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Context of 'December 14, 2003: Hussein Captured by US Forces'

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While Saddam Hussein is usually well out of harm’s way from US and coalition forces, hiding at various safe houses in Baghdad while American forces fruitlessly attack possible retreats and hiding places he might currently occupy (see March 20, 2003), he does experience one unsettlingly close call. The CIA receives information that Hussein is in a safe house near a restaurant in Baghdad’s Mansour district; a B-1 bomber drops four 2,000-pound bombs on and around the restaurant. The blast kills 18 civilians, according to Human Rights Watch, but, the Joint Forces Command later notes, “Saddam was not in the targeted area at the time of the attack.” However, early this morning, he is in a safe house less than two miles from the route taken by US troops on their second “Thunder Run” into Baghdad. Hussein will hide for two days, then he and his aides force their way into a private Baghdad residence, where they are able to elude capture by US troops searching the neighborhood. He then flees to Ramadi with his two sons and his personal secretary on April 10. He will eventually go to ground near the town of Hit, where he is eventually captured in the so-called “spider hole” (see December 14, 2003). [New York Times, 3/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Human Rights Watch

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Saddam Hussein shortly after his capture.Saddam Hussein shortly after his capture. [Source: BBC]Saddam Hussein is captured by US forces, in an operation given the title of “Red Dawn.” Hussein is hiding in a tiny cellar at a farmhouse in Adwar, a village south of his hometown of Tikrit. Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer announces Hussein’s capture to a group of journalists by saying: “Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.… The tyrant is a prisoner.” According to soldiers present at the capture, Hussein put up no resistance. Iraqi Governing Council head Abdul Aziz al-Hakim says a DNA test proves the man in custody is indeed Saddam Hussein.
Reactions from Western Leaders - US President George W. Bush calls Hussein’s capture “good news,” and White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, “The Iraqi people can finally be assured that Saddam Hussein will not be coming back—they can see it for themselves.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Hussein’s capture “removes the shadow” hanging over Iraq. “Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation and peace between all the people of Iraq.”
Tip from Clan Member Leads to Capture - US military spokesman Major General Raymond Odierno says Hussein was captured within 24 hours of US forces receiving a tip as to Hussein’s whereabouts from a member of his clan. “He was caught like a rat,” says Odierno. “It was ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across the river from the great palaces he built using all the money he robbed from the Iraqi people.” Of the tip, Odierno says: “Over the last 10 days we brought in about five to 10 members of these families, and finally got the ultimate information from one of these individuals.… This was not something that happened overnight. Since we have been [in Iraq] we have collected a lot of intelligence. We always knew that he was relying on family and tribal ties.” It is not known whether that clan member will receive the $25 million offered by the US for information leading to Hussein’s capture. Odierno describes Hussein as “very much bewildered,” and notes that when Hussein was captured, he said “hardly anything at first.” He is described by US officials as polite and cooperative in his captivity.
'Spider Hole' - Hussein’s hiding place, characterized by some US spokesmen as a “spider hole,” was a small hut with two rooms: a bedroom cluttered with clothes, and a kitchen with running water. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] The hut contains some $750,000 in US money. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/15/2003] The cellar where Hussein is found is a tiny, rough-dug hiding place, with a styrofoam cover and a tube to allow air in.
Iraqis Celebrate - In the northern Kurdish town of Kirkuk, people celebrate the news of Hussein’s capture and arrest by blowing their automobile horns and firing guns into the air. [BBC, 12/14/2003; Fox News, 12/14/2003] “We are celebrating like it’s a wedding,” says one Kirkuk resident. “We are finally rid of that criminal.”
Council Members: Hussein Will Stand Trial; Capture Will Bring End to Terrorism in Iraq - Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi says Hussein will be put on trial. “Saddam will stand a public trial so that the Iraqi people will know his crimes,” Chalabi says. Fellow council member Jalal Talabani says that with Hussein’s capture, terrorism in Iraq will cease: “With the arrest of Saddam, the source financing terrorists has been destroyed and terrorist attacks will come to an end. Now we can establish a durable stability and security in Iraq.” [Fox News, 12/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Raymond Odierno, L. Paul Bremer, Saddam Hussein, Jalal Talabani, George W. Bush, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Scott McClellan, Ahmed Chalabi

