"The first time I met him, it was very intimidating. A tall man, very slender. You could see his eyes through the slat. I didn't know what to say. It was like, first thing came to mind, 'It is nice to meet you.' My inner monologue came to mind, it wasn't nice to meet him. He's a dictator," guard Paco Reese told CBS Early Show anchor Harry Smith.
GQ magazine's July issue says Saddam greatly admired President Reagan and thought President Clinton was "OK," but had harsh words for both President Bushes, each of whom went to war against him.
"The Bush father, son, no good," one of the soldiers, Cpl. Jonathan "Paco" Reese, 22, of Millville, Pa., quotes Saddam as saying. But his fellow GI, Specialist Sean O'Shea, then 19, says Saddam later softened that view.
"Towards the end he was saying that he doesn't hold any hard feelings and he just wanted to talk to Bush, to make friends with him," O'Shea, of Minooka, Pa., told the magazine.
A third soldier, Spc. Jesse Dawson, quoted Saddam as saying of President Bush, "'He knows I have nothing, no mass weapons. He knows he'll never find them.'"
The three GIs were among members of C Company, 2nd Battalion, 103rd Armor Regiment, a Pennsylvania National Guard unit from the Scranton area that was activated for duty in Iraq in late 2003. Instead of combat, they were chosen by the FBI to serve as guards at a U.S. military compound where Saddam was an "HVD," or high value detainee.
The nine-month assignment was so secret that they could not tell their families, according to the article by GQ correspondent Lisa DePaulo. The article names five of the soldiers who agreed to discuss the experience, with the military's permission.
They were required to sign statements prohibiting them from revealing the location, dates, garrison strength and certain other details of Saddam's incarceration. But they were free to describe their interactions with the prisoner, according to the article.
Pentagon officials had no immediate comment because they had not seen the article, spokeswoman Lynnette Ebberts said Monday.
The soldiers' descriptions of Saddam's life in prison match the recent photos of him that apparently were smuggled out of prison — showing the former dictator in his underwear and a long robe. They describe a man who once lived in palaces and now occupies a cell where he has no personal privacy.
Once, when Saddam fell down during his twice-a-week shower, the article says, "panic ensued. No one wanted him to be hurt while being guarded by Americans." One GI had to help Saddam back to his cell, another carried his underwear, it adds.
Saddam learned the names of the GIs guarding him, was interested in the details of their lives, which they were not supposed to discuss, and sometimes offered fatherly advice. They conversed in English.
O'Shea said when he told him he was not married, Saddam "started telling me what to do." "He was like, 'you gotta find a good woman. Not too smart, not too dumb. Not too old, not too young. One that can cook and clean.'"
Then he smiled, made what O'Shea interpreted as a "spanking" gesture, laughed and went back to washing his clothes in the sink.