In last days, Saddam gardened, listened to Mary J. Blige
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In last days, Saddam gardened, listened to Mary J. Blige

New book explores the daily life of Iraqi dictator as he stood trial for war crimes while in US custody

In this Dec. 6, 2006 file photo, former Iraq leader Saddam Hussein sits in court in Baghdad, Iraq, during the trial against him. (AP Photo/Chris Hondros, Pool, File)
In this Dec. 6, 2006 file photo, former Iraq leader Saddam Hussein sits in court in Baghdad, Iraq, during the trial against him. (AP Photo/Chris Hondros, Pool, File)

In his final days, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein liked to garden and listen to American hip hop artist Mary J. Blige, according to a new book about the US soldiers who guarded the ex-tyrant until his execution.

Will Bardenwerper’s book, “The Prisoner in His Palace: Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid,” explores the relationship between a group of US military police personnel who guarded the jailed Iraqi leader while he stood trial for war crimes.

Hussein was captured by US forces in 2003, and until his execution three years later he was guarded by 12 members of a Military Police unit who dubbed themselves The Super Twelve.

Bardenwerper says the American guards eventually got to know the former dictator and found him to be a surprisingly pleasant man who appreciated the simple pleasures during his captivity.

The guards recall him contentedly sitting in his small cell, or on the outside patio. Hussein regularly tended to a small dirt patch he called his garden where he would smoke Cuban cigars that he had stashed in a wet wipes container. They also said he enjoyed riding an old exercise bike he named his “pony.”

Mary J. Blige at a ceremony for Doug Morris to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in January 2010. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)
American singer Mary J. Blige in January 2010. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)

The guards told of Saddam’s unusual eating habits. Not only did the ex-Iraqi leader have a sweet tooth, he was a notoriously picky eater.

He liked to have his food meticulously organized on his plate, according to Bardenwerper. “If a piece of food was imperfect, like a torn omelette, he refused to eat it.”

He also enjoyed listening to the radio while in captivity. “He’d always stop tuning if he stumbled across a Mary J. Blige song,” says Bardenwerper.

Hussein opened up to the guards about fatherhood and his family life. At one point he told the guards how he burned hundreds of his son Uday’s luxury cars as punishment for killing several people at a nightclub.

“Laughing wildly, the former dictator recalled how he gleefully watched the inferno,” Bardenwerper writes.

But Bardenwerper remains somewhat skeptical of the authenticity of Hussein’s overtures.

“I think that is kind of the million-dollar question: to what extent was this an elaborate manipulation or act, and to what extent was this a genuine human connection that developed between these groups of people,” Bardenwerper told The New York Post over the weekend. “And ultimately, I don’t know if that question can be answered.”

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