'Shooting Saddam': Encinitas Cameraman Goes Behind The Scenes Of Hussein Trial
Reporters have a lot to say about the stories they cover. After all that's their job. Often those reporters are not alone. TV videographers are with them. Their pictures bearing silent witness to the event. One man who spent his life behind the TV camera is telling a story about watching history in the making in Iraq. He covered the trial that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein.. Dennis Lynch lives in San Diego and spent a lot of time working for court TV. His book on the trial of Saddam Hussein is called Shooting Saddam. This book takes us back to the time around 2005, 2006 when the Saddam trials took place. It was when the Iraq insurgency was active. Americans in Baghdad were living in the green zone. What was it like when you got there. When I first got there the streets were patrolled by Americans, checkpoints with large caliber machine guns out of the streets. Sandbags, Abrams tanks were frequently parked in the street. Movement was very regulated. Where was the trial held? In the party headquarters. It was secret to us and even once we arrived they did not tell us where was. Until we were able to go over and we said but is this building they told us. The reporters were told not to disclose the locations because it's very close to the Tigris River. What with the TV facilities like? Nonexistent. It was a bombed out building basically. The courtroom itself was a former trophy room made of marble. If floor above it was an empty room that was infested with rat and pigeons. What looked like blood splattered on the walls. They told us you have two weeks to make this a television facility. You told us this is a dangerous trial to cover. But, do you feel in danger while you're there? Absolutely. Mortars and rockets were a daily occurrence. You just learned to live with it. It's the sort of thing where just walking from A to point B and to cure a whistle and a large blood. Sometimes it would knock you off of your bed and funny story of it was, one night there was a lot of gunfire in the streets. I was looking at all of the tracers and I started hearing the sound of bullets coming down. I went back inside and later as it rained I noticed that one of those bullets actually pierced just above my bed. It started raining through that and only had was chewing gum to seal it. I know that there are portions of this testimony that set this one apart for you. All ask you to read an excerpt. It's about the testimony of Dr. Michael Trumbull on the examination of a burial site for Kurds murdered by Saddam's regime. This presentation highlighted only a selected representative group of victims. As he speaks for each person a screen displays how the body was found. The skeleton and followed by recovered personal items. Then Trumbull, using a manikin about the size of the victim shows the victims clothing placed on the inanimate figurine. The images of women's rightly colored olid written clothes draped in jewelry are hunting. Some manikins clutched the spectrum to their past. Some had baby items and twice. Some were bound and blindfolded. Many victims head by selling these into their clothes. Due to Islamic protocol the Muslim male soldiers did not fully hand search the women for papers. With the savagery and degradation a religious act of the soldiers allows investigators to place a name and a face to certain victims. Never forgotten by their families, these vulnerable missing souls who perished so violently long ago, discarded in a heap, and buried, are finally having their say. After being lost souls for 20 years to have returned to make sure Saddam and his thugs don't forget them either. That testimony presentation is not lost on the judges as several doubted their eyes. That was Dennis Lynch reading from his book, Shooting Saddam . It was heartbreaking. In all of the trials I have worked with, for over 16 years, I had never heard testimony so graphic and so moving as Dr. sunny tremble when he was describing how they reenacted through forensic archaeology as to help people died how they moved and twisted and where they felt. How many bullets where the people stood, it was amazing. But there's still thousands of these sites, untouched. They just do not have the resources to go after it. This is 180,000+ people. One of the things I know you've done while you're working with court TV and hearing so many horrendous stories was trying to blend that with a sense of dark humor about your that chewing gum and a part of your memoirs also has your quest for decent cup of coffee. That was a big concern of mine going over there. What I was going to do for coffee. I was excited thinking oh they'll be great Turkish coffee but there wasn't. That was just, I have been a fan of Starbucks so I just always stopped and when I would travel around with court TV would check before we went in, where's the coffee going to be. Tell us some of the high profile trials two of covered Dr. Conrad Murray, Bill Specter, Michael Jackson, I did here in San Diego David Westerfield. Matthew Jackie. You get the sense from talking to people who do not follow these trials, that the public perception of a high-profile trial is different when they get the headline news as it is been seeing it day after day in court? I think so because just the news directors and television radio. They only have a short time to fill. And so you end up getting the most sensational part of the trial. That was something that Saddam Hussein clearly understood. Because he knew no matter what the testimony was, how damaging it was. All he had to do was stand up and start spouting his political speech and that's what would be covered. Everybody would forget all of the atrocities. You're not always too fond of the spectators at trials. In fact you say spectators were really a problem sometimes. When you're covering some of these trials and you see that people are starting to gather at 530 the morning to get into a trial almost like cell at Macy's. Then there out in the lobbies taking pictures and applauding family members like their family members or celebrities. That's really improper. Once they get into the courtroom themselves they act like they're waiting to see a Justin Bieber concert and they're all hyper and craning their necks. A lot of times when this happens the judge is still doing a morning calendar and especially during Jodi Arias, there was a mother making a victim impact about the daughter to the defendant had been found guilty. Spectators were laughing and all this. They were completely oblivious to the pain and reality that this woman was going through. Can you tell us what happened to Court TV? It was sold. It used to be owned by liberty media and NBC. They ended up selling it to Turner broadcasting who wanted to turn it into an entertainment channel. So then it morphed into HLN and then CNN. It's gone now. They dropped the court TV name and turned it into in session. And what we saw was whittled down to about nine hours then 6 hours and then down to 1 hour. I thought it did a great service in educating the public about trials. Some of those trials were not high-profile so. Those were often the most interesting. To me going into some small town, they always had it to where there was some legal or bizarre issue. It wasn't all just sex, murder, drugs. But as time went on that seemed to be a big draw. Iraq is no plate with Isis Terrace and that government is not stable. How does that compare with the hopes of the people during Saddam's trial. Speaking with Iraq is, I did that as much as I could and I realized I had such a unique experience. I wanted to learn as much as I could. They had real hope that there government could work things out. They were actually not unhappy during Saddam's time because they knew where they stood. There was an order. They didn't always like what was going on but you didn't have this insurgency or car bombs. And he does things. So when they started to see projects being held and that the Americans with their, they wanted the Americans to stay until the job was done. Who is to say how long that could've been. They would still be there it could've been 20 years. Because obviously once the American troops left, that vacuum was created. And the animosity between the sin I dash [ Indiscernible ] has exploded. And overwhelmed the process. Looking back, an opportunity that was wasted in a way. I think the biggest problem that the Americans neglected at the time was the elimination of anyone who was the Suni aura bathist. For more on this Dennis Lynch will be talking about his book at Barnes & Noble in Encinitas the Sunday at 2 PM . thank you for coming out.
“Shooting Saddam” is his behind-the-scenes memoir that follows the trial that led to the conviction and execution of the deposed Iraqi leader.
Lynch, who lives in Encinitas, spent most of his career working for Court TV. He was in Iraq when the Iraqi insurgency was active and Americans lived in the Green Zone in Baghdad. He also covered other high-profile cases including the trials of Phil Spector, O.J. Simpson and David Westerfield.
Lynch talks about his life and career on KPBS Midday Edition.