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Release of photos of bodies raises ethics concerns

Move meant to convince Iraqis Saddam's sons are dead

Uday Hussein, left, and Qusay Hussein
Uday Hussein, left, and Qusay Hussein

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Gallery: Photos released by the United States as evidence of the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein  (These images are very graphic and difficult to view and are not recommended for children and some adults. Viewer discretion is advised.)
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Is the U.S. right to release photos of the Hussein brothers' bodies?

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Graphic images that purport to show corpses of Saddam Hussein's sons hit airwaves and Web sites Thursday, but the ethical debate surrounding their release has been bubbling since news of their deaths became public knowledge.

The arguments for releasing the pictures included that it would show Iraqis that the key figures in the old regime were dead.

On the other side of the argument is that the United States has a long history of not making public pictures of those killed in military actions and that it could open the door for future enemies to make public photos of dead U.S. personnel.

Uday and Qusay Hussein were killed Tuesday in a U.S. raid on a house in Mosul, Iraq, after a tipster revealed their location, U.S. officials say, adding that dental and X-ray records confirmed the identities of the bodies. The U.S.-led provisional authority in Iraq decided to release their death photos to convince Iraqi doubters.

The release of the pictures showing the damaged heads and shoulders of the brothers represents a departure from U.S. practices. (Photos released)

"From a value standpoint, image standpoint as a country, this is not something we do," said CNN military analyst retired Air Force Maj. Don Shepperd. "The fact they [the U.S.-led administration] decided to do this is a significant decision. Of course, there is an overriding reason to do it now. There has to be an overriding reason to do something of this sort and depart from things we've done for decades."

Shepperd said the U.S. government stressed that the U.S. military was not releasing the photos -- the coalition provisional authority was making them public. "What we don't want to do is... set up a situation where every time we have a military operation, we end up with pictures of dead Americans, or us releasing photos of people from a military standpoint," he said.

Paul Bremer, civilian administrator in Iraq, said: "I think it will help convince people that these two people are dead (and) we're making the point that the Baathists are finished.

"Saddam and his henchmen are finished. They're not coming back and the strategic importance of the killings... is to help persuade the Iraqi people that, having liberated the country, we're there and we're going to be sure that these Baathists have no future."

Laws of war established in the Geneva Conventions prohibit showing the bodies of dead or living prisoners of war. The Hussein brothers were not in that category, and human rights group Amnesty International says disseminating the pictures was not a Geneva violation.

At a briefing Thursday afternoon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the release of the photographs was also intended to assure Iraqi citizens that Uday and Qusay Hussein, key members of their father's repressive regime, were dead. (Reaction in Iraq)

"This is an unusual situation. This regime has been in power for decades. These two individuals are particularly vicious individuals. They are now dead. We know that," Rumsfeld said. "They have been carefully identified. The Iraqi people have been waiting for confirmation of that. And they, in my view, deserved having confirmation of that."

Rumsfeld said some of the members of Iraq's interim governing council had been in to see the remains of the slain Hussein brothers, but still the decision was made to release the photographs, allowing other Iraqis to see them as well.

"It was a decision that was made," Rumsfeld said, "and, in my view, was absolutely the right decision."

Before the photos were released, former CIA Director James Woolsey said in an interview with CNN that the step was a necessary one.

"Normally, we would not do this," he said. "But I think it's necessary for the world to see and particularly for the Iraqis to see that these two are, in fact, dead, that this is not some ginned-up story from the United States."

"We've got to put up with a lot of lying about what has happened and what we're doing," Woolsey said. "And I think, under those circumstances, the pictures are going to be necessary."

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