The wild gray beard was gone, and he sat on a metal army cot, just awake from a nap, in socks and black slippers. He was not handcuffed. He did not recognize all his visitors, but they recognized him. That was the purpose of the visit: to help confirm that he was, in fact, Saddam Hussein.
What came next in the Sunday afternoon meeting, according to people in the room, was an extraordinary 30 minutes, in which four new leaders of Iraq pointedly questioned the nation’s
deposed and now captured leader about his tyrannical rule. Mr. Hussein, they said, was defiant and unrepentant but very much defeated.
“The world is crazy,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a Governing Council member in the room on Sunday after Mr. Hussein was captured near his hometown, Tikrit. “I was in his torture chamber in 1979, and now he was sitting there, powerless in front of me without anybody stopping me from doing anything to him. Just imagine. We were arguing, and he was using very foul language.”
The carefully managed event gave the four men who had spent decades opposing the ruler they regard as an oppressor of their country a rare chance to confront him. Though he spoke forcefully, the haggard Mr. Hussein was now the prisoner, and his opponents seemed to gain some legitimacy as leaders through the meeting in which they said they had called him to task on behalf of their nation.
Ahmad Chalabi, a council member and head of the Iraqi National Congress who was also in the room, said: “He was quite lucid. He had command of his faculties. He would not apologize to the Iraqi people. He did not deny any of the crimes he was
confronted with having done. He tried to justify them.”
After Mr. Hussein’s capture in an eight-foot-deep hole that one council member said was filled with “rats and mice,” the four leaders were taken by helicopter on Sunday afternoon to a military base, at a location they would not disclose. In
addition to Mr. Rubaie and Mr. Chalabi, two others were aboard: Adnan Pachachi, a council member who was the foreign minister before Mr. Hussein came to power, and Adel Abdel Mahdi, who
represents the Shiite religious body, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Two American leaders in Iraq were there too: L. Paul Bremer III, the American civilian administrator of Iraq; and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top military commander in Iraq. The room was small, Mr. Rubaie said, and General Sanchez asked the men if they would like to see him through a window or by camera.
“We said, `No, we want to talk to him,’ ” Mr. Rubaie said.
Aides to the men differed slightly about what happened next. One said Mr. Hussein, who they said had just woken up, did not recognize any of his visitors. Another said he recognized Mr. Chalabi and asked him to introduce the others.
“Saddam turned to Pachachi and said: `You were the foreign minister of Iraq. What are you doing with these people?’ ” one aide said.
Mr. Rubaie said he had asked the first question which, he said, was met with a brutal and dismissive joke. He said he had asked why Mr. Hussein had killed two leading Shiite clerics, Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr in 1980 and Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr in 1999.
The word “sidr” means “chest” in Arabic, and Mr. Hussein replied, “As sidr or ar rijl?” That translates as: “The chest or the foot?”
The men then asked Mr. Hussein about events in his nearly 35 years in power that officials in the United States and elsewhere cite in accusing the former ruler. They cited these examples:
¶Asked about the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds in the northern Iraqi town of Halabja in 1988, in which an estimated 5,000 people were killed, Mr. Hussein said, according to his visitors, that this was the work of Iran, at war with Iraq at the time.
¶Asked about the mass graves of tens of thousands of Iraqis uncovered since Mr. Hussein was toppled from power in the American-led offensive this spring, Mr. Rubaie said Mr. Hussein
answered: “Ask their relatives. They were thieves, and they ran away from the battlefields with Iran and from the battlefields of Kuwait.”
¶Asked why he invaded Kuwait in 1990, provoking the American-led assault on Iraq the next year, he said Kuwait was rightfully a part of Iraq.
“He was not remorseful at all,” Mr. Chalabi said. “It was clear he was a complete narcissist who was incapable of showing remorse or sympathy to other human beings.”
Mr. Chalabi said Mr. Hussein had also suggested that he was behind the recent wave of attacks against American soldiers in Iraq since his defeat.
“He said, `I gave a speech, and I said the Americans can come to Iraq but they can’t occupy it and rule it,’ ” Mr. Chalabi said. “He said, `I said I would fight them with pistols, and I have.’ “
“He didn’t say it directly, but he was trying to take credit for it,” Mr. Chalabi said.
At a news conference on Sunday evening, Mr. Pachachi said Mr. Hussein had tried to justify himself by saying Iraqis needed a tough ruler.
“He tried to justify his crimes by saying that he was a just but firm ruler,” he said. “Of course our answer was he was an unjust ruler responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.”
Throughout the meeting, Mr. Hussein was calm but often used foul language. Mr. Pachachi said he looked “tired and haggard.” Mr. Bremer and General Sanchez, they said, did not speak, though Mr. Chalabi said Mr. Hussein was “deferential and respectful to the Americans.”
“You can conclude from that some aspect that he was reconciled to his situation,” he said.
“The most important fact: Had the roles been reversed, he would have torn us apart and cut us into small pieces after torture,” Mr. Chalabi said. “This contrast was paramount in my mind, how we treated him and how he would have treated us.”
Mr. Rubaie said: “One thing which is very important is that this man had with him underground when they arrested him two AK-47’s and did not shoot one bullet. I told him, `You keep on saying that you are a brave man and a proud Arab.’ I said, `When they arrested you why didn’t you shoot one bullet? You are a coward.’ ”
“And he started to use very colorful language,” he said. “Basically he used all his French.”
“I was so angry because this guy has caused so much damage,” Mr. Rubaie added. “He has ruined the whole country. He has ruined 25 million people.”
“And I have to confess that the last word was for me,” he continued. “I was the last to leave the room and I said, `May God curse you. Tell me, when are you going to be accountable to God and the day of judgment? What are you going to tell him about Halabja and the mass graves, the Iran-Iraq war, thousands and thousands executed? What are you going to tell God?’ He was exercising his French language.”