Wearing a pair of white Y-fronts, Saddam Hussein was splashed across The Sun and the New York Post in 2005, a global scoop by Rupert Murdoch’s voracious news empire.
At the time the US President, George W Bush, announced an inquiry into how the papers had acquired the image of the “Beast of Baghdad” while he was in the custody of US troops in Iraq.
Now the picture is again a matter of controversy, following a claim that Mr Murdoch’s holding company, News Corporation, obtained it by bribing a member of the US military. The American news website The Daily Beast asked: “Did News Corp illegally purchase Saddam Hussein picture from US officials?” It reported: “Sources close to the story have told The Daily Beast that the payment was significantly greater [than £500] and was made to a US official on American soil.”
So far, 54 people in the UK — including 11 senior journalists on The Sun — have been arrested by a Metropolitan Police investigation into alleged payments to police and other public officials.
Detectives on that inquiry, Operation Elveden, are not thought to be investigating the Saddam Hussein picture.
The US Department of Justice, the FBI, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission are already investigating whether the firm broke the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing police and public officials in the UK.
News Corp last night declined to say whether it had used bribery to acquire the photograph of the former Iraqi President, which appeared simultaneously on the front pages of The Sun (“The Tyrant’s in His Pants”) and New York Post (“Butcher of Sagdad”) on 20 May 2005.
The US military estimated it had been taken at a US prison complex near Baghdad, called Camp Cropper, between January and April 2004 when Hussein was awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.
The Sun’s then managing editor, Graham Dudman, said at the time that the paper had obtained the picture of Hussein and other high-profile jailed Iraqis “by professional journalistic methods”. Mr Dudman later said that the newspaper paid “a small sum” of more than £500 for the photos.
News International declined to comment on The Daily Beast’s story. A News Corporation spokeswoman said: “This is just a lame attempt to regurgitate old news. All of this was widely reported on in 2005. We didn’t believe then, and certainly don’t believe now, that it was wrong to acquire and publish newsworthy photographs of a notorious war criminal.”
She declined twice to say whether or not the image had been obtained by bribery, saying: “The company believes it wasn’t wrong to acquire and publish the photos of Mr Hussein.”