The televised sight of American prisoners of war drove home the grim human realities of a conflict that had begun to feel like a high-tech game of whiz-bang weaponry on a far-off electronic battlefield.
President Bush, a Navy flier shot down over the Pacific in World War II, seethed with anger. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney intimated Iraq's sordid display of its captives could be punishable as a war crime.And on Capitol Hill, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., one of many Democrats who had been reluctant nine days before to give Bush the green light for war, said Americans may well unite behind the war effort out of a shared "degree of revulsion" toward Saddam Hussein.
Bush charged that the "brutal parading" of POWs violated international law and vowed in starkly personal terms that it will not slow "the prosecution of the war against Saddam."
"America is angry about this and I think the rest of the world is," he told reporters. In the event Saddam hoped to reap sympathy or support from the pictures and coerced statements, Bush said, "he is dead wrong."
In an age of satellite communication, U.S. officials acknowledged the televised sight of American POWs on display in Baghdad was an inevitable consequence of war.
But aside from the scene of gas masks being donned in Israel and Saudi Arabia, Americans and their allies in the multinational coalition arrayed against Iraq had been insulated before Sunday to the human side of the Persian Gulf war.
On one hand, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the sobering pictures from Iraq were not "anything new" in that "there are POWs in every war and parading them is something that's been associated with many past conflicts."
At another level, however unavoidable, it broadened the psychological and political dimensions of a war for which Bush tried to prepare the American people with admonitions that victory would not be won without sacrifice.
Bush warned that Iraqi threats to position the POWs as human shields at potential target sites for U.S. or allied forces would not cause any diminution of an intensive air war designed to cripple Saddam's military.
"I said that when he brutally held hostages that numbered into the thousands," Bush said, "and it's not going to make a difference."
For a second day, the top-ranking Iraqi diplomat in Washington was summoned to the State Department to receive a formal letter of protest. U.S. officials threatened to prosecute Iraq for war crimes for any mental or physical abuse of the POWs.
Bush first raised the war crimes issue Oct. 15. Recounting tales of "newborn babies thrown out of incubators" and children shot to death before their parents' eyes, he likened Saddam's occupation of Kuwait to "Hitler revisited" and noted that "when Hitler's war ended, there were the Nuremberg trials."
The Geneva accord, which spells out standards for the treatment of POWs, provides in part for their protection from "violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity." Like the United States, Iraq is a signatory to the agreement.
Officially, the three Americans displayed by the Iraqis - identified as Chief Warrant Officer Guy L. Hunter, 46; Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun, 28; and Lt. Col. Clifford M. Acree, 39 - still were listed as missing even after their appearances on television.
Though the three were seen and heard, their identities confirmed by friends and relatives, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said they could not be reclassified as prisoners until the Iraqis formally notified the United States of their capture, as required by the Geneva Convention.