By Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2004 - One year ago U.S. forces found Saddam Hussein hiding in a spider hole near his hometown of Tikrit. The former Iraqi dictator remains imprisoned at an undisclosed location awaiting his trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Saddam is in the physical custody of Multinational Force Iraq officials, although the Iraqi interim government maintains legal custody, according to Air Force Maj. Michael Shavers, a DOD spokesman. His status as an enemy prisoner of war ended after an Iraqi judge notified him June 30 that he was facing criminal charges under the Iraqi criminal code.
The former dictator faced an Iraqi investigative judge July 1, and will be tried according to Iraqi law, Shavers said. A panel of Iraqi judges will determine his fate at the Iraqi Special Tribunal, yet to be scheduled.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited Saddam twice since his capture by U.S. troops : Feb. 21 and April 27, Shavers confirmed. Officials say he is receiving appropriate medical care and is in good health.
The upcoming tribunal will bring closure to more than three decades of brutality by the former dictator, who has been linked to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. Removing him from power was a major objective of Operation Iraqi Freedom, due to the threat he posed not only to the Iraqis, but also to the region and the United States.
One year ago on December 12, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, civilian administrator of the then-Coalition Provisional Authority, uttered three words that brought a close to the manhunt for the former dictator: “We got him.”
U.S. forces captured Saddam, whom they found hiding in a manmade hole in the ground inside a remote hideaway near the village of Adwar on Dec. 13, 2003. About 600 members of the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, along with special operations forces, had launched Operation Red Dawn after receiving intelligence that Saddam was in the area. A tip from someone inside the dictator's secret circle led the U.S. forces to him.
Having eluded coalition forces since the war had begun March 19, Saddam surrendered without resistance. No shots were fired during the operation.
He was discovered huddled with a pistol and $750,000 in U.S. currency. Also with him were documents that outlined the structure of Saddam's network and its financial network - information officials said offered valuable insights to coalition troops.
President Bush said on that day the capture marked “the end of the road,” not only for Saddam, but also “for all who bullied and killed in his name.” He said during a televised national address that the capture “was crucial to the rise of a free Iraq” and that it sends a clear message to Baathist holdouts in Iraq. “There will be no return to the corrupt power and privilege they once held,” he said.
Bush assured the Iraqi people that “a dark and painful era in the history of Iraq is finally over. “You will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again,” he said. “The former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions.”
Shortly after the capture, Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, called Saddam's capture “a huge psychological blow” to the insurgency that he said “will pay dividends over time.”
“We've got a lot of fighting ahead of us,” Abizaid acknowledged. “But this is a big win for the young soldiers that made it happen, and for the young intelligence professionals that are smart enough to put the information together to lead us to the right place.”
During his recent Dec. 7 visit to Camp Pendleton, Calif., President Bush praised the Marines for their role in Saddam's capture. “You drove Saddam Hussein from his palace into a spider hole,” the president told a cheering crowd of Marines and family members, “and now he sits in an Iraqi prison, awaiting justice.”