Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission of the Tea Party Review magazine.
By Ralph Benko
A thick two-foot square of Styrofoam began to work its way from what now appeared to be a brickwork entrance in whatever was below. As the top was tossed away, a haggard man in a charcoal colored dishdasha [robe-like garment] began to move. Lights and muzzles bore down the man, illuminating him inside the darkness. Seeing no immediate weapon, the SOF (Special Operations Forces) men kept the flash-gang grenade at bay.
“Samir,” a soldier shouted, calling out to an Iraqi-American refugee working with the special ops team, “come and talk to him. Tell him to come out before he gets killed.”
“Who are you?” demanded the soldiers through the translator.
“I am Saddam Hussein, the duly elected president of Iraq,” the startled man replied. “I am willing to negotiate.”
“Well, President Bush sends his regards,” answered one of the men.
Those are the words of retired Lt. Col. Steve Russell – also known as state Sen. Steve Russell, R-Okla., – the man whom many consider one of the masterminds of the capture of Saddam Hussein.
He was elected to the Oklahoma state senate in 2008, running on a platform of “support for veterans, 2nd Amendment rights, adoption reform, and reducing the tax burden on working Oklahomans.”
At a time when America is fascinated by the exploits of the U.S. Navy’s Seal Team Six, which terminated “with extreme prejudice” the terrorist Osama Bin Laden, and when a certain politician seems to think he deserves credit for disposing of bin Laden (in one speech on the subject, President Obama used the word “I” once per minute), the heroes who neutralized the Butcher of Baghdad should be recognized.
Because of the nature of the bin Laden mission, the Seal Team Six story may never be fully known to the public. That makes the story of Saddam’s capture all the more interesting. Russell tells the tale in his book, “We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein.” But in addition to the gripping account of the Saddam hunt, Russell reveals a story about the values that make America great.
In an exclusive interview, Russell said, “I had hoped folks would be moved by the soldier stories of valor and sacrifice in the book. There are some very moving and compelling stories in the book. Many think the capture was some singular event. There was loss of life and loss of blood to get that raid.”
Many Americans whose only exposure to the war is from television news or Hollywood dramatizations think of Saddam’s capture as a kind of indiscriminate assault. That is as far from the truth as you can get. The meticulousness and discipline with which the military, especially U.S. field commanders, devised and executed the strategy is, perhaps, one of the great untold stories of modern warfare. In ancient times the compelling narrative of the capture would have been immortalized in a work such as “Gilgamesh” or “The Iliad.” It has that kind of epic quality. During World War I or World War II, Col. Russell very likely would have come home to a tickertape parade and a hero’s welcome.
The loss of respect for heroes is much more of a loss to America’s civilian population – a loss of example and a loss of inspiration – than it is to the heroes themselves. Heroes tend to be quiet, unassuming, people intent on getting the job done, despite great personal risk, rather than motivated by a desire for glory or a sense of vainglory. We likely will never know the identity of the members of Seal Team Six during their lifetimes.
But here is a chance to get to know some of those kinds of heroes. “We Got Him!” is filled with intrigue, human interest, and a plot worthy of a Robert Ludlum thriller.
The late Robin Moore, author of “The Green Berets” and “The French Connection,” called the book, “An extraordinary personal glimpse of the war. A monumental credit to himself, his troops, and the United States of America.” Col. Russell’s commanding officer, Gen. Raymond Odierno, bears witness that the book “is the most accurate account I have read to date of the … capture of Saddam Hussein, the brave and heroic actions of his soldiers, along with the countless sacrifices and actions by so many like them, have shaped the future of the world in which we live.” Brian Bennett, a former Baghdad bureau chief of “TIME” magazine, noted, “When I was embedded with Russell’s battalion… I watched them tighten the noose on Saddam, but I never knew how they did it – until I read this book.”
Before deploying to Iraq Col. Russell served in Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Kosovo. He was very much in the center of the action of America’s wars that filled the headlines of the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. No action in which he participated is or could be as iconic, of course, as the hunt and capture of Saddam. Russell has now left the Army and gone on to become a state senator, in Oklahoma. He is a devout Christian and left the military after long and distinguished service (and despite the offer of a promotion) to be an involved father of his five children.
Another glimpse inside the book:
The SOF [Special Operations Forces] guys were, without argument, the best. It wasn’t about the mystery behind them. Some of us had known some of them from earlier days. I had served in the same battalion with one of jack’s team members in Alaska in the 1980s. They were the best because they were the most fit, most dedicated, best-trained and best-supplied operators on the planet. They could do things that we could only dream about. These teams were commanded by majors, but rank was never part of the equation. Full names were almost never known to those outside the community unless you had previously served with one of them. Ranks were never used and were not necessary. Every man in the team had a job and was an expert in it.”
Readers will learn about the two brothers, businessmen from Saddam’s birth village, who supplied critical information about the dictator’s 25 bodyguards, about “the 40” (family members and others in an extended network that provided him with personal services), about “route clearers” (several groups with 800 people each who would cover the chokepoints ahead of the routes he might take), and about the Five Families who were in control of it all.
By this time, the U.S. Army had already defeated the Iraqi army, which had almost disintegrated. The forces Col. Russell would soon command were given orders to occupy Tikrit, and by June 2003, the insurgency had begun in earnest. In a 2009 interview for Parcbench.com, Col. Russell said he “and my soldiers and the others in the brigade” came up with a strategy to go after the Five Families, especially the most influential, the Musslits.
Our analysis led us to believe that there was an upper tier – the “Deck of Cards” guys – consisting of Saddam and his henchman, the ones who got all of the publicity. Then there was the bottom tier, which I called “the trigger pullers,” who we “fought in the bloody street battles.”
So we asked ourselves, “Who’s in between?” As we looked at it and took the information from the brothers in Tikrit, we concluded that in between was the security apparatus. We called them “the Bodyguards.” We figured that they must be the ones acting as go-betweens between Saddam and his remainder network and the guys fighting in the streets. If we could find them, we could follow them back and find Saddam.
Now you know both the end and the beginning of the true story of the hunt and capture of Saddam Hussein. The narrative between is one of rare power. Steve Russell’s “We got Him!” will confirm for any Tea Party patriot why Americans are so right to hold the members of the uniformed services in such great respect.
Ralph Benko is a tea party activist who co-emceed the July 4, 2009, rally of the Boston Tea Party. He was a junior official on the Reagan White House staff and is a columnist for Forbes.com.