Published on Dec 18, 2016
Published on Dec 18, 2016
CIA analyst John Nixon grilled the ruthless dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein
I had been up for 27 hours and was flat-out exhausted, but the news sent jolts of adrenaline through me like I’d never experienced before.
A Special Forces team hunting the man we called High Value Target No 1 had pulled someone from a hole in the ground. He answered the description.
And my bosses at the CIA were grilling me, the expert.
Could this burly, unkempt man truly be Saddam Hussein, the ruthless dictator of Iraq? The most wanted man in the world?
Scroll down for video
Could this burly, unkempt man truly be Saddam Hussein, the ruthless dictator of Iraq? The most wanted man in the world?
It was December 13, 2003, and I’d been in Iraq for eight weeks – a CIA analyst looking for leads that might take us to Saddam and his notorious henchmen. That was when I was called to see Buzzy Krongard, the CIA’s executive director.
The war to topple the regime had been going for nearly nine months, yet when it came to Saddam, all we’d turned up were ‘Elvis sightings’, as we called them. Until, that is, troops searching a farm near Saddam’s home village of Tikrit found a large bearded man concealed in a tiny underground bunker.
Now a group of senior officers were quizzing me in Krongard’s office; how, they asked, would I make a definitive identification? I told them about the tribal tattoos on Saddam’s right hand and wrist, the bullet scar on his left leg and that his lower lip tended to droop to one side, something I picked up from studying videotapes.
Krongard interrupted me: ‘We need to make sure this is Saddam and not one of those body doubles.’
The myth – and it was a myth – that Saddam maintained multiple lookalikes was a source of wry amusement to those of us who worked in intelligence, but I decided silence was the better part of valour and started compiling a list of questions only the dictator could answer.
The military was flying the putative Saddam to Baghdad airport that night and it was decided we’d make the identification there.
In late 2007, I was summoned to give a detailed presentation to George W. Bush at the Oval Office. What kind of a man had Saddam been, he asked me?
At midnight, after a long wait, the convoy was ready. Men in night-vision goggles drove us at 100mph down the Airport Road, a no-go zone at night. At the airport, a side road led to a series of low-slung blockhouses that once housed Saddam’s Special Republican Guard. Inside, I found pandemonium and another wait until finally a GI said, ‘OK, guys. You’re up.’
Suddenly the door opened and I immediately found myself sucking in air. There he was, sitting on a metal folding chair, wearing a white dishdasha robe and blue quilted windbreaker.
There was no denying that the man had charisma. He was big – 6ft 1in – and thickly built. Even as a prisoner who was certain to be executed, he exuded an air of importance.
Author John Nixon
I spoke first through a translator. ‘I have some questions I’d like to ask you, and you are to answer them truthfully. Do you understand?’
Saddam nodded. ‘When was the last time you saw your sons alive?’
I expected Saddam to be defiant, but I was taken aback by the aggression of his reply: ‘Who are you guys? Are you military intelligence? Mukhabarat [civilian intelligence]? Answer me. Identify yourselves!’
I noted his tribal tattoos and that his mouth drooped. Now I needed to see his bullet wound.
There was so much we wanted to know. How had he escaped from Baghdad? Who had helped him? He would not say, answering only the questions he wanted to.
‘Why don’t you ask me about politics? You could learn a lot from me,’ he barked. He was especially vocal on the rough treatment he’d received from the troops who brought him in, launching a long diatribe.
I was incredulous. Here was a man who didn’t think twice about killing his own people complaining about a few scratches. He lifted his dishdasha to show the damage to his left leg. I saw an old scar. Was it the bullet wound, I asked him. He assented with a grunt – the final piece of proof. We’d got him.
Capturing Saddam was all very well, but now we had to get to the truth about his regime, and in particular the weapons of mass destruction that had been the pretext for the invasion. His response was simply to mock us.
Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein moments after his capture by US forces
‘You found a traitor who led you to Saddam Hussein. Isn’t there one traitor who can tell you where the WMDs are?’ He warmed to the subject, saying Americans were a bunch of ignorant hooligans who did not understand Iraq and were intent on its destruction.
‘Iraq is not a terrorist nation,’ he said. ‘We did not have a relationship with (Osama) bin Laden, and did not have weapons of mass destruction… and were not a threat to our neighbours. But the American President [George W Bush] said Iraq wanted to attack his daddy and said we had ‘weapons of mass destruction.’
Ignoring his goading, we asked Saddam if he’d ever considered using WMDs pre-emptively against US troops in Saudi Arabia. ‘We never thought about using weapons of mass destruction. It was not discussed. Use chemical weapons against the world? Is there anyone with full faculties who would do this? Who would use these weapons when they had not been used against us?’
This was not what we had expected to hear. How, then, had America got it so wrong?
