Tiny hiding spot shatters a larger-than-life image
My heart was racing, and the immensity of it was so overwhelming that I simply couldn't think. Was my camera on the right settings? Was my exposure correct? Was my flash putting out the correct amount of light? I could hardly process the information, which normally comes so naturally to me after having worked as a photojournalist for 13 years. Monday, I was sitting in the same hole that Saddam Hussein was hiding in less than 48 hours ago when he was captured by U.S. special forces.
But before I could get my bearings, a female officer started screaming at me to come out. I had barely been in The Hole for a minute, and I hadn't had a chance to make my pictures. I thought, you'll have to toss a grenade in here to get me out so quickly because I've waited several hours to get in. I worked quickly and tried to concentrate.
It was the warnings of inclement weather that finally put the fear in me. We would have to fly back in a chopper to the palace where the 4th Infantry Division was camped, and my fear of death by chopper crash finally dragged me out of The Hole.
I don't really know what I was expecting, but what I found was nothing like what I might have imagined. The entry was about 2 feet wide by 21/2 feet long. I had to take off my camera gear to lower myself into The Hole and then stoop my way down the short passage into a larger area. It was, at best, 5 feet long, 3 feet wide and 4 feet high. I don't think that even I - much less a man the size of Saddam Hussein - could have laid prostrate in the space.
The space was simply dug out of the soil and reinforced by wood beams at the top of the ceiling area. Some bricks had been laid into the wall for support. There was one fluorescent light in the top corner of the deeper recess of The Hole, and I wondered what a man like Saddam would be doing in such a small space. Reading a novel? Counting his money?
The place didn't smell of any life - not animal or human. So it seems clear that he was not in The Hole much. It was meant to be a hiding place only for when the situation became critical, which apparently it did Saturday around 8 p.m.
I must admit that I never imagined that I would be a witness to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
The man liked to sit in golden chairs, but there he was, crouched in a dirt hole. When not in hiding, he lived as the poorest Iraqi might live.
The one-room mud hut where he was staying was in disarray. There were little signs that the man living there was the former president of Iraq. An old box of Belgian chocolates was in the small refrigerator. Two new pairs of cheap shoes in boxes were open. A chest of books was strewn.
Plenty of kinds of insect repellant lay on the table, and there was a gilded mirror in the outdoor kitchen area, which seemed out of place in the midst of the chaos.
The bed was piled with cheap blankets. The Noah's ark posters on the wall were tattered. Sausages were hanging to dry in the garden along with some dates, and the place was generally unkempt and dirty. The irony of it is simply staggering. How does a man go from living in palaces and being feared by every Iraqi citizen to living the existence of a pauper or, worse yet, as a caged animal?
I think that irony stunned many of the 40 journalists in our group. It was the topic of conversation all day. How will Iraqis react? How do they feel? Why is there not more celebration?
And the reality is that even though Saddam was widely hated, he was still the Iraqi president. And his capture by U.S. forces was embarrassing - from the footage of him getting his head checked for lice and his mouth swabbed for DNA, to the fact that he gave himself up without the slightest fight. Iraqis are happy, they say, but they are deeply shamed by his capture. At least Uday and Qusay went out fighting, they reason. After all his calls for martyrdom, where is his bravery?
After all these months of fearing and loathing him for what he did to the Iraqi people, I felt pity for Saddam Hussein. He is, indeed, so human.