NORMAN — In November 2003, Eric Maddox participated in a Delta Force team's raid of a fish pond in Iraq he hoped would turn up something that might lead the team to Saddam Hussein.
Within the next few days, the U.S. Army would have the deposed dictator in custody.
Maddox, the military interrogator who orchestrated Hussein's capture, spoke Wednesday at the University of Oklahoma. Maddox, who hails from Sapulpa, graduated from OU in 1994.
At the beginning of his career as a military interrogator, Maddox was a bit out of his element, he said. He had served as a paratrooper in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Before Sept. 11, 2001, he had been working at the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
In 2003, Maddox volunteered to be a military interrogator. After going through a training program, he was sent to Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, to interrogate prisoners who were captured on raids by special forces teams.
At the time, the teams were searching for high value targets — those included in the famous deck of cards that coalition forces used to help troops identify members of the Hussein regime. Hussein himself was pictured on the ace of spades.
Maddox quickly learned that the interrogation techniques the Army had taught him wouldn't be effective in Tikrit. The Army had taught its interrogators to overwhelm subjects with damning information, eventually convincing the prisoner to turn over whatever he or she knew.
But that wouldn't work in Tikrit, Maddox said. During his rule, Hussein's forces would force confessions out of Iraqis and summarily execute them, he said. Most Iraqis had learned not to confess to anything under force for fear of being killed, he said.
“We were taught to forcefully convince them to give a confession,” he said. “Everything the Army had taught me wasn't going to work.”
So, Maddox developed a new way of dealing with prisoners. Rather than forcing a confession from them, Maddox began explaining to them that he wasn't interested in what they had done or putting them in jail. He was only interested in hearing any information they had. After that, he would send them home.
After he changed his approach to interrogating subjects, the prisoners tended to be more responsive, he said.
In early November, Maddox's team raided a fishing pond in Tikrit hoping to find Mohammed Ibrahim, an insurgent commander and Hussein's right-hand man. U.S. forces knew Ibrahim used the pond for fishing and they hoped Ibrahim could lead them to Hussein.
As it happened, Maddox said, Ibrahim wasn't at the pond at the time. But the team took two prisoners, who Maddox took back to Baghdad to interrogate. One of the prisoners was a cousin of an associate of Ibrahim's and told Maddox where to find the friend.
U.S. forces then captured Ibrahim's associate, who told Maddox the team had captured Ibrahim earlier. Maddox's team had Ibrahim in custody and didn't know it, he said. So, Maddox went to look over the prisoners the team had taken. Ibrahim was among them, he said — Maddox recognized him immediately.
“He had a chin that looks like John Travolta's chin,” he said.
Maddox interrogated Ibrahim, eventually convincing him to give him Hussein's whereabouts. Maddox was scheduled to give a briefing in Doha, Qatar, later that day, and his plane was waiting. So he handed another interrogator a sketch to Hussein's location and asked him to call Maddox's team in Tikrit.
While Maddox was on his way to Doha, his team raided the house Ibrahim had pointed out and found nothing there. Then, Ibrahim began digging in the sand. As he was digging, he uncovered a piece of rope. A soldier pulled the rope out, bringing with it a lid that covered the spider hole where Saddam Hussein was hiding.
“That is how the United States military tracked down the ace of spades,” Maddox said. “So that's pretty much my story.”