Saddam Hussein, who presided over Iraq from 1979 till 2003, claimed that he never went after chemical weapons and the lack of ‘listening spirit and understanding’ on the part of the US and himself led to his fall. In a conversation with a CIA agent days after his capture by the US army, he defiantly resisted questions regarding his decisions and at the same time, enumerated reasons for doing the things he did. That and many other interesting tidbits have been documented in ex-CIA agent John Nixon’s book ‘Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein.’ Excerpts were published on the websites of Time and Daily Mail.
Saddam was captured by the US military in April 2003 after the military invaded Iraq seeing him as a dictator and tyrant who would not budge from his hard-line ways and was out to destroy Iraq. Nixon revealed in his book how the US got this and much more wrong about Hussein and what he found out during conversations with him in the days after his capture. Nixon was then a CIA analyst who was tasked with finding out whether the captured man was really Saddam or a body double, as he was famed to have all over Iraq – a fame that turned out to be untrue.
“How, they asked, would I make a definitive identification?” wrote Nixon, adding that he remembered the tribal tattoos on Saddam’s right arm and wrist, bullet scars on his left leg and that his “lower lip tended to droop to one side.” On the night of December 13, 2003, Nixon was taken to meet Saddam who was “sitting on a metal folding chair, wearing a white dishdasha robe and blue quilted windbreaker.”
Nixon observed that even as a war prisoner, Saddam gave off an air of importance and with his well built body, also towered over the author. In a brief session of question and answer aimed at identifying the fallen leader, the author didn’t get the desired answers but a defiant stand. Saddam was angry about the treatment that was meted out to him as a prisoner.
However, answers to other questions about his regime yielded shocking results. When asked about chemical weapons in Iraq, Saddam said there was no reason for him to use chemical weapons against humanity. Nixon quoted Saddam saying, “We never thought about using weapons of mass destruction. It was not discussed. Use chemical weapons against the world? Is there anyone with full faculties who would do this? Who would use these weapons when they had not been used against us?”.
He then went on to blame lack of communication between Iraq regime and the US, of which he considered himself to be a part too.
Even though the agent acknowledges that a CIA profile of Saddam characterises him as a chronic liar, “yet he could be quite candid,” wrote Nixon. He also claimed that at the end of his regime, Saddam had no clue about what his government was doing or what was going on his country. He was old and bearded and supposedly in bad shape. Saddam claimed otherwise and said he smoked four cigars a day and ate red meat which kept him fit. Nixon himself acknowledged that Saddam looked ‘surprisingly fit.’
Amidst all the claims that US made about Saddam and the findings of Nixon, there seemed to be a disconnect, leading Nixon to say that America got the Iraqi leader wrong, a point Nixon was not able to prove to the then US President George Bush. In his interviews with Nixon, Saddam also said that it would be difficult for anyone to govern Iraq if they did not know the history of the country.
Saddam told Nixon, “You are going to fail. You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq.” When I told him I was curious why he felt that way, he replied: “You are going to fail in Iraq because you do not know the language, the history, and you do not understand the Arab mind.”
After Saddam’s execution, Nixon claimed, this proved incredibly true as one looked at the rise of the ISIS. Nixon wrote, “…in hindsight, the thought of having an ageing and disengaged Saddam in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the wasted effort of our brave men and women in uniform and the rise of Islamic State, not to mention the £2.5 trillion spent to build a new Iraq.”
Saddam was found guilty of crimes against humanity and was executed in 2006 in Baghdad.