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Five Years Later, How They Got Saddam Hussein


Iraq's government had just been overturned when a U.S. Army staff sergeant stepped into an interrogation room. He faced a prisoner in Iraq. The year was 2003; it was December, five years ago. And as the interrogator recounts it, he began the conversation this way.

Staff Sergeant ERIC MADDOX (Retired, U.S. Army; Author, "Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein - As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture"): My name is Eric Maddox. I told the prisoner - we sat face to face - I've been looking for you for a long time, Mohammed Ibrahim. I need you to listen to me very carefully. You and I will be talking about just one thing: the exact location of Saddam Hussein.


INSKEEP: That prisoner did lead you U.S. troops to the Iraqi leader five years ago this weekend. Now, the interrogator, Eric Maddox, has co-authored the book called "Mission: Black List #1." That's a reference to Saddam's position at the top of list of fugitives. The U.S. military was still searching for Saddam as Eric Maddox received orders to head for the Persian Gulf.

Staff Sgt. MADDOX: When I got to Iraq in the summer of '03, I had no idea who we were going after. And I spoke to and interrogated several hundred prisoners, and it was their information that led me to this very unknown pocket of inner-circle bodyguards that I believed could take me to Saddam - could take us to Saddam. From there, I was able to identify their social network of family members and friends and drinking-buddies and distant relatives.

INSKEEP: Did you end up, like those detectives on television, with a bulletin board of some kind, covered with photographs and names and lines connecting different people?

Staff Sgt. MADDOX: We did. And one of the things I'm most proud about, the hunt for Saddam, is that this link diagram was unlike the typical military link diagram that involved wanted individuals. I wasn't going after individuals because of what they'd done; I was going after individuals because of what they knew and what they could tell me.

INSKEEP: And your theory was that there were going to be some low-ranking people somewhere who knew something about helping this Iraqi leader to hide.


Staff Sgt. MADDOX: Absolutely. And that theory came about - after talking to hundreds of detainees, the two names that were coming up for me was this Mohammed Ibrahim and this Sowan Ibrahim(ph), his brother. I just made a leap that those two may have direct contact with Saddam while running the insurgency.

INSKEEP: There must have been people who immediately cooperated with you and people who were extremely uncooperative, which makes me wonder if you ever did get close to a moment where you really wanted to hit the guy.

Staff Sgt. MADDOX: There's - intensity in interrogations is always very high. And you're absolutely right. Sometimes people talk quickly; sometimes they never talk at all. But if I'm going to get an individual to cooperate with me, it does me no good to be threatening or be brutal, because he must trust me. He has to trust me, and for us to build that, you don't do it through beating. You don't do it through coercion. You don't do it through threats. It's absolutely counterproductive.

INSKEEP: You described this process more than once as a negotiation.

Staff Sgt. MADDOX: It is a negotiation. I have to set the circumstances for a very clear negotiation. What I try to establish is a situation that can give the prisoner the absolute best situation, which is usually no detention, a potential release and the understanding that we no longer need to go find any of their social-network members, whether it's their driver or brother or other individuals who are intertwined in this mafia-like insurgency, or the situation of undetermined, long-term detention.

INSKEEP: I want to ask one more thing about the negotiation with this prisoner Mohammed Ibrahim. You write that he said, I want protection for all of my family members and there are about 40 that you need to worry about. And you said, deal, even though you knew there was no way that the U.S. was going to be able to provide round-the-clock protection for 40 people.

Staff Sgt. MADDOX: That is correct.

INSKEEP: Do you what happened to those 40 people?

Staff Sgt. MADDOX: I do not know what happened to them. I know that a few days after Saddam was captured, millions of dollars were found at one of Mohammed Ibrahim's farms. When you find that sort of money, deal's off.

INSKEEP: And Mohammed Ibrahim, what happened to him?

Staff Sgt. MADDOX: Mohammed Ibrahim, as far as I know, is still in prison. I don't keep updated on his status. Once we got Saddam Hussein, my mission was accomplished and I'd started looking forward to the next mission, next individuals that need to be brought down.

INSKEEP: That's Eric Maddox, who served as a U.S. Army interrogator in Iraq. He co-authored "Mission: Black List #1."

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INSKEEP: You're listening to Morning Edition from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.