Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein

Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein

In December 2003, after one of the largest, most aggressive manhunts in history, US military forces captured Iraqi president Saddam Hussein near his hometown of Tikrit. Beset by body-double rumors and false alarms during a nine-month search, the Bush administration needed positive identification of the prisoner before it could make the announcement that would rocket around...

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Title:Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein
Author:John Nixon
Rating:
ISBN:0399575812
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:272 pages

Debriefing the President: The Interrogation of Saddam Hussein Reviews

  • Thiago S.
    Dec 31, 2016

    Pontos positivos:

    - As conversas com Bush no salao oval;

    - Opinioes de Saddam sobre determinados eventos e figuras historicas;

    - Alguns detalhes surpreendentes sobre o governo de Saddam e traços de sua personalidade.