Saddam had an answer: ‘The spirit of listening and understanding was not there – I don’t exclude myself from this blame.’ It was a rare acknowledgment that he could have done more to create a clearer picture of Iraq’s intentions.
Was he playing with us, twisting the truth to spare his pride?
Debriefing The President: The Interrogation Of Saddam Hussein, by John Nixon, is published on December 29 by Bantam Press at £16.99
I asked about his notorious use of chemical weapons against the Kurdish city of Halabja during the Iran-Iraq war. He became furious. ‘I am not afraid of you or your president. I will do what I have to do to defend my country!’
Then he turned to me and sneered: ‘But I did not make that decision.’
We decided to close the briefing. As Saddam left the room, he glared at me. I have annoyed quite a few people in my life, but no one has ever looked at me with such murderous loathing.
My superiors were delighted at the progress we were making, yet something nagged at me about the exchange. My gut told me that there was some truth in what Saddam had said. He was incensed about Halabja. Not because his officers had used chemical weapons – he showed no remorse – but because it had given Iran a propaganda field day.
It was not the only thing that would surprise me. For example, in my years studying Saddam, I never doubted the received wisdom that his stepfather in Tikrit beat him. Many eminent psychiatrists who had analysed him from afar said this was why Saddam was so cruel and why he wanted nuclear weapons.
Yet, in the course of my further interrogations, Saddam turned our assumptions upside down, saying his stepfather was the kindest man he had ever known: ‘Ibrahim Hasan – God bless him. If he had a secret, he would entrust me with it. I was more dear to him than his son, Idham.’
I asked about the CIA’s belief that Saddam suffered great pain from a bad back and had given up red meat and cigars. He said he didn’t know where I was getting my intelligence, but it was wrong. He told me he smoked four cigars every day and loved red meat. He was also surprisingly fit.
The CIA profile of Saddam suggested he was a chronic liar, yet he could be quite candid. Our perception that he ruled with an iron grip was also mistaken. It became clear from our interrogations that in his final years, Saddam seemed clueless about what had been happening inside Iraq. He was inattentive to what his government was doing, had no real plan for the defence of Iraq and could not comprehend the immensity of the approaching storm.
Saddam was quick, too, to deny involvement in 9/11. ‘Look at who was involved,’ he said. ‘What countries did they come from? Saudi Arabia. And this [ringleader] Muhammad Atta, was he an Iraqi? No. He was Egyptian. Why do you think I was involved in the attacks?’
Saddam had actually believed 9/11 would bring Iraq and America closer because Washington would need his secular government to help fight fundamentalism. How woefully wrong he had been.
During our talks, we often heard muffled explosions. Saddam inferred things were not going well for the US forces and took pleasure in the fact. ‘You are going to fail,’ he said. ‘You are going to find that it is not so easy to govern Iraq.’ History has proved him right. But back then, I was curious why he felt that way.
‘Because you do not know the language, the history, and the Arab mind,’ he said. ‘It’s hard to know the Iraqi people without knowing its weather and its history. The difference is between night and day and winter and summer. That’s why they say the Iraqis are hard-headed – because of the summer heat.’
Doting dad: Saddam and Rana
The only time Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein showed any emotion during my interviews was when we discussed his daughters, Rana and Raghid.
This is being reported as an honest mistake. Surely they wouldn’t do this on purpose, would they? (<– That was both rhetorical and sarcastic.)
McDonalds has come under fire for putting a subliminal of a butt on their “warmest greetings” holiday cup.
Well, not officially… They just happened to position two mittens at a certain angle so it can easily be turned into a pair of hands spreading a pair of butt cheeks apart.
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Just… see for yourself:
Published on Dec 14, 2016
Accident? That’s not even how the company is portraying it. In fact, they aren’t directly addressing it at all except to claim the design is really just mittens and people are reading too much into it. They told HuffPo:
“Our festive McCafé cups are of mittens not hands. The altered image circulating on social media is the result of someone getting a little cheeky and adding some hand-drawing to a cup.”
A little “cheeky” eh? How clever. The company doesn’t seem all that concerned that its customers are walking around drinking brown liquid out of a cup that many people think has a giant butt on it.
As Inverse.com points out in “Your Brain Is Programmed to See the McDonalds Butt Cup”:
The McDonald’s mittens are not ambiguous stimuli — they were clearly and purposefully designed by some ad person. But the pareidolia phenomenon [an information-filling phenomena of the brain] also touches on the fact that the brain is a predictive organ. If it wasn’t clear to you at first that those white spaces were mittens, then the mind will jump to the first thing that does make sense — and here, what makes sense for a lot of people is a butt.
We’re living in Idiocracy people. Plain and simple.
Believe it or not, this managed to get even worse; the NSFW cup has been made even more disgusting by poking a hole in it.
Seven US senators urged the Obama administration to declassify the 6,770-page Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program so the public could have a full account of past torture practices.
