‘ Pris­oner in His Palace’ re­veals dif­fer­ent Hus­seins

Some U. S. guards saw Iraqi dic­ta­tor like a ‘ grandpa’

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE -

Stuck in his per­sonal prison, Sad­dam Hus­sein seemed a be­nign pres­ence to the 12- man band of U. S. guards who watched him as the for­mer Iraqi dic­ta­tor was tried for crimes against hu­man­ity. Smok­ing the Cuban Co­hiba cigars, of which he had an in­ex­haustible sup­ply, the avun­cu­lar Hus­sein amused his cap­tors.

Then they re­mem­bered why they were there, the un­speak­able hor­rors the dic­ta­tor had per­pe­trated, en­cour­aged or al­lowed, and how Hus­sein’s name be­came syn­ony­mous with evil long be­fore his Amer­i­can guards had even joined the mil­i­tary.

Au­thor Will Bar­den­wer­per deftly tog­gles from a non- stop sup­ply of ter­ror to oc­ca­sional scenes of nor­mal life through­out The Pris­oner in His Palace: Sad­dam Hus­sein, His Amer­i­can Guards, and What His­tory Leaves Un­said ( Scrib­ner, 248 pp., eeeg out of four). Sad­dam Hus­sein liked to fish, Bar­den­wer­per writes, but he of­ten caught carp fed on “the dy­ing bod­ies of en­e­mies” that also gave the fish “a taste for hu­man blood.”

Hus­sein’s guards would sit and laugh with him when he told sto­ries about pun­ish­ing his son Uday by set­ting all of his ex­pen­sive sports cars on fire, and then they re­al­ized the pun­ish­ment was for killing Hus­sein’s half- brother and a crowd of in­no­cent Iraqis.

“Bagh­dad un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein had clearly be­come a largely un­rec­og­niz­able place where over­the- top cru­elty was rou­tine,” writes Bar­den­wer­per, a for­mer Army Ranger, in a book that is a brief, but pow­er­ful, med­i­ta­tion on the mean­ing of evil and power.

Each of the 12 mil­i­tary po­lice­men from Fort Camp­bell, Ky., wres­tled with th­ese ques­tions while guard­ing Hus­sein. None of them ex­pected to be watch­ing the man whose al­leged thirst for weapons of mass de­struc­tion trig­gered the U. S. in­va­sions of Iraq in March 2003.

Some wanted to kill Hus­sein in his cell, while oth­ers lamented be­ing stuck be­hind barbed wire and un­able to fight in com­bat. Many, grudg­ingly at first, be­gan to ad­mire him.

The squad’s youngest mem­ber, Tucker Daw­son, qui­etly mar­veled, Out of all the peo­ple in the Army, how did I get cho­sen to do this?” Bar­den­wer­per writes.

Over the course of Hus­sein’s de­ten­tion and trial, each of the MPs would won­der the same thing. All watched with amuse­ment or alarm the cir­cus that sur­rounded the for­mer dic­ta­tor. Hus­sein would lash out in the court­room against the United States and its lack­eys in the new Iraqi gov­ern­ment. Then he’d re- turn to his cell, fire up an­other Co­hiba and chat with guards in his bro­ken English. One guard said the man re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­no­cent peo­ple seemed “more like a grandpa.” An­other said he felt like he let Hus­sein down when the cap­tured dic­ta­tor was ex­e­cuted.

In the end, Hus­sein walked to the gal­lows Dec. 30, 2006, wear­ing a white dress shirt and a dark over­coat, dried tears stain­ing his cheeks. He taunted the small crowd about to watch him hang. Then, the floor opened, Hus­sein fell, and his neck snapped.

On that day, one of his cap­tors re­solved to leave the Army.

2006 FILE PHOTO BY NIKOLA SO­LIC, AP

Sad­dam Hus­sein was grudg­ingly ad­mired for a time by some of his Amer­i­can guards.

2003 FILE PHOTO BY JEROME DE­LAY, AP

Ma­rine Cpl. Ed­ward Chin cov­ers the face of a statue of Sad­dam Hus­sein with an Amer­i­can flag.

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