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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Exclusive: Videographer of Saddam Execution

Dec. 30, 2006 - Ali Al Massedy was 3 feet away from Saddam Hussein when he died. The 38 year old, normally Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's official videographer, was the man responsible for filming the late dictator's execution at dawn on Saturday. "I saw fear, he was afraid," Ali told NEWSWEEK minutes after returning from the execution. Wearing a rumpled green suit and holding a Sony HDTV video camera in his right hand, Ali recalled the dictator's last moments. "He was saying things about injustice, about resistance, about how these guys are terrorists," he says. On the way to the gallows, according to Ali, "Saddam said, ‘Iraq without me is nothing.’"

Ali says he followed Saddam up the gallows steps, escorted by two guards. He stood over the hole and filmed from close quarters as Saddam dropped through—from "me to you," he said, crouching down to show how he shot the scene. The distance, he said, was "about one meter," he said. "He died absolutely, he died instantly." Ali said Saddam's body twitched, "shaking, very shaking," but "no blood," he said, and "no spit." (Ali said he was not authorized to disclose the location, and did not give other details of the room.)

Ali said the videotape lasts about 15 minutes. When NEWSWEEK asked to see a copy, Ali said he had already handed the tape over to Maliki's chief of staff. "It is top secret," he said. He would not give the names of officials in attendance, though he estimates there were around 20 observers. One of them, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, told CNN that Saddam clasped a Koran as the noose was tied around his neck, and refused to wear a hood. He also said that government officials had not decided whether or not to release the videotape. The execution reportedly took place at 6:05 a.m. local time. Prime Minister Maliki did not attend.

Ali was greeted as a hero when he returned from the execution a little after 7 a.m., flying in with other officials and landing in two helicopters in the Green Zone. A convoy of 20 or so GMCs and Toyota Land Cruisers waited outside to drive some of the Iraqi officials home.

The Iraqi bodyguards, mostly Shiites they said, had passed the time smoking and praying—some prayed on cardboard mats on the street.

It was a cold morning in Baghdad, a few degrees above freezing, and in the post dawn light the guards' breaths could be seen in the air. When the thudding of helicopters began, the body guards rushed towards the entrance to the landing zone. They swarmed around Ali, snapping digital pictures on camera phones and cheering. "Saddam finished, Saddam finished," a guard who gave his name as Mohammed told NEWSWEEK. Ali looked somewhat stunned as he exited, carrying the camera.

"All Iraqis will be happy," he says. "This is the most important day for me [as a cameraman,]" he said. "This page [in history] is over, this page is over. All Iraqis will be happy from the north to the south to the east to the west." One of the judges who presided over the execution then came out to the street; Ali jumped in a car with him. The convoy of SUVs drove off, one after the other, with the occasional honk of the horn.

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