White House counsel Neil Eggleston, in responding to the request, said the president had told the National Archives and Records Administration that access to the classified material should be shielded from public access requests for 12 years.
“At this time, we are not pursing declassification of the full study,” Eggleston wrote in a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D, California).
— Military.com (@Militarydotcom) December 13, 2016
After 12 years, a record request to Obama’s archives would prompt a process to consider declassification.
Senator Feinstein, who spearheaded the investigation and declassification request said she was pleased the report was being preserved in Obama’s archives but acknowledged the rejection for immediate declassification.
“It’s my very strong belief that one day this report should be declassified,” Feinstein told the AP. “This must be a lesson learned: that torture doesn’t work.”
Barack Obama To Archive Torture Report, Declassify After 12 Years. https://t.co/mWRXqh5BVi
— US President News (@President) December 12, 2016
The 525-page executive summary of the report was released in late 2014 and citied CIA documents that showed the interrogation program was more brutal than previously understood. It provided details on the abuse of 119 prisons, including five men facing trial by military commission at Guantanamo for their alleged roles planning and aiding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The summary showed that the ‘enhanced’ interrogation didn’t yield any unique intelligence that couldn’t have ordinary been acquired from regular interrogation techniques.
Senator Wyden (D, Oregon) said he will start “on the very first day of the new session building a bipartisan coalition to get the study declassified.”
“The American people deserve the opportunity to read this history rather than see it locked away in a safe for twelve years. When the president-elect has promised to bring back torture, it is more critical than ever that the study be made available to cleared personnel throughout the federal government who are responsible for authorizing and implementing our country’s detention and interrogation policies,” said Wyden in a released statement.
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) December 12, 2016
Wyden said “burying the Study achieves nothing but to create an information vacuum that gets filled with uniformed and highly dangerous propaganda.”
— RT America (@RT_America) September 13, 2016
In a related story, defense lawyers in the September 11 war crimes case at Guantanamo Bay asked a judge last week to secure a copy of the US Senate report before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
“The new administration has made statement promising waterboarding or worse and there are many reasons to believe it is hostile to preservation of the report,” lawyer James Connell.
Connell, who represents Ammar al Baluchi, told the military judge presiding over the case who argued The Trump administration would be less likely to turn over the report, or may even seek its destruction.
Eight copies of the report were distributed to various branches of government, including the Department of Defense, but the CIA inspector general disclosed that it had destroyed its copy.
— RT America (@RT_America) May 20, 2016
The U.S. Department of Education has just released it’s latest ranking of international education systems (Program for International Student Assessment – “PISA”) and performance of U.S. students just continues to deteriorate on both absolute and relative terms.
Perhaps it’s time to have a real conversation about the complete failure of “Common Core” and the idiocy of allowing teachers’ unions to hold our children hostage while hiding behind ridiculous contracts that grant tenure after 6 months and make it impossible to fire underperformers. Just a thought for the incoming Trump administration.
The Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss summed up the problems nicely:
There are many reasons children aren’t learning anything during the long hours they spend in government schools. Sometimes, their teachers don’t show up to work because they’re out on the teachers union picket line demanding taxpayers pick up the tab for their plastic surgery. Other times, students are forced to sit in classes led by totally unqualified teachers who will never leave because they’re protected by tenure.
For every disgraceful teacher, though, there are tons of good ones who are doing their best. The problem often isn’t teachers’ incompetence, it’s that they’re forced to instruct kids using rubbish. Look at the Common Core State Standards, which were adopted initially by 46 states because their federal education funding depended on it. The math is backwards, confusing, and, as the National Review so suitably dubbed it, “dumb.” The reading standards fill students’ minds with filth in the form of raunchy books and with yawn-inducing “informational texts.”
Our schools no longer teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. Rather than be taught how to think and problem-solve, children are thought what to think and how to feel. All these money-making and money-spending schemes tend to sound nice, of course, but they inevitably fall flat.
Now the results….in math, the U.S. ranked 40th in the world and 31st out of the 35 developed countries that provide data to the study…somewhat less than ideal.
Meanwhile, nearly 30% of the 15-year-olds in the U.S. were found to rank in the bottom two (of 5) proficiency tiers.
Unfortunately the story isn’t much better with reading and science proficiency. The U.S. ranked 24th in the world on the study’s “reading literacy scale”…
…and 25th in science.
And, of course, performance has been deteriorating for the past decade.
National Security Agency (NSA) inspector general George Ellard, an outspoken critic of whistleblower Edward Snowden, personally retaliated against another NSA whistleblower, Adam Zagorin reported at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) on Thursday.
An intelligence community panel earlier this year found that Ellard had retaliated against a whistleblower, Zagorin writes, in a judgment that has still not been made public.
