July 24, 2003
To Show Or Not To Show The Corpses

Rantburg reports: "The United States will release photographs of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)ís sons taken after they were killed by American missiles as they resisted arrest in an effort to convince Iraqis they are truly dead." Various bloggers and commenters have also suggested that the bodies need to be shown to the Iraqi public. Tacitus asks "wouldn't publicly displaying the corpses (or photos of the corpses) of the Brothers Husseini present some legal problems?" I think there's something in the Geneva Convention about showing respect for the dead.

Wouldn't a compromise be possible? Why not ask several dozen respected Iraqis to take a look at the actual bodies and tell the masses whether they think they are Uday's and Qusay's? Witnesses could include members of the governing councils, tribal chiefs, senior mullahs, and of course doctors or medical professors to check the X-rays of Uday's injuries and dentists to look at the dental evidence. Perhaps a few random citizens of all classes could be selected by lottery. They would have to be volunteers, since strong stomachs and self-control would be prerequisites.

It seems to me that this would show the Iraqis that we respect their opinions, and their fear of a hoax or mistake, while not allowing a circus-like display or desecration of the corpses. Of course, we would have to make sure none of the witnesses got carried away and started tearing at the corpses or whacking them with their shoes, so a no-touching please-stay-behind-the-rope-line policy would have to be announced and enforced. If any of the women of the Hussein family can be found in or out of Iraq, it would be both polite and useful to allow them to view the corpses, too, assuming they want to, and safe-conduct passes would surely be appropriate.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at July 24, 2003 01:03 AM

Ahh.....good idea!

Posted by: Tacitus on July 24, 2003 08:12 AM

In weighing the impact of having the 'usual suspects' rant and bray about the US being a bunch of meanies for showing pictures of the bodies, as opposed to not demonstrating to the Iraqis that yes, they are in fact dead, I'd vote for showing the pictures.

The photos will come out eventually, so my take is why waste time hand wringing about it.

Posted by: Wind Rider on July 24, 2003 10:14 AM

Eh, I think the problem in Iraq is that folks have gotten into the habit of not trusting anything they can't see themselves, and sometimes not even that. The thought goes "words on paper are words on paper, and witnesses can be intimidated, bribed, or selectively chosen." You can say much the same about video footage or photographs (especially in the era of Photoshop and endlessly mutable-by-editing-suite video), but the emotional, intuitive response to images plays to the street credibility.

I note that Salam Pax is quite wroth about the occupation handling of the affair.

You know, there must be some kind of pragmatic "out" in the Conventions. Being able to prove the death of an enemy leader is important enough that I can't imagine that the Geneva Conventions totally outlawed it. I'm not talking Mussolini-hung-like-a-butchered-pig, but something, y'know?

Posted by: Mitch H. on July 24, 2003 10:26 AM

I'm not getting the objections to showing the photos at all. While I'm a bleeding heart liberal as a rule, I didn't buy the administration's feigned outrage at American prisoners being shown on Al-Jazeera because I believed that seeing people alive guaranteed that they would remain alive, as many non-Americans argued. So too with this...they're bad people, they were part of the oppressive regime, it's war, and they're dead. Do the modern version of putting their heads on sticks...this isn't for the benefit of the weak-livered US cable news watching public, it's for the benefit of the Iraqi people who need to know that their oppressors can indeed no longer harm them.

Posted by: Jane Finch on July 24, 2003 10:52 AM

I'm personally of the opinion that in a case such as this, the Geneva Conventions be damned, string 'em up in the main public square in Baghdad and let the bodies rot. (It's not like they aren't already dead, and as for "respect for the dead", well, some dead don't deserve any respect.)

Figures of a certain notoriety deserve such treatment, ala Mussolini, though we can probably stop before the point of kicking their heads down the streets.

Posted by: Sigivald on July 24, 2003 04:14 PM

We don't need to damn the Geneva Convention, or look for 'outs'. This situation is not covered by any of the Geneva Conventions. These weren't soldiers or indeed any type of lawful combatant. Invoking the Geneva Convention is a red herring. It's rendered doubly moot by dint of the fact that Iraq never ratified or acceded to the Conventions.

Posted by: David Gillies on July 24, 2003 05:32 PM

Not to mention that there isn't any prohibition of showing photos of dead in the Geneva Convention. Evidently Tacitus is confused by earlier references to the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War having a prohibition on exposing prisoners of war to humiliation and public display. Has nothing whatsoever to do with this situation.

Posted by: R Roberts on July 24, 2003 06:30 PM

Iraq DID sign the Geneva convention pertaining to treatment of prisoners, just a nod to the person who believes they did not.

Displaying the bodies as proof of death is one thing. Reconstructing the bodies (with excess parts in a bag alongside on the gurney) and allowing the "media" (who would this be, exactly?) to view the gruesomeness of autoposy incisions and all (while at the same time the faces have been prepped and cleaned and the make up artist has spent a few hours on the job) is plain sick. It's sick. And that's pretty much all there is to it. To claim that it is to benefit the Iraqi people so they "know their oppressors are really gone" is a very lame attempt at justifying this action.

And there's no sense in it: How is reconstructing a person's face with makeup and artist putty going to convince people that these are indeed the "real" guys???!!!!!! Please, let's use some common sense.

Posted by: S. Malady on July 27, 2003 12:31 AM

Not that the bodies have been exposed, your advice seems all the more reasonable.

Either the US believes Iraqis only understand brute force and the right of the strong, and opts to forgo all decency and literally put up the heads on spikes;

or the conquerors/liberators have basic respect for the conquered/liberated -- even though they may not be able to govern themselves just yet -- in which case Dr. Weevil's proposal seems perfect.

Posted by: Alex(ei) on July 28, 2003 03:49 AM

One more time, are we for or against the geneva convention? Or is it only when it is convenient:

"It is against the Geneva convention to show photographs of prisoners of war in a manner that is humiliating for them."

Donald Rumsfeld
March 23, 2003

Posted by: ben harper on May 1, 2004 04:17 AM