Eric Maddox

with Davin Seay


The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein—As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture

To all of those who have served, fought, and sacrificed, and to all those who yearn for a seat at the bar



1400 15DEC2003

A cold blast of December air hit me as I made my way down the connecting corridor into the busy terminal of Heathrow Airport. Holiday travelers, hurrying home for Christmas, surrounded me on every side. The crowded airport seemed like a surreal place, safe and clean and worlds away from the war I had been fighting. Despite the noise, all I could hear was the beating of my heart as I thought back to the place I’d just left. It was a whole other reality, one that changed forever not just who I was, but the world I was about to reenter.

I wanted that dreamlike feeling to last, that inward sense of satisfaction that I had done my job and completed my mission. But my focus right then was on another mission: to find coming-home gifts for my two boys, Joe and Eric Marshall. In my travels, I always made a point of bringing back souvenirs for my young sons. There were no gift stores where I’d spent the last five months, so something quick and easy from the London airport would have to do. But the Tony Blair bobble heads and Big Ben shot glasses in the gift store probably weren’t going to do the trick. As I looked around for something more suitable, a television in an airport pub across the way caught my eye.

I wasn’t the only one. A small crowd began to gather, watching the breaking news report. On screen, a man walked up to a podium in a room filled with cameras and reporters. His name appeared as he cleared his throat and leaned into the microphones: Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

The noise of the airport seemed to die down as we strained to hear what he would say. It was as if we somehow already knew that this was one of those events we would always remember, a key moment in history.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Bremer said. “We got him.”

There were probably only a handful of people in the world watching at that moment who didn’t know what Bremer was talking about. But his next words left no doubt. “Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday, December thirteenth, at eight-thirty P.M. local time in a cellar in the town of Ad Dawr, which is some fifteen kilometers south of Tikrit.”

The sound of cheering in the pressroom blended into the buzz of the crowd around me, a mix of surprise and skepticism. An old man at the bar turned to his friend and said, “They had him the whole time. Bush is bringing him out now just to win the bloody election.”

I closed my eyes and smiled as the two drinking buddies agreed that the capture of the most wanted man in the world was nothing more than a political stunt. The truth was, there was only one person at that bar, in that airport, or anywhere else for that matter, who knew the real story of Saddam Hussein’s capture.

I was that person.

An hour later, I was still thinking about that chatter in the pub as I settled into my seat for the long flight home. Maybe the real story of the hunt for Saddam would never be known. But if it ever was told, where would it begin? As we lifted into the murky London sky, I looked down on the city below. I remembered another landscape I’d once flown over, a long way from these peaceful rows of suburban houses. It seemed as good a place as any to start.

Chapter 1


2200 28JUL2003

We came in low, a hundred feet over the desert under the cover of night. The tiny two-man OH-58 scout helicopter was moving at eighty miles an hour, skimming over the farms and small villages. But I wasn’t noticing the view. I was too busy hanging on for dear life, tethered to the chopper and stuffed into a space behind the pilot so small that my legs dangled in midair. Beside me was my kit, packed, as I’d been ordered, with enough gear for two days.

It had been four days since I first arrived in Iraq, landing at the military base at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) along with my friend and fellow interrogator, Lee. We had been assigned together in the Defense Intelligence Agency for almost two years, and in that time Lee had earned a reputation as a top-notch interrogator. But, for me, this was the first real shot I’d have at doing the job I signed up for back in 1999. Since then I’d never had the chance to even question a prisoner. This time I was determined to make the most of the opportunity and from almost the moment I landed, I got to work interrogating the detainees in the prison built in an airport hangar on the base.

I’d kept it up day and night since then, grabbing a meal or a few hours’ sleep between sessions. After a few days, some of the other interrogators advised me to pace myself. It was easy to burn out in this job. But I didn’t want to hear that. Nobody knew when this war might get shut down. Until that happened, I wanted to get in as much interrogation experience as I could.

But I was also beginning to realize that the prisoners I was questioning were sometimes nothing more than frightened and confused civilians, not the bad guys we were looking for.

“Bad guys” was the term we used for anyone we were going after. They could be insurgents, former members of Saddam’s regime, or just troublemakers who crossed our path at the wrong time but to us, they were “bad guys.” There were a lot of them that summer. The invasion of Iraq had begun back in March and enough time had passed for the opposition to begin to organize itself. Former Baathists and regime officials; army officers; foreign fighters and jihadists: we faced a wide variety of enemies.

As a result our intelligence gathering efforts were ramped up. I was part of a group of case officers, analysts, and interrogators from various agencies and military branches. We had one overall mission: to gather actionable intelligence on the identities, influence, and whereabouts of the insurgents. It was a steep learning curve.

I began to wonder whether our efforts were stalling for a lack of good information. Most of our intelligence was provided by paid informants, who obviously had an incentive to give us leads, whether or not they were solid. Maybe there was a better way to get at what we needed to know.

Within twenty-four hours of our arrival Lee and I were asked if we’d be willing to serve as interrogators on “hits,” the raids that were conducted in Baghdad to search for High Value Targets and round up suspected insurgents. Neither one of us had been beyond the perimeter of the airport. We were eager, both for the opportunity to be useful, and for a chance to get “outside the wire” for the first time. Since Lee was senior to me, he would obviously be the first to go, but he promised me that I would get the next available mission.

The night of the hit, I could see that he was excited and even a little nervous, although he did his best not to

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