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I'm still president: Saddam
Richard Pyle in New York | June 21, 2005 13:27 IST
He talks a lot, worries about germs and insists he is still president of Iraq.
Those and other details of the deposed Iraqi leader's life in US military custody appear in the July issue of GQ magazine, based on interviews with five Pennsylvania National Guardsmen who went to Iraq in 2003 and were assigned to Saddam's guard detail for nearly 10 months.
The magazine, which reached newsstands Monday, said the GIs could not tell their families what they were doing and signed pledges not to reveal the location or other details of the US-run compound where Saddam was an HVD, or "high value detainee," awaiting trial by Iraqi authorities for mass killings and other crimes.
However, the five soldiers told GQ of their personal interactions with Saddam, saying he spoke with them in rough English, was interested in their lives and even invited them back to Iraq when he returns to power.
"He'd always tell us he was still the president. That's what he thinks, 100 percent," said Spc. Jesse Dawson, 25, of Berwick, Pa.
A Pentagon spokesman had no comment on the article.
The GIs recalled that Saddam had harsh words for the Bushes, each of whom went to war against him.
"The Bush father, son, no good," Cpl. Jonathan "Paco" Reese, 22, of Millville, Pa., quoted Saddam as saying.
Spc. Sean O'Shea, then 19, of Minooka, Pa., said Saddam later mellowed in that view. "Towards the end, he was saying that he doesn't hold any hard feelings and he just wanted to talk to (George W.) Bush, to make friends with him," he told the magazine.
Dawson quoted Saddam as saying: "He knows I have nothing, no mass weapons. He knows he'll never find them."
Their description of the man who once lived in palaces and now occupies a cell with no personal privacy matched recently published photos, apparently smuggled out of prison, showing Saddam in his underwear and a long robe.
The story said that once, when Saddam fell during his twice-a-week shower, "panic ensued. No one wanted him to be hurt while being guarded by Americans." One GI had to help Saddam back to his cell, while another carried his underwear.
Saddam was friendly toward his young guards and sometimes offered fatherly advice. When O'Shea told him he was not married, Saddam "started telling me what to do," recalled the soldier. "He was like, `You gotta find a good woman. Not too smart, not too dumb. Not too old, not too young. One that can cook and clean.'"
Then he smiled, made what O'Shea interpreted as a "spanking" gesture, laughed and went back to doing his laundry in the sink.
The soldiers also said Saddam was a "clean freak" who washed after shaking hands and used diaper wipes to clean meal trays, utensils and table before eating. "He had germophobia or whatever you call it," Dawson said.
The article said Saddam preferred Raisin Bran Crunch for breakfast, telling O'Shea, "No Froot Loops." He ate fish and chicken but refused beef.
For a time his favorite snack was Cheetos, and when that ran out, Saddam would "get grumpy," the story said. One day, guards substituted Doritos corn chips, and Saddam forgot about Cheetos.
"He'd eat a family size bag of Doritos in 10 minutes," Dawson said.
The magazine said Saddam told his guards that when the Americans invaded Iraq in March 2003, he "tried to flee in a taxicab as the tanks were rolling in," and US planes struck the palace he was trying to reach instead of the one he was in.
"Then he started laughing," recalled Reese. "He goes, `America, they dumb. They bomb wrong palace.'"
Saddam also said his capture in an underground hideout on Dec. 13, 2003, resulted from betrayal by the only man who knew where he was, and had been paid to keep the secret.
"He was really mad about that," Dawson said. "He compared himself to Jesus, how Judas told on Jesus. He was like, `That's how it was for me.' If his Judas never said anything, nobody ever would have found him, he said."
US officials said at the time that intelligence from several sources led to Saddam's capture.
The magazine said Saddam prayed five times a day and kept a Quran that he claimed to have found in rubble near his hideout. "He proudly showed (it) to the boys because it was burned around the edges and had a bullet hole in it," GQ said.