The Girl Who Shot Saddam
It was definitely a stroke of luck -- right place, right time -- but as my father always told me, "you create your own luck." I was scheduled to leave Baghdad on June 30th after the handover, but when I found out that Saddam was going to appear before the Iraqi Special Tribunal I took my chances and stayed. I sacrificed a precious seat out of Baghdad on a military flight, knowing I'd be stuck there at least another week or more, with or without Saddam photos. Anybody ready to leave Baghdad will tell you: when you're ready to go, you are REALLY ready to go.
As the time of Saddam's arrival approached, I was nervous. But the desire to do a good job outweighed my anxiety. By the time I got to the ersatz courthouse that Thursday afternoon I felt totally in control. It was one of those rare moments that I had been training for my whole career. My mantra became, "don't think about who he is, or what he did, just shoot, shoot, shoot!"
Finally the curtains opened and the show began. The Tribunal authorities decided to allow me outside for Saddam's arrival. It was the ultimate perp walk. The once-feared Saddam Hussein being marched toward me in shackles, held on both sides by large Iraqi police guards. As Saddam got closer I moved quickly to my spot inside the foyer. He entered, stopped, and, for a chilling moment, stared right at me.
I held my ground and fired away. I felt his anger at my camera, at me, and actually thought he might spit on me. He didn't know exactly what was about to happen and, suddenly, the formerly fierce dictator seemed small and disheveled.
The two guards seated him, then moved directly to each side, their handcuffs and guns ready. Saddam appeared calm for the moment as his eyes darted around the room, observing all who were there to witness his trip to the dock. He seemed to recognize some of the folks in the room. Iraqis intermingled with Americans. A small media pool was present, Peter Jennings of ABC, Christiane Amanpour of CNN, and John Burns of the New York Times. There were TV cameras, a military still photographer, a judge and two court clerks. Saddam once again glared at me, but I continued shooting.
As the judge spoke Saddam became agitated, unrepentant. He questioned the young magistrate in Arabic, and clearly his temper was reaching the boiling point. I later learned the judge at had told him he was no longer the President of Iraq, but was now "the former President of Iraq." He screamed out, "Bush! Bush!" It was all I could understand, but he didn't sound that happy with the President of the United States.
As Saddam was lead away in chains, I saw, like the statues that had glorified him, a dictator toppling before my eyes.
© Karen Ballard
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