A report on the CIA’s interrogation of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (1937-2006).
Former senior CIA analyst Nixon—the first American to question Hussein at length after his 2003 capture following the fall of Baghdad—debuts with a fascinating glimpse of the “tough, shrewd, manipulative” leader and his views on the U.S. invasion, Iraqi history, and his own role in the Middle East. Tasked with identifying Hussein based on tribal markings (“Holy shit, it’s Saddam!” he remembers thinking), Nixon spent days in a dinghy guardhouse with the charismatic dictator, who proved sane but unlikable, variously cooperative and confrontational, and touted an inflated idea of his place in Iraqi history. Hussein scoffed at the idea that his country had weapons of mass destruction, denied any connection to al-Qaida, and said he had committed no war crimes. He said he was no longer governing at the time of the invasion but was instead spending his time writing fiction. He “loved” the Kurds, against whom his military, acting on their own authority, had used chemical weapons. Above all, he was “dumbfounded” at American ignorance of the Arab world. He thought the 9/11 attacks would bring the U.S. closer to his regime, which opposed radicalism in the Islamic world. Instead, the George W. Bush administration “vastly underestimated” Hussein, viewing him through a “tyrant caricature,” writes Nixon, noting, “no serious Middle East analyst believes that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the United States.” The author is highly critical of both the Bush administration and the CIA. He recounts White House visits during which officials obsessively demanded to know the location of the WMDs and displayed their misunderstanding of Iraq and the region. CIA leaders seemed interested mainly in pleasing the president. Readers are left with the impression that both Hussein and Bush were clueless about the thinking and motives of one another. There are some redactions in the text.
An intelligent and readable postscript to the Iraq War that will be valuable for future historians.