Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam is Captured: I Witness the Reaction

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14 December 2003 2230

“We got him,” Paul Bremer said very matter of fact at the CPA press conference today. Saddam Hussein is now a U.S. prisoner. It’s a day of historical significance to myself and the greatest example of poetic justice that I have yet to encounter. I couldn’t help but be overjoyed, yet reserved. I wanted immediately to confirm the rumors going around about his capture (as this rumor has gone about before). I logged on to our secret internet news system run by the CIA that I read daily to get a better picture about what is going on in the Middle East. I read enough leaks from the Iraqi governing council to believe the rumor to be true. Also CJTF had “Operation Red Dawn” listed on the significant events tracker, but reporting only that two Iraqis working for Target #1 (code for Saddam) were captured on 13 DEC at 2004 hours. I was pretty sure that he’d been captured. I waited until the media began to leak the information on TV.
Saddam being captured was wonderful, he being responsible for so much waste, so many lives lost senselessly (as I see the countless names of Martyrs at the monument inscribed in stone) and a rule of terror. Now he’s captured! I am happy not out of vengeance or excitement, but rather for Iraqis – the real victims of this madness. I’m just sorry the country is in the state it is in over his rule and our war being here.
The sure confirmation came when Bremer addressed a press conference. We all watched FOX news on TV in the command center in anticipation. There were no hoots, no yells, no celebration in our TOC as the news was delivered. As Bremer said, “We got him,” I snapped a photo of the reaction at the command center. I don’t know exactly why everyone didn’t react joyously to the news. I know for myself that there is nothing to celebrate here until peace and stability come to Iraq. We know that Saddam is gone, but there are still fuel shortages, high levels of crime, foreign Jihad fighters, religious fanatics, crippled infrastructure and so on. I feel a bit of obligation to this country, I care about it, and I think these problems are far deadlier than Saddam. BUT, his capture is good nonetheless.
I wanted to see the reaction of the Iraqis at our restaurant. I know the new operator of our “Knight Lounge” restaurant from respectful interactions here and there, and he always greets me eagerly and kind.
‘Asalam Malekim,’ I said as we shook hand.
“Asalam Malekim,” he said at the same time – looking very excited I placed my right hand over my heart to show my respect. I was excited to see what his reaction would be about the news. He shuffled away to get me a pastry to eat. I tried to pay and insisted he accept my payment, but that is pointless here. After the second denial – it’s best to cease.
“No Saddam, Thompson!” he said trying to maintain his composure. He was so stoic, yet so elated, as if today was the day he’d never live to see. He asked me to take his picture next to the TV now showing Saddam, bearded and despot. I did, and he looked stoic as ever, posing like a soldier answering the call to duty. On the TV in the back room, Al-Jazeera was on and showing the video as well. Saddam being examined by a military doctor – he cooperating fully.
I watched carefully as some Iraqis came up to the TV to see if the rumors were true. They looked at the screen distrustfully for a moment, and then the video clip rolled again. I’ll never forget the look on their faces. Their faces drew longer, mouths opened, and seconds later, expressionless, open mouths slowly becoming smiles of victory, of justice. It was their moment, I thought to myself, to finally realize they are free from him at least. To see the faces of people coming to realize that 30 years of fear is over – as they realize it, is something I will never forget. I felt privileged to see that process, to observe it, because it’s a victory for common peoples – and those can be so rare in such pure form. One man became emotional and teary eyed, then went to get others. Other Iraqis, construction workers and teenagers came in to see the video showed on TV for themselves. They wore hopeful expressions, glancing to us for a signal of joy. I smiled back. Perhaps this will be a turning point in the war.
I remain positive about all of this, and hopeful for reconciliation – above all, reconciliation. This, I see, is also a moment to start an honest and combined, focused effort to bring real change to this place. My fate has brought me here, I have faced death here, and I want so dearly that only the best happen for Iraq. I even feel love for these people for reasons I can try to explain later, perhaps optimism and compassion better explain it. I love you Nora, and I can’t wait to get back to you. This life is so amazing.
You think about the politics of all of this and see that Bush has been extremely fortunate, over and again – despite his deceptive means for accomplishing an end. That creates a conflict, because you want to believe we’ve done the right thing – that maybe the “War on Terror” is succeeding, BUT the euphoria hides the realities of the present – that Iraq is unstable, there are foreign terrorist operating here, and the original reason for war was weapons of mass destruction. In principle, and I believe principles to be so very important. This war was begun on a lie, perhaps. Thousands of people have died in this war, lots of suffering, lots of deception, and I just wish there was another way to accomplish freedom. You get the impression that ulterior motives are at work here. All of this faded though, as a young boy ran up to me as I was walking back to the command center.
“Mista! No Saddam!” he said thankfully. He took my hand and shook it, with a wide smile of joy, and then ran off to go home, jumping and skipping along. These people’s lives are changed, they’ve cast off the chains put on them by this criminal. This is a good thing. I don’t know how long the euphoria will last – but it’s good to see these people realize they are indeed free from Saddam. I watched with joy as the Berlin Wall fell, I felt hope (even as a kid) when Boris Yeltsin climbed aboard an armored vehicle in Moscow and the Soviet Union fell before my eyes. I felt solidarity with the people of Serbia when they stormed the government and ousted Milosevic in Yugoslavia – and I feel so strangely for the future of Iraq – a deep friendship and shared struggle with them, and feel so privileged to be beside them as they see that they are free. It’s a human victory, not only an Iraqi one. We’ll see how this develops. I want to remain positive about this, lend Bush my consideration and watch carefully at how the government handles this situation.
Soon it will be time to go home to you, and way from this place. But a part of this place will never leave me. It’s only made me realize more that we are all part of the human family – I feel more and more justified in this view the more I see of the world. Peace lies in cooperation. My Catholic faith has taught me the virtues of love and forgiveness. I feel so optimistic about the future now than before. I love you Nora! I’ll catch up on the previous weeks in the next few pages. There is a lot to cover. Nora, I love you, and I’m so excited about coming home to you! I’ve never wanted something so much as to come home to you. You are such a blessing. I will love you forever – my destiny.

Learn more in the book American, Interrupted at


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