographs, was unclear. And of course, one is hard pressed to understand what myth was circulating that could have been dispelled by the photographic evidence that Saddam does indeed wear underwear and puts on his trousers like other people do.

It is possible that the person or person who leaked the photos believed (or based on his avarice he could convince himself of the idea) that it would somehow be beneficial to the US forces for Saddam Hussein to be seen in such an undignified pose. This is, of course, rather silly. US forces are in a struggle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and regardless of whether one likes Saddam Hussein (most Iraqis don’t), the incident does not put the United States in a very favorable light.

It doesn’t compare to the Abu Ghraib photos, of course, but neither does it provide an example of dignified treatment of a Prisoner of War.

The US government recognized Saddam Hussein’s status as a prisoner of war, in January of 2004, although when the US arranged for his arraignment before an Iraqi judge, the claim was made that this status was revoked, even though Saddam had remained in US custody. But because he remains in US custody, he must continue to be accorded the protections of the 3rd Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, of 1949.

Article 13 of the convention states the following:

Article 13.
Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.

Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.

Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.

Obviously, if the phrase regarding protection against “public curiosity” is to have any meaning, the display of such photographs violates it.

None of this is to say that Saddam Hussein is a nice fellow, or that he has some nebulous “right to privacy”, just that all Americans should be concerned about a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

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