An insider account of the last days guarding, and bonding with, the former president of Iraq.
A group of 12 American military policemen, deployed to Iraq in August 2006, made up the rotating squad that guarded Saddam Hussein over the course of five months in Baghdad while he was tried, convicted, and executed by hanging on Dec. 30. In this alternating account that moves among time periods delineating Hussein’s bloody history as Iraqi leader, as well as the back stories of many of the officers of the U.S. squad and prosecution team, journalist Bardenwerper, a former infantry officer in Iraq and Pentagon fellow, manages to portray a surprisingly sympathetic character in the former dictator. The Iraqi High Tribunal, housed in a former Baath Party headquarters building in Baghdad, had been established by the American victors and “modeled on UN war crimes tribunals.” Presided over by five Iraqi judges (the leading judge was a prominent Kurd) and stocked by many Shia who had been persecuted by Hussein over the years, the court chose to condemn him for crimes against humanity in the specific 1982 incident of a murderous crackdown of 148 Shiite residents in Dujail rather than for the more notorious chemical gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War. At the time of the trial, the air of sectarian violence was rife in Iraq, and Hussein and his defense team—including American lawyer Ramsey Clark and Hussein’s daughter Raghad—were convinced it was a sham trial; Hussein vociferously protested the proceedings in court. Nonetheless, through the eyes of the young soldiers guarding him, the dictator presented as a bland, thoughtful old man who was fastidious in his habits, simple in his pleasures, fond of smoking his cigars in the sun, and discussing his memories with his captors. In skin-crawling detail, the author effectively captures a unique time and place in an engrossing history.
A singular study exhibiting both military duty and human compassion.