Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr Najib al-Nuaimi, Former Qatari Justice Minister and member of Saddam Hussein’s defense team talks to Asharq Al-Awsat about the late Iraqi dictator’s final days and the controversies that followed:
Q: Let us start this interview from the end; was the defense team notified of the timing of Saddam Hussein’s execution or was it a surprise to you just as it was to others?
A: The defense team was not notified of the timing of the execution and we received no response neither from the American nor the Iraqi authorities despite requesting that information. A lot of secrecy surrounded the timing of the execution in spite of the emergence of some indicators as a result of contacts with some Iraqi figures who informed us of the possibility of it being carried out on the first day of Eid ul-Adha.
Q: Can you sum up what these indicators were?
A: Following a meeting between a number of lawyers and President Saddam Hussein on Thursday, they [Saddam’s lawyers] felt that there was some strange maneuvering during the meeting, which prompted a colleague to comment that he suspected matters were unusual. Following his return to Amman on Friday morning, the U.S. liaison contacted the office of Saddam’s defense team in Amman inquiring about who would be collecting Saddam’s personal belongings after his execution.
Q: What did you do afterwards?
A: We asked a lawyer who was present in the Green Zone to request a meeting with President Saddam as soon as possible. His answer was that U.S. authorities rejected his request and that he had to contact the Iraqi council of ministers to obtain approval for a meeting.
Q: What was your situation at that time?
A: We were certain that once Iraqi authorities took over custody of President Saddam Hussein we would never meet him before the execution. On the Friday at midday, our requests to U.S. officials took another turn— which was that he had not been handed over to the Iraqis out of fear he would be subjected to personal acts of revenge before his execution. They informed us that he was in the physical custody of the Americans and the legal custody of the Iraqis. They confirmed they would only hand him over at the gallows. We also started negotiating with them over the method of handing over the body after the execution.
Q: What about his personal items? Where are they now?
A: Awad al Bandar’s son received the Quran that President Saddam Hussein kept throughout his detention. The remaining personal effects are being inventoried and will be handed over to his family.
Q: Was the late President Saddam Hussein notified of the timing of his execution?
A: No, the president was not notified of the timing of his execution until Friday. He was surprised by the timing.
Q: What about reports of “assurances” given to President Saddam Hussein to take part in the political process before he was sentenced to death. Is there any truth to this?
A: No, that is not true; he met with nobody. Only early on during his detention a senior US General gave him the choice between exile like Napoleon and execution like Mussolini. In one trial session, he responded: “I’m neither Napoleon nor Mussolini. I am Saddam Hussein only,” refusing to sign confessions and cooperate by giving all information relating to the state.
Q: Regarding the witnesses during the execution, have you obtained proofs of their identities since it was rumored that Moqtada al Sadr was present amongst them?
A: A group of western media personalities were present during the execution. With their very own eyes they saw Moqtada al Sadr, representing the Sadr Group, and Abdul Aziz al Hakim, as well as assistant prosecutor general [Munqith] al Faroun.
Q: What is your opinion on the mobile phone video of the former president’s execution and the government’s promises to initiate an investigation into the matter?
A: These are mere statements to throw dust in the eyes because of the public’s reaction, including the American and British governments. But I assert that the videotaping incident was intended to humiliate him.
Q: Who was the closest person to Saddam Hussein during his detention?
A: He enjoyed speaking with lawyer Ramsey Clark about international and American affairs. Once we met him, he would always ask for international news and analyses and news concerning the resistance. We also conveyed to him oral and written greetings from people, a number of whom he remembered.
Q Have you kept some of Saddam’s personal effects?
A: Yes, I kept his poems and some papers.
Q: What do the papers contain?
A: 27 copies of his personal diaries. Do not ask me about their contents; I will say nothing.
Q: What belongings did Saddam leave behind?
A: We bought two suits for him. He was buried in one and left the other behind. Also, he left behind a collection of different books, both on religion and literary ones such as Ibn Khaldun’s ‘Muqaddimah’, Al Mutanabbi’s poems and books on the interpretation of the Holy Quran. On the other hand, he turned away from reading any political books, preferring historical ones instead.
Q: During his trial, Saddam looked surprised when he watched footage of the Anfal campaign; how do you account for that?
A: Yes, he showed expressions of surprise at the gas use, wondering about the authority that used it. Like any other human being, he had to be moved by such images.
Q: Many expected different surprises to emerge during Saddam’s trial; however that did not happen, what is your opinion on that?
A: What you are asking about may come to the light in the near future.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: I cannot elaborate any further.
Q: Why have they not come to the light so far?
A: There are political calculations involved.
Q: Did Saddam Hussein consider bargaining over information?
A: Of course not. A US Democratic candidate asked me at that time to disclose some documents relating to Rumsfeld’s role with which to press US President George Bush, but he refused completely.
Q: Concerning the radical transformation from president to prisoner, how did Saddam manage to adapt to the notion of his imprisonment for more than four years?
A: I personally asked him that question, and he literarily answered: “Look Nuaimi, I have worn this same suit for the last two years. In my mind I’m at peace and when I sleep, it’s a deep sleep, and this is what matters most. My country is occupied. I mean nothing to my country.” He also used to overexert himself physically to be able to get to sleep immediately and easily.
Q: Concerning Saddam Hussein’s diaries, do you expect that they would be published in the future?
A: I expect that if they were handed over without any of it removed. It is the right of his family.
Q: Did he express regret to you for anything?
A: He said in one statement: “I admit I was wrong about a number of things, but I was right in running the state and leading the party.”
Q: What did he attempt being wrong about?
A: I cannot elaborate further about this in order to avoid them being judged politically against his followers.
Q: What did he have in prison?
A: He had several books in addition to a radio that he kept for a short while then asked that it be removed because it received only American Radio Sawa and another station owned by Ahmad al Chalabi. Because the zone was isolated, no news broadcast by independent radios could be received, which is also why he refused to have a television. Regarding daily newspapers, he used to receive them a day late after some pages would be removed from them. In his prison, he tended to lead an austere life in a strange way.