STARRED REVIEW
June 06, 2017

The last days of a tyrant

By Will Bardenwerper

What's it like to spend hours with a murderous, monstrous world leader? Can such a person be capable of kindness?

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What's it like to spend hours with a murderous, monstrous world leader? Can such a person be capable of kindness?

In the summer of 2006, a group of 12 American soldiers deployed to Iraq were astounded to find themselves in a strange crosshair of history: They were assigned to guard fallen leader Saddam Hussein throughout his trial during the months leading to his execution on December 30. Calling themselves the "Super Twelve," and ranging in age from 20 to mid-30s, the men weren't allowed to take notes or tell their families about their mission.

Author Will Bardenwerper, a former Airborne Ranger in Iraq and Presidential Management Fellow at the Pentagon, listened to Army interviews with these 12 men and conducted hours of his own questioning of the group as well as others. The Prisoner in His Palace offers a behind-the-scenes look at history that's nearly impossible to put down. Interspersing tales from Saddam's past with scenes of his final days, Bardenwerper paints an intimate portrait of a man sometimes called "Vic," for "Very Important Criminal."

Hussein's atrocities are numerous and well documented. Desperately poor as a child and terribly abused by his stepfather, the CIA has described him as a "malignant narcissist" with certain "psychopathic attributes." He had his own sons-in-law assassinated and was responsible for the ruthless killing of many.

Interestingly, this bellowing showman who was on trial for his life immediately quieted down once out of the courtroom, often sharing expensive cigars with the Super Twelve while asking for stories of their families. An FBI agent described Hussein as "a genius in an interpersonal setting," and indeed, he proved to be an excellent listener.

Certainly a man of contradictions, this murderer was a germophobe, a skilled chess player and a neatnik who saved crumbs to feed the birds. Hussein even wrote a poem for his medic's wife, and urged the youngest of the Super Twelve to leave Iraq and go to college. In fact, he offered to pay for the soldier's college if he ever gained access to his bank account.

As he was being led away to his execution, Hussein thanked the 12 Americans guarding him, adding that "they'd become 'more family to him' than any Iraqis had been." The Prisoner in His Palace offers a mesmerizing glimpse into the final moments of a brutal tyrant's life.

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The Prisoner in His Palace

The Prisoner in His Palace

By Will Bardenwerper
Scribner
ISBN 9781501117831

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