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

One US lawmaker, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), believes that the story surrounding the capture of Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003 and December 17, 2003) is false. Instead, McDermott alleges, the capture was stage-managed for President Bush’s political benefit. “There’s too much by happenstance for it [Hussein’s capture] to be just a coincidental thing,” he tells a Seattle radio interviewer. When asked if he believed the timing was planned to help Bush, McDermott replies: “Yeah. Oh, yeah.” McDermott notes that the US had “been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was.” He adds that the timing of a recent move by the Iraqi Governing Council to hastily enact legislation for a war crimes court to try former regime members is suspicious. Bush supporters will accuse McDermott of spreading “paranoid conspiracy theories” and “crazy talk.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004] Subsequent evidence will bear out some of McDermott’s skepticism (see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Iraqi Governing Council, Jim McDermott, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Conflicting stories surround the capture of former Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003). Several different military sources say that Hussein was captured through the auspices of an informant, later identified as Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, but stories differ as to how the information was garnered from that informant. “This guy was in interrogation. He wasn’t willingly giving stuff up,” says an officer involved in the capture, leading to speculation that the informant may have been put through harsh interrogation methods to give up Hussein’s location. Religion professor and columnist Ira Chernus writes, “It is hard to avoid thinking about the the dirty word that everyone is too polite to mention, the ‘T-word’: torture.” But the commander of the capture operation, Colonel James Hickey, tells a different version of events, saying: “Once in our custody the informant was cooperative, and he did provide the crucial information. But will he receive the $25 million [bounty for Hussein’s capture offered by the US]? I seriously doubt it.” According to CNN, “It is unclear whether anyone will receive the $25 million bounty because the information leading to his capture came under duress.” Another “senior administration official” says the informant “didn’t provide any information willingly.” Hickey says the informant first gave false information, and “there was three or four hours of questioning before he blurted Saddam’s location.” US officials insist that the informant was not tortured, but merely “interrogated.” News reports also note that weeks before Hussein’s capture, “US forces decided to identify anyone who might have current knowledge of where Hussein was, including former bodyguards, and then to go after them with a vengeance, rounding up their families and friends—women, children, grandparents, everyone. Many of the key clues came in involuntary interrogations of informants.” A US official tells a reporter: “Some people were impossible to find, but we’d find their relatives. One interrogation led to another raid, which led to another interrogation.” And another official says: “You’d squeeze them: ‘Where is Saddam?’ They’d say, ‘I don’t know, but my cousin knows somebody who knows somebody else who might know.’” [CommonDreams, 12/17/2003; Asia Times, 4/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Ira Chernus, Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, Saddam Hussein, James Hickey

