Video: Saddam big on Doritos

updated 8/17/2005 8:21:11 PM ET 2005-08-18T00:21:11

When he ruled Iraq, Saddam Hussein was a fearsome figure in the world, but since his capture, he's been seen in slightly more humbling circumstances, including getting checked for lice when he was caught by coalition forces back in December of 2003, reprimanded by an Iraqi judge last July, and also questioned by magistrates in a video released earlier this month. 

Now some of the most surprising details of the former dictator's current life are coming to the surface from a group of National Guardsmen given the unusual assignment of guarding Saddam Hussein in the secret location where he's being detained. 

They watched him sleep.  They watched him bathe, tend to a garden, even eat American snack foods. Not surprisingly, they formed a unique relationship with the man once known as the butcher of Baghdad. 

The latest edition of "GQ" magazine details the guards' experiences. On Monday's 'Abrams Report,' the author of the article, Lisa De Paulo and the men who had the job of guarding Saddam, Specialist Sean O`Shea, also Corporal Jonathan "Paco" Reese of the Pennsylvania National Guard, joined guest host Lisa Daniels.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video clip, click on the link above.

LISA DANIELS:  Sean, let me begin with you.  How many times a day did you think to yourself, 'I can't believe I am guarding Saddam Hussein.' 

SPL. SEAN O`SHEA:  Every single time -- just about every single time I walked into the cell area.  I mean as much as you get used to one thing, it still hits you every time, to shake his hand or say hello to him. 

DANIELS:  Why do you think you were chosen for it? 

O`SHEA:  I don't know.  It just kind of fell in the lap of my whole platoon and it's just the job we got chosen for.  I don't know exactly how or why, but it's an experience I'll never forget.

DANIELS:  Yes, I bet.  Jonathan, tell me about your first meeting with Saddam Hussein.  How did that happen?

CPL. JONATHAN "PACO" REESE:  My first meeting with Saddam Hussein was a little bit -- I was a little awestruck.  My roommate took me to his door, asked if I wanted to meet him.  I'm like are we allowed to do that?  So he brings me to the door and he knocks on his cell door and I started like freaking out a little bit. 

I was like ... 'you're going to get him upset.  You're going to get him mad.' So he sticks his hand, he waves hello to him through the door, and Saddam comes up to the door, a big smile on his face, you know puts his hand over his heart and he's like 'Hello, it's nice to meet you.'  So you know I said the same thing back to him. I just thought,  'Why am I saying it's nice to meet (him)?' ... So that was my first time meeting him. 

DANIELS:  You referenced him as Saddam, are you on a first-name basis at this point? 

REESE:  Well I didn't know what to call him.  I just usually got his attention by making a noise or something like that.

DANIELS:   Lisa, it's such a great idea for an article.  I'm just curious, how did this transpire? 

LISA DE PAULO, "GQ" CORRESPONDENT:  Actually Sean and I are from the same hometown ... and I heard he was in Iraq and I heard he was on some mysterious assignment and kept up with it.

DANIELS:  But the military, did they have to approve the article? 

DE PAULO:  Well I spoke to several of his commanding officers and I knew that when they left Iraq they signed certain things ... that explained what they couldn't talk about, such as the location, the number of forces, methods -- actual methods of guarding him that would put soldiers in jeopardy.  Well we wouldn't have printed that anyway that was pretty easy.  But in terms of their personal stories, I was shocked at how many there were. 

DANIELS:  Yes, it's really -- it's a great article.  Sean ... outline for us what a typical day was for Saddam Hussein. 

O`SHEA:  Well wake up early in the morning, around 7 a.m. and then he'd have his breakfast. 

DANIELS:  But what's the breakfast like?

O`SHEA:  We usually have eggs, French toast, a lot of fruit, and ...

DANIELS:  But not Froot Loops, let's be clear ... about that.  The guy didn't like Froot Loops, right?

