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Iraq under US Occupation

Capture of Saddam Hussein

Project: Iraq Under US Occupation
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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

Category Tags: Military Operations, Political Administration, Hussein's Capture

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

Category Tags: Political Administration, Other Propaganda / Psyops, Hussein's Capture

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

Category Tags: Military Operations, Hussein's Capture

Saddam Hussein in US custody.Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Military Operations, Political Administration, Hussein's Capture, CIA in Iraq

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

Category Tags: Political Administration, Hussein's Capture

Televangelist Pat Robertson says the US should have merely assassinated Saddam Hussein instead of relying on a large and costly invasion to take out the Iraqi dictator. On CNN, Robertson answers a question about his previous warning that God thought the war could be a disaster. Robertson says: “Well, I don’t think God’s opposed to the war, necessarily, but it was a danger sign. I felt very uneasy about it from the very get-go. Whenever I heard about it, I knew it was going to be trouble. I warned the president.… I said, ‘You better prepare the American people for some serious casualties.’ And he said, ‘Oh, no, our troops are, you know, so well protected, we don’t have to worry about that.’ But it has been messy. And I think we’re going to come out of it, though. I think we’ll have a free Iraq. But it certainly has been a mess so far.… Our forces are going to war, and we support them. But if I had been doing it, I think I would have much preferred the assassination route. I think we could have gotten Saddam Hussein a lot easier than this.” [MSNBC, 6/22/2004] In 1999, Robertson advocated the assassination of the leaders of countries such as Serbia, Iraq, and North Korea, as well as Islamic militant leader Osama bin Laden (see August 9, 1999).

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Pat Robertson, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Public Opinion, Hussein's Capture

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