December 14, 2003


Here's how badly the Democrats have positioned themselves: Dean's statements about Saddam today are being referred to as doing "damage control". When the capture of a mass murdering dictator by your own nation is damaging to your political prospects, it's time to ask yourself what the heck you're doing.

Notes from Saddam in Custody: Saddam is talking, but he isn't cooperative. New details on his capture and his first interrogation (BRIAN BENNETT, Dec. 14, 2003, TIME)

Saddam Hussein was captured on Sunday without a fight. But since then, according to a U.S. intelligence official in Iraq, the fallen dictator has been defiant. "He's not been very cooperative," said the official, who read the transcript of the initial interrogation report taken during the first questioning session.

After his capture, Saddam was taken to a holding cell at the Baghdad Airport. He didn't answer any of the initial questions directly, the official said, and at times seemed less than fully coherent. The transcript was full of "Saddam rhetoric type stuff," said the official who paraphrased Saddam's answers to some of the questions. When asked "How are you?" said the official, Saddam responded, "I am sad because my people are in bondage." When offered a glass of water by his interrogators, Saddam replied, "If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?"

Geez, even Moses didn't hold it in the whole time he was confronting Pharoah.

-Anatomy of Hussein's capture: The cellar floor didn't look quite right ... (Peter Grier, 12/14/03, CS Monitor)

... at least, not in one spot. Bricks and dirt were spread about in a studied way, as if someone were trying to conceal something beneath. So US troops taking part in the early evening "Red Dawn" sweep shoveled the debris away. They discovered a hole, which led to a modest hiding chamber, complete with ventilation fan. The chamber was quite small, considering that it held not just a man but in some ways decades of Iraqi national history. [...]

For the troops that took part in the capture - a total of some 600, from the US 4th Infantry Division, and Special Forces - the raid was not exactly business as usual. They didn't know that Mr. Hussein was their target, exactly. But the operation was clearly a search for an HVT, in military parlance, "High Value Target."

They established a perimeter first, cordoning off an area of about 1.2 miles square in Ad Dawr, near Hussein's birthplace of Tikrit in northern Iraq. After surveillance they become suspicious of a small walled compound between a field and a sheep pen. There were two buildings there: a metal lean-to and a farmhouse, a hut really, just a two-room adobe structure not even nice enough to be described as "humble."

As they approached the compound, at about 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, two armed guards saw them. Undoubtedly hardened insurgents, aware of who was inside the compound, these men saw what was coming - and ran. They were quickly taken into custody.

Inside was a bedroom strewn with clothes that were newish, if not new. A box contained $750,000 in US $100 bills. There was also the suspicious debris, and a rug just outside the structure, which US troops removed. There was not a trapdoor, but a plug, a light styrofoam plank. They pulled it up, and there was HVT 1, Saddam Hussein himself, bearded and tired and looking more likely to ask for a quarter than order a strike of chemical weapons. "He was a little disoriented, obviously, as he came up," said Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, 4th infantry division commander, on Sunday.

The hut was close to the Tigris. Across the river stood some of the ornate homes Hussein had constructed for himself, friends, and relatives in an area that had always been a stronghold of Baathist Party support. "He was in a hole in the ground across from these great palaces that he had built," said Gen. Odierno.

Breakthrough Capped a Renewed Effort to Ferret Out Leads (ERIC SCHMITT, 12/14/03, NY Times)
The hunt for Saddam Hussein ended late Saturday with information from a member of his tribal clan.

Seizing Mr. Hussein, a man who one senior general said had 20 to 30 hide-outs and moved as often as every three to four hours, had become a maddening challenge. Eleven previous times in the last several months, a brigade combat team from the Army's Fourth Infantry Division thought it had a bead on Mr. Hussein and began raids to kill or capture him, only to come up empty, sometimes missing its man by only a matter of hours, military officials here said.

But at 8:26 p.m. Saturday, less than 11 hours after receiving the decisive tip, 600 American soldiers and Special Operations forces backed by tanks, artillery and Apache helicopter gunships surrounded two farmhouses, and near one of them found Mr. Hussein hiding alone at the bottom of an eight-foot hole.

He surrendered without a shot.

"He was just caught like a rat," Maj. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, told reporters at his headquarters in Tikrit on Sunday. "He could have been hiding in a hundred different places, a thousand different places like this all around Iraq. It just takes finding the right person who will give you a good idea

-Hussein's Capture Could Leave Followers Disillusioned (John Daniszewski, December 14, 2003)
The gasps that arose when Iraqis first saw Saddam Hussein filthy, ragged and in American hands could be the sound of the air leaving the insurgent movement.

