Jewish World Review June 11, 2004/ 22 Sivan, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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The imperfect idyll of Saddam Hussein | We can't be sure where Saddam Hussein's prison cell may be. The U.S. command won't say. We can be sure that it's not at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, but that's probably where Saddam himself would like to be.

Walking around in a dog collar or in ladies' step-ins, though not exactly Arab high fashion, is preferable to the mercy of his Iraqi enemies. This mercy, the quality of which is not likely to be strained through a fine screen, is what Saddam has told his CIA interrogators he fears most. He's a wise man.

Saddam's captors, like the old despot himself, are in a bit of a dilemma. The men who will prosecute Saddam before a war crimes tribunal, the Times of London reported the other day, aren't at all sure that they have an airtight case against him, the kind of case that would pass muster at a law school seminar or even before a competent appeals court. Saddam was always careful to keep his fingerprints off his mischief. Like Hitler, to whom he has been compared in other ways, he never signed death warrants or other documents ordering his enemies to be fed into wood chippers, acid baths or other imaginative devices of torture and death. Aides and underlings were always willing, if not necessarily eager, to do that. (And if they didn't, they might wind up in a wood chipper themselves, lucky if they were fed in headfirst for quick death, rather than feet first.) Defense lawyers are paid to find loopholes, after all, and prosecutors have warned their superiors that, though unlikely, Saddam could cheat the hangman. Then the war, in the minds of most Iraqis, would have been for naught.

The White House, for its part, is eager to keep Saddam locked up and locked away for as long as possible, in the hope — and growing expectation — that he might finally disclose what he did with the weapons of mass destruction that everyone, even Jacques Chirac and the United Nations weapons inspectors, know he once had. He has been held in solitary confinement since he was pulled out of his hole in the ground near his hometown of Tikrit. He was armed with a pistol and his interrogators now believe that it was fear of death, and maybe even fear of what might await him after death, that prevented his taking his own life in one last, unaccustomed act of courage. (Maybe G-d is an Englishman, after all.)

Many of Saddam's old enemies, and relatives of men that he put to imaginative death, now populate the interim government and if he is turned over to the Iraqis that would be, literally, a fate worse than death. There is no ACLU chapter in Baghdad, and the Iraqis are not likely to be intimidated by the relentless campaign of The Washington Post and the New York Times to reduce the war on terror, particularly as it is fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, to allegations of allied abuse of terrorist prisoners.

Saddam himself is believed to be kept in a cell at Camp Cropper, a detention center for "high-value targets" near the Baghdad airport. He is said to be still defiant and uncooperative, obsessed with the idea that he is still the president of Iraq and determined to be treated with suitable deference. "He doesn't quite expect to hear 'Hail to the Chief' at the beginning of interrogation sessions," says one informed source, "but it's not much short of that. That may be changing a little."

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He is questioned for five or six hours a day, and American officials say that he has not been physically abused, even made to kneel or stand as certain prisoners were required to do at Abu Ghraib. Quoting its own sources, the London Daily Telegraph reported last month that the U.S. government "is determined that he should not be able to claim he has been the victim of any abuse when he faces trial before a war crimes tribunal — not likely to begin until next year."

A Jordanian lawyer who claims that he was hired by Saddam's wife to represent him only yesterday said that he had been "slightly wounded" in prison, but gave no details. The lawyer gave the Associated Press a copy of a letter he said Saddam had written to his daughter, Raghad, who lives in Amman, Jordan.

"In the name of the Almighty and Merciful G-d," he wrote, "to my small family, to my big family. As for my spirit and morals, they are glittering with the blessing of G-d the creator and the great." He said nothing about wounds.

Saddam is said to be further obsessed with — in addition to his "glittering" spirit and morals — his beard and the cuisine at the detention center. He shaves a lot and doesn't much like American GI rations. He has been told he can get better food, perhaps a few sheep's eyes, if he cooperates and starts talking. That's not much more than an ACLU lawyer might ask.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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