BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq - American officials displayed the corpses of Odai and Qusai Hussein for a group of journalists yesterday, acknowledging that American morticians had reconstructed their faces with putty and cosmetically repaired wounds the men sustained in a shootout Tuesday.
The purpose of displaying the corpses, which were shown on Iraqi television, was to convince a skeptical Iraqi public that the men killed were indeed the Hussein brothers. The release of photographs Thursday showing the bloody and damaged faces of the men was met by widespread suspicion across Iraq.
"The two bodies have undergone facial reconstruction with mortician's putty to make them resemble as closely as possible the faces of the brothers when they were alive," an American military official told one of the journalists who viewed them.
But the display appeared to only aggravate public suspicion.
The photos released yesterday show faces that are clean, waxy and uniform in color - in contrast to the mutilated visages depicted in photos released a day earlier. In addition to repairing their faces, the morticians also cut their hair and trimmed their beards to make both brothers more closely resemble the faces of the men in earlier times.
According to reporters who saw the bodies yesterday, morticians covered a gash across the middle of Odai's face. Incisions were also visible on Odai's left leg, from which doctors removed an 8-inch-long bar that had been inserted after an assassination attempt in 1996.
The immediate effect of the public display of the bodies, and of their continued denial of burial, was to prompt anger throughout the Arabic-speaking news media. Muslim tradition generally requires a swift burial for the dead.
Mohammad Emara, an Egyptian scholar, told al-Jazeera television that displaying the bodies publicly violated Islamic law.
"Under Islamic law, this is rejected. America wanted to boost the morale of its soldiers, so it resorted to this illegal act, which is denounced by all religions," he said.
Emara pointed out the outrage expressed this year when captured American soldiers were shown on television.
"America said during its war on Iraq that displaying pictures of its soldiers who were alive was against the Geneva Convention," he said. "So what about pictures showing disfigured bodies?"