Does the world really need to see Saddam Hussein in his underwear?

The Pentagon is claiming to be very upset about the photos of a captive Saddam Hussein in his skivvies which grace the covers of today’s NY Post and UK Sun, both owned by right-wing media magnate Rupert Murdoch. The tabloids claimed they had obtained the photos from “US military sources,” who allegedly acted “in the hope of dealing a body blow to the resistance in Iraq.” The all-in-good-fun attitude is not shared in the Arab world. The Saudi-based Arab News wrote that the photos have “reignited the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.”

But the Pentagon, for its part, claims not to be amused either. “These photos were taken in clear violation of Department of Defense directives and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals,” a military statement issued in Iraq said, promising an investigation. “The source of these photos is unknown at this time. It is believed the photos were taken a year ago.” (NYT, May 20) Those in the habit of reading the Post over coffee and a donut in the morning will have reasons of their own to wish The Rupe had spared His Badness this particular indignity.

One of Saddam’s lawyers responded that it is “regrettable” that the pictures were published, but he is more concerned that U.S. and Iraqi authorities are flouting the former Iraqi president’s legal rights by keeping him jailed without issuing an indictment. Giovanni di Stefano–interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer–expressed outrage that the former dictator has not been charged since he was taken into custody in December 2003. “When is this man going to be charged? This is what the whole world wants. Never mind about photographs of Saddam Hussein in his underpants. That will be dealt with by the Pentagon and their aggressive inquiry,” an apparent sarcastic reference into the U.S. military’s expressed intention to get to the bottom of how the photos got in the newspaper. (CNN, May 20)

The Iraq Museum website includes a brief biography Giovanni di Stefano, an Italian transplant to Britain, noting that he has also represented Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serb warlord Arkan and Jonathan King, a British pop-music impresario convicted of sexual offences against children. It claims he has a shady past of his own, and is not recognized as a lawyer in the UK, where he was convicted on fraud charges in 1986. The page also claims he is founder of the UK “Radical Party,” which it portrays as inspired by Mussolini’s Fascist Party. However, if Di Stefano’s Radical Party is linked to the Italy-based Transnational Radical Party (which is slightly cultish, but not fascistic), this may not be quite accurate. The founding manifesto of di Stefano’s Radical Party claims to be independent of all other European parties of that name, and does not invoke Il Duce.

Amnesty International also expresses concerns that Saddam’s access to legal counsel has been limited, and that press access was restricted at his one hearing so far. As we noted at the time of the hearing last July, Saddam has been “officially” transfered to Iraqi custody, but continues to be held by the U.S. military at an unknown location, and it remains unclear who will try him on what charges. At least one of the judges who is to try him as been assassinated.