The United States military has condemned The Sun newspaper’s decision to publish the photograph, saying the move possibly contravenes prisoner rights under the Geneva Convention.

The US military has been holding the former dictator captive at an undisclosed location in Baghdad since he was captured in December 2003.

Under the headline “Tyrant’s in his pants,” the newspaper ran a photo of a bare-chested Saddam wearing white underwear.

He appears to be getting dressed and is shown holding an item of clothing.

More intimate photographs of Saddam in custody are published inside the newspaper: one showing him asleep, one in which he is wearing robes and sandals and another washing his clothes in a bucket.

The accompanying story quotes US military sources as saying they handed over the photos in the hope of dealing a blow to Iraqi insurgents wreaking continuing havoc in the country.

“Saddam is not superman or God, he is now just an aging and humble old man. It’s important that the people of Iraq see him like that to destroy the myth,” said the source.

A US military spokesman in Baghdad said the military is trying to establish who took the photographs and determine what kind of disciplinary action should be taken.

“There is an investigation,” said US Staff Sergeant Don Dees. “A policy prohibits us from exploitation of detainees and that policy is in place to preserve their dignity.”

It is believed the photographs were taken over a year ago.

While Saddam has been charged with war crimes, no date has yet been set for his trial.

Before his arrest, Saddam owned 100 palaces, a huge yacht and a fleet of cars.

Now he spends most of his time in a sparsely-furnished jail cell.

“Saddam is just an ageing and humble old man now,” said the source.

“It’s over, guys, the evil days of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party are never coming back… and here’s the proof.”

Saddam’s fellow prisoners include Ali Hassan al-Majid, or Chemical Ali, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, or Chemical Sally — so-called as she was a top scientist in Iraq’s chemical weapons program.

“They’re just old men now, and seem to have accepted their day is over,” said the source.

“They’re just waiting out their fate. Most of them know that means the gallows.”