The former soldiers and intelligence officers who were the backbone of the guerrillas in Iraq have suffered a stunning blow. People who have been sitting on the fence may now be less likely to join the resistance, and some may be emboldened to commit themselves to the U.S. vision for a new Iraqi state. [...]

Meanwhile, the capture should be a boost to President Bush's prestige in the region. He accomplished his goal to capture or kill Saddam in a region that admires strong leaders. He should be able to use that capital to influence events inside Iraq and compel Iraq's neighbors and even European countries to become more supportive of the transition to elections and Iraqi sovereignty, now targeted to take place in mid-2004.

Bearing Questions, 4 New Iraqi Leaders Pay Hussein a Visit (IAN FISHER, 12/15/03, NY Times)
The wild gray beard was gone, and he sat on a metal army cot, just awake from a nap, in socks and black slippers. He was not handcuffed. He did not recognize all his visitors, but they recognized him. That was the purpose of the visit: to help confirm that he was, in fact, Saddam Hussein.

What came next in the Sunday afternoon meeting, according to people in the room, was an extraordinary 30 minutes, in which four new leaders of Iraq pointedly questioned the nation's deposed and now captured leader about his tyrannical rule. Mr. Hussein, they said, was defiant and unrepentant but very much defeated.

"The world is crazy," said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Governing Council member in the room on Sunday after Mr. Hussein was captured near his hometown, Tikrit. "I was in his torture chamber in 1979, and now he was sitting there, powerless in front of me without anybody stopping me from doing anything to him. Just imagine. We were arguing, and he was using very foul language."

The carefully managed event gave the four men who had spent decades opposing the ruler they regard as an oppressor of their country a rare chance to confront him. Though he spoke forcefully, the haggard Mr. Hussein was now the prisoner, and his opponents seemed to gain some legitimacy as leaders through the meeting in which they said they had called him to task on behalf of their nation. [...]

"I was so angry because this guy has caused so much damage," Mr. Rubaie added. "He has ruined the whole country. He has ruined 25 million people."

"And I have to confess that the last word was for me," he continued. "I was the last to leave the room and I said, `May God curse you. Tell me, when are you going to be accountable to God and the day of judgment? What are you going to tell him about Halabja and the mass graves, the Iran-Iraq war, thousands and thousands executed? What are you going to tell God?' He was exercising his French language."

The final ignominy, reduced to French.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2003 8:06 PM

If any of the readers of this blog has the stomach, he/she ought to tune into and riffle through some of the comments regarding Hussein's capture. Don't say you weren't warned.

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at December 14, 2003 8:25 PM

James Taranto does my riffling for me.

Posted by: pj at December 14, 2003 8:26 PM

Ha! Democratic "Underground." Just like Saddam when they found him!

Posted by: R.W. at December 14, 2003 10:25 PM

When asked "How are you?" said the official, Saddam responded, "I am sad because my people are in bondage." When offered a glass of water by his interrogators, Saddam replied, "If I drink water I will have to go to the bathroom and how can I use the bathroom when my people are in bondage?"

Jeez, he almost as mad as Howard Dean...

Posted by: John at December 14, 2003 11:10 PM

When the capture of a mass murdering dictator by your own nation is damaging to your political prospects, it's time to ask yourself what the heck you're doing.

Well put.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 15, 2003 2:10 AM

This is exactly the right question, but Joe Lieberman is not about to rocket to the lead in the Democratic primaries. This is, however, good for Hillary in '08.

Posted by: David Cohen at December 15, 2003 5:57 AM

Let's not forget, Sy Hersh was wrong again, in the
general thrust of his take on Task Froce 121

Posted by: narciso at December 15, 2003 10:28 AM

Well, I've never been on the run and had to move every four hours, but does anyone else find it curious how unkempt the guy was? After all, prewar, Saddam was nothing if not nattily dressed.

I understand why he wasn't wearing an Armani, but even a hood on the lam ought to be able to cut his beard and comb his hair every day.

It seems to say something about his mental state and also, perhaps, the attitude of the people who were helping him.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 15, 2003 3:54 PM

On the other hand, one doesn't have to have read Harry Potter to realize that evil, when injured and vulnerable, may well be at its most dangerous.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at December 15, 2003 4:53 PM