O`SHEA:  Yes, not Froot Loops.  He liked Raisin Bran.

DANIELS:  But do you cater to that?  Did the military provide Raisin Bran because Saddam Hussein liked it?

O`SHEA:  Not because Saddam Hussein liked it.  It was something that was available to all the troops but he got to eat exactly what we had to eat, so he just -- he just took a liking to it.

DANIELS:  OK, so then what happens after breakfast?  What happens next?

O`SHEA:  After breakfast, the doctors come to see him and then he goes outside for a little while, takes a shower, has lunch, then dinner and then ...

DANIELS:  How many showers a week did he -- I think in the article it said two, right?

O`SHEA:  For a while, it was two showers a week, but he's able to shower every day now. 

DANIELS:  OK and what happens in the evening?  What are the evening plans?

O`SHEA:  Pretty much just calm.  He just sits down, writes in his cell and then goes to bed. 

DANIELS:  So Jonathan, tell me about this neat freak.  It's worse than a neat freak.  He sounds from the article like he's a germaphobe.

REESE:  Yes ... you can't word it any better than that.  For example, like if you met him, like you came into his presence, he'd shake your hand and after you left he would take his baby wipes that we supplied him with and he would wipe his hands off, but he never did it in front ... in front of you to offend you.  He also wiped off his utensils, his plates, his trays.  Basically anytime he felt dirty, he wiped himself off. 

DANIELS:  And so here you have Saddam Hussein trying to make conversation with you on certain days.  Do you answer him?  What were the rules regarding what you could and could not say? 

REESE:  We couldn't tell him anything personal about ourselves.  I mean I wouldn't want him knowing anything personal about me either.

DANIELS:  But he told you he loved President Reagan, right? 

REESE:  Yes.  Yes.

DANIELS:  And I understand one of you told him that he actually died.

O`SHEA:  Yes, I told ... that he passed away...

DANIELS:  And what was his reaction, Sean, when you told him? 

O`SHEA:  He just said yes, it happens. 

DANIELS:  Yes.  So did you guys actually like him?  Was he a likable guy, Jonathan? 

REESE:  In a sense ... yes, he was if I didn't know anything about his past.  But since I knew everything that he's done to his own country and stuff like that, he wasn't really likable in the back of your mind.  But as far the outer side of him, yes, he seemed like a likable guy, like if I didn't know anything about him, I'd probably like (him).

DANIELS:  And I also understand he gave you guys dating tips. ... Anything good that you want to share with me?

O`SHEA:  I don't think anything that would work. 


DANIELS:  What about those photos we saw in the 'London Sun' of Saddam in his underwear.  How do you think those got released? 

O`SHEA: You know what, there were people guarding him before we got there as well, so could it have been somebody from us?  Yes.  I highly doubt it.  The way our platoon was run, it was -- we had a tight ship.

REESE:  Yes.

O`SHEA:  Actually, I was kind of upset by those pictures because it kind of ... showed him, you know ... kind of made it look like we treated him like a fool...

REESE:  Yes.

O`SHEA:  ... and we didn't. 

REESE:  Definitely, yes.

DANIELS:  Lisa, when you read the article, he almost becomes likeable, Saddam Hussein.  He's very timid.  He likes his, you know, his Raisin Bran.  He doesn't like his Froot Loops.  Were you worried how this article was going to be received? 

DE PAULO:  Well I think Sean said this best and I think most of the guys agree that one of the things they learned was he had to be charming to manipulate millions of people.  He had to be -- it's kind of like -- I felt the truth about Saddam was as important as the truth about a serial killer. 
We can never know too much about them, and this is the truth.

DANIELS: Well it's really a fascinating article to read.  Of course, you know, his love of Doritos is not going to make me like the man, but I think it's a very interesting perspective from you, Sean and Jonathan.

Lisa DePaulo, Sean O`Shea, and Jonathan "Paco" Reese, thanks so much for coming on the show. 

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.


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