The finding is remarkable because Ellard first made headlines two years ago when he publicly condemned Snowden for leaking information about the NSA’s mass surveillance of private citizens, wherein Ellard claimed that Snowden should have raised concerns through internal channels. The agency would have protected him from any retaliation, Ellard said at the time.
Politico reported on Ellard’s 2014 comments:
“We have surprising success in resolving the complaints that are brought to us,” he said.
In Snowden’s case, Ellard said a complaint would have prompted an independent assessment into the constitutionality of the law that allows for the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata. But that review, he added, would have also shown the NSA was within the scope of the law.
“Perhaps it’s the case that we could have shown, we could have explained to Mr. Snowden his misperceptions, his lack of understanding of what we do,” Ellard said.
Yet documents confirmed earlier this year that Snowden had, indeed, reported concerns to several NSA officials—who took no action and discouraged him from continuing to voice concerns. Moreover, as Snowden told Vice News: “I was not protected by U.S. whistleblower laws, and I would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about law breaking in accordance with the recommended process.”
Ellard’s 2014 criticism of Snowden appears particularly threadbare after he has been found personally guilty of whistleblower retaliation.
The judgment also came from an external panel of Ellard’s fellow intelligence agency watchdogs. Zagorin writes:
[L]ast May, after eight months of inquiry and deliberation, a high-level Intelligence Community panel found that Ellard himself had previously retaliated against an NSA whistleblower, sources tell the Project On Government Oversight. Informed of that finding, NSA’s Director, Admiral Michael Rogers, promptly issued Ellard a notice of proposed termination, although Ellard apparently remains an agency employee while on administrative leave, pending a possible response to his appeal from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.
The closely held but unclassified finding against Ellard is not public. It was reached by following new whistleblower protections set forth by President Obama in an executive order, Presidential Policy Directive 19. (A President Trump could, in theory, eliminate the order.) Following PPD-19 procedures, a first-ever External Review Panel (ERP) composed of three of the most experienced watchdogs in the US government was convened to examine the issue. The trio—[Inspectors General (IGs)] of the Justice Department, Treasury, and CIA—overturned an earlier finding of the Department of Defense IG, which investigated Ellard but was unable to substantiate his alleged retaliation.
“The finding against Ellard is extraordinary and unprecedented,” Stephen Aftergood, director of the Secrecy Program at the Federation of American Scientists, told Zagorin. “This is the first real test drive for a new process of protecting intelligence whistleblowers. Until now, they’ve been at the mercy of their own agencies, and dependent on the whims of their superiors. This process is supposed to provide them security and a procedural foothold.”
Ellard served as inspector general of the NSA for nine years, Zagorin notes.
The revelation about Ellard echoes other reports of retaliation against whistleblowers from the internal watchdogs meant to protect them, and further affirms Snowden’s repeated argument that he had no choice but to go public with his mass surveillance leaks.
“More generally,” observes Zagorin, “there are few if any incentives for intelligence whistleblowers to report problems through designated authorities when the IG of [the] NSA is found to have retaliated against such an individual.”
Declassified documents on Operation Condor reveal that the U.S. knew and assisted the Argentine dictatorship as it threw unconscious prisoners to their death in notorious “vuelos de la muerte,” or death flights.
Under the military dictatorship in Argentina, thousands of political opponents were drugged, tossed into aircraft and dumped in the Atlantic Ocean to drown.
According to Adolfo Scilingo, an Argentine naval officer during the dictatorship, the navy conducted death flights every Wednesday between 1977 and 1978, killing up to 2,000 people.
Newly released documents on Operation Condor, the 1970s covert efforts to topple and temper progressive governments outright in South America, show that the U.S. not only knew about the lethal flights — they provided military equipment.
An intelligence report, dated July 1978, states, “terrorists and subversives selected for elimination were now being administered injections of Ketalar.”
“Ketalar is administered in an intra-muscular injection to the prisoner as a preventive health measure, the subject rapidly loses consciousness and vital functions cease. Source alleges that subjects are then disposed of in rivers or the ocean.”
But despite being aware of the horrific death flights, the United States proceeded to sell Argentina army helicopters.
Two months after describing the “new drug” used to paralyze so-called terrorists, then-U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale met with Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla in Rome.
Included in his meeting checklist was a reaffirmation to “improve relations, and to take steps that will lead to such improvement.”
It continues, “As a token of our interest we have taken steps to release export licenses for ambulance aircraft, army helicopters, airport radar equipment and other items.”
Reports suggest Argentina’s death flights began in 1976 and continued until 1983, killing thousands of political opponents — likely with the help of U.S. aircraft.
In 2016, Francisco Bossi, the mastermind of the death flights, confessed to murdering 6,000 people.
The revelations of U.S. involvement and support of the brutal dictatorship come after the Obama administration declassified 500 pages on repression in Argentina during the military regime.