Anatomy Of The Capture

<B><I>60 Minutes</B></I> On How U.S. Troops Finally Caught Saddam

In spite of extraordinary coalition efforts and a $25 million price on his head, Saddam Hussein was able to evade capture for eight months.

How did American forces finally arrive at the place where Saddam was literally holed up? CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports.
Saddam Hussein was literally run to ground, cornered and found hiding at the bottom of a small hole.

The man who had defied the world, terrorized his own country, and frustrated American attempts to kill him gave up without a fight. As J. Paul Bremer, the head of the American occupation of Iraq put it, "The tyrant is a prisoner."

Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday, Dec. 13, in the town of Ad-Dawr, which is about 15 kilometers south of Tikrit. At the end, he was dirty, disheveled, unshaven and virtually alone.

"And he was in the middle of a bottom of a hole, so there was no way he could fight back, so he was just caught like a rat," said Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the troops who made the capture. Odierno said Saddam had a pistol, but didn't use it.

Once in custody, the man who wielded power over millions meekly submitted to doctor's orders. Seeming bewildered and disoriented, he looked to Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq, like a man who had reached the end of his tether.

"He was a tired man, and also, I think, a man resigned to his fate," said Sanchez.

Guarding against the possibility they had captured a body double, specialists made a positive identification based on a tattoo and old bullet wounds from a long-ago assassination attempt.

Other former members of his regime already in custody, like Tariq Aziz, identified him, and even Saddam himself acknowledged the Americans had the right man.

"He was cooperative during the process of being brought into our detention facilities and in the process of being given his medical examination last night," said Sanchez.

Gen. Odierno's 4th Infantry Division had been on the hunt for Saddam and his inner circle for months, conducting raid after raid in and around his hometown of Tikrit. But the break they were looking for did not come until intelligence analysts dug into their files and came up with a list of bodyguards and cronies who might still be with Saddam or know where he was.

"As we continued to conduct raids and capture people, we got more and more information on the families that were somewhat close to Saddam Hussein. Over the last ten days or so, we brought in five to ten members of these families who then were able to give us even more information, and finally we got the ultimate information from one of these individuals," said Sanchez.

That ultimate information pointed to a pair of farmhouses where the prisoner said one of Saddam's bodyguards and even the man himself were
hiding.

"At about 10:50 yesterday, we received intelligence on the possible whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. Two likely locations were identified
near the town of Ad-Dawr," said Sanchez.

In an operation code named Red Dawn, Gen. Odierno's division, along with special operations forces, sent out 600 troops to surround the two houses, located across the Tigris River from one of Saddam's palace complexes. Seven hours later, they were ready to pounce. Two hours later, they moved in.

At first, it looked like a repeat of so many raids before -- close, but no Saddam. But the troops fanned out through the compound and came upon a small shed. Inside the shed, they uncovered a hole, hidden under a Styrofoam lid.

"There was an insert that was made of Styrofoam so it was very light to pick up, and pick up out of the hole. And on top of that was a rug, and then below that, in fact, was the hole, as you see there," said Odierno. "It was a very narrow hole that was not very big at all."

It was a hole so small that Sanchez called it a spider hole: "A search was conducted, and Saddam Hussein was found hiding at the bottom of the hole. The spider hole is about six to eight feet deep, and allows enough space for a person to lie down inside it."

The hole had an air vent to allow Saddam to breathe. But with no place to run, he surrendered, almost in the shadow of some of the palaces that had once been symbols of his power.

"You can just about see some of these palace complexes from there, and I think it's rather ironic that he was in a hole in the ground across the river from these great palaces that he's built, where he robbed all the money from the Iraqi people," said Odierno.

Troops found $750,000, but otherwise, the compound was as ordinary as his palaces were grandiose, which probably explains why Odierno's troops had not bothered to search it earlier in their months-long hunt for Saddam.

For eight months, Saddam had managed to stay just a step ahead of the American war machine. On the opening night of the war, the Air Force and Navy bombed a palace complex on the outskirts of Baghdad where a spy said Saddam was spending the night.

When 60 Minutes visited the complex last spring, we found that bombs and cruise missiles had destroyed several buildings, but the main palace had not taken a direct hit.

The day after the raid, Saddam showed up on television, as he would several times during the war. As U.S. Troops closed in on Baghdad, a B-1 bomber struck a restaurant where he was reported to have been spotted. The target was destroyed, the occupants killed, but the people in the neighborhood said Saddam wasn't there when the bombs hit.

He made one last appearance on television, the same day U.S. Marines were helping Iraqis tear down one of his statues. And then he disappeared, surfacing only in the form of poor-quality audio tapes, exhorting the Iraqi people to throw out the American invaders.

He made one of those tapes shortly after his two sons, Ouday and Qusay, were killed last July, saying they had died martyrs' deaths. Did he know then that when his turn came, he would not fight to the end, but surrender?

The Iraqi who told the Americans where they could find Ouday and Qusay was paid a $30 million reward-- $15 million for each -— and whisked out of the country. Saddam had a price of $25 million on his head, but no tipster ever came forward, leaving American troops always one step behind their moving target.

"I said from the beginning, I believe he moves every three to four hours on very short notice, and I believe he moved probably to several locations such as this," said Odierno.

The U.S. formed a special team of commandos known as Task Force 21, but Saddam traveled with no entourage and never used cell phones, giving up the trappings of power to blend into the landscape.

"If you see where we found him, he could have been hiding in a hundred different places, a thousand different places like this all around Iraq," said Odierno. "And it just takes finding the right person who will give you a good idea where he might be, and that's what happened today, last night."

There were several occasions on which officials thought they had missed the man they called the Ace of Spades by just minutes or hours. But they could never be sure, and besides, close didn't count.

Even now that he is in custody, President Bush knows the war in Iraq is not over: "The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq. We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East. Such men are a direct threat to the American people, and they will be defeated."

But there's no denying his capture is a turning point. As long as Saddam was on the loose, U.S. officials could never say with conviction what can now be said with certainty. "We now have final resolution," said Gen. Sanchez. "Saddam Hussein will never return to a position of power from which he can punish, terrorize, intimidate, and exploit the Iraq people, as he did for more than 35 years."

The chapter of Iraq's history that was filled with Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is now closed. But the questioning of Saddam about his reign of terror is just beginning. He has already undergone his initial interrogation, and officials say he revealed nothing of consequence, sticking to the same story he told before the war.

Eventually, officials say, he will be turned over to the Iraqis to be tried as a war criminal.

  • Rebecca Leung

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