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Libya announces that it is giving up its unconventional weapons and ballistic missile programs in response to recent negotiations with the US and Britain. Thousands of nuclear reactor components are taken from a site in Tripoli and shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Later examination shows that the Libyans had made little progress towards developing any sort of nuclear program. Nevertheless, it is a significant breakthrough in the Bush administration’s relations with Muslim nations considered to be inimical to Western interests.
'Scared Straight'? - Bush administration officials declare that the Libyan government “caved” under American pressure and because of the US-led invasion of Iraq; because Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi had approached the US shortly before the invasion of Iraq, it is plain that al-Qadhafi had been “scared straight” by the belligerent US approach to Middle Eastern affairs. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will call that characterization “useful, if wishful.” The threat of a Libyan WMD program was sketchy at best, regardless of Bush officials’ insistence that the US had forced the disarmament of a dangerous foe. But, Scoblic will write, the Libyan agreement serves as “a retroactive justification of an invasion whose original rationale had become increasingly dubious.” The Libyan agreement also “seemed to prove that conservatives could solve rogue state problems in a morally pure but nonmilitary way—that they did not have to settle for containment or the distasteful quid pro quo that had characterized deals like Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea (see October 21, 1994). They could simply demand disarmament.”
Negotiating Disarmament Since 1999 - The reality of the Libyan agreement is far different from the Bush interpretation. Al-Qadhafi’s government has for years wanted to get out from under UN sanctions imposed after Libyan hijackers bombed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Since 1999, the US and Britain have been negotiating with Libya, with the ultimate aim of lifting sanctions and normalizing relations. President Clinton’s chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, said that “Libya’s representatives were ready to put everything on the table” during that time. Bush officials, after an initial reluctance to resume negotiations, were reassured by Libya’s offer of support and assistance after the 9/11 attacks, and resumed discussions in October 2001. Al-Qadhafi himself offered to discuss disarmamement with the British in August 2002. Negotiations opened in October 2002. With the Iraq invasion looming, the Libyans held up further negotiations until March 2003; meanwhile, Vice President Cheney warned against striking any deals with the Libyans, saying that the US did not “want to reward bad behavior.” The negotiations resumed in March, with efforts made to deliberately keep State Department and Pentagon neoconservatives such as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz in the dark “so that,” Scoblic will write, “administration conservatives could not sabotage a potential deal.” The negotiations were led by the CIA and MI6. (Bolton attempted to intervene in the negotiations, insisting that “regime change” in Libya was the US’s only negotiating plank, but high-level British officials had Bolton removed from the process and gave al-Qadhafi reassurances that Bolton’s stance was not reflective of either the US or Britain’s negotiating position.)
Pretending that Libya 'Surrendered' - After the deal is struck, administration conservatives attempt to put a brave face on the deal, with Cheney saying: “President Bush does not deal in empty threats and half measures, and his determination has sent a clear message. Just five days after Saddam [Hussein] was captured (see December 14, 2003), the government of Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program and turn the materials over to the United States.” Administration officials insist that there had been no negotiations whatsoever, and Libya had merely capitulated before the American display of military puissance. “It’s ‘engagement’ like we engaged the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945,” one administration official boasts. “The only engagement with Libya was the terms of its surrender.” And Bush officials claim that the Libyans gave up their weapons with no terms whatsoever being granted them except for a promise “only that Libya’s good faith, if shown, would be reciprocated.” That is not true. Bush officials indeed made significant offers—that the US would not foment regime change in Libya, and that other “quid pro quo” terms would be observed.
Thwarting Conservative Ideology - Scoblic will conclude: “Left unchecked, the administration’s ideological impulses would have scuttled the negotiations. In other words, for its Libya policy to bear fruit, the administration had to give up its notion that dealing with an evil regime was anathema; it had to accept coexistence even though al-Qadhafi continued to violate human rights. Libya is thus the exception that proves the rule.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 251-255]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John R. Bolton, J. Peter Scoblic, Clinton administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Martin Indyk, US Department of State, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

New information shows that Saddam Hussein was not captured (see December 14, 2003) by US forces through the auspices of an informant, as previously reported (see December 17, 2003), but was apparently captured by Kurdish paramilitary forces and turned over to the US. The day of Hussein’s capture, Kurdish media reported that a “special intelligence unit led by Mr. Kosrat Rassul” had captured Hussein. The source of the reports was Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Iranian news services picked up and expanded on the reports. The next day, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council, Dr. Mahmoud Othman, confirmed the Kurdish claims, as did other independent observers. Subsequent Arab news reports indicated that Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, the so-called informant, actually drugged Hussein and told US forces where to find him. But this story, too, is quickly disputed, with experts believing that Kurdish forces intervened, first acting as negotiators for the US, then bypassing the al-Muslit family and seizing Hussein on their own. Once the Kurds had Hussein, they negotiated with the US to stage his “capture.” It is likely that Hussein was drugged, but by the Kurds and not by al-Muslit. One photo of US troops in front of Hussein’s “spider hole” features ripe dates and drying sausage in the background, which usually exist only in late summer, not December as was the announced date of Hussein’s capture.
'Dragnet' - In July, the US Army captured Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit, identified as “one of Saddam Hussein’s closest bodyguards and collaborators.” The al-Muslit family was apparently helping to hide and protect Hussein; later, one of the family members, Mohammed al-Muslit, was identified as the informant who gave up Hussein’s location to US interrogators. In August, another al-Muslit family member, later identified as Adnan al-Muslit’s brother, was arrested by Iraqi police and given over to US forces. The brother was picked up as part of a larger “dragnet” for anyone with possible knowledge of Hussein’s whereabouts.
Allegations, Speculations of Torture - Many were taken into US custody and interrogated. Amnesty International raised questions as to whether some of the detainees might have been tortured; the human rights organization alleged circumstances that “would amount to torture as defined by UN standards.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Kosrat Rassul, Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit, Mahmoud Othman, Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, Saddam Hussein, Jalal Talabani, Amnesty International

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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