Friday, January 09, 2004

The New Saddam Pic and the Law of Land Warfare 
My guess: the new Saddam photo is almost certainly real.

Soldiers routinely carry digital cameras on patrol. We use them to photograph IEDs, suspects, and weapons on the scene, and to process EPWs and make the processing easier. It's the same as any crime investigator. You catch guys planting IEDs red-handed, you want to photograph them, AT the scene, WITH the evidence, WITH the mortar shells still in the trunk of their car, WITH the grid coordinates at your location.

Basically, you're building an airtight case for detention.

And soldiers would certainly want to get an "I was there" shot with Mr. Saddam Hussein himself. Anyone who doesn't think so hasn't been around regular people around celebrities much.

But the London Telegraph is missing something huge, here.

The military didn't want the photo distributed because of the security risk. Everybody and his brother knows what unit it was that captured Hussein. You can't make out the guy's face in the photo. You can't read a nametag. There's no identifying information there you couldn't get from CNN or the guy's wives' bragging about how their men captured the Ace of Spades back home.

And it wasn't a matter of the military misreading 'the views of the guys in the trenches.' It really doesn't matter how the guys in the trenches feel in this case.

The fact is that this photo is, technically, in probable violation of the Law of Land Warfare, which prohibit humiliating trophy photos of prisoners of war.

I'm surprised the Telegraph missed the angle. It seems to me like the proverbial elephant in the tent.

There was some discussion over the legality of releasing the video of Saddam Hussein undergoing his medical exam for that same reason. In that case, I think both the coalition forces and the people of Iraq had an overriding interest in dispelling any doubt over Hussein's capture by airing the video. Especially in light of the reaction to the deaths of Uday and Qusay last July, when a lot of Iraqis refused to believe it at first.

That done, though, this picture should not have been released to the media.

Obviously this was not an intentional violation--merely the overeagerness of some soldier who's not exactly a Law of Land Warfare scholar to share his moment of glory.

I don't fault the Army for this. I don't even particularly fault the soldiers for it. Heck--how many times do you get a chance to be in a photo like THAT???? It's just one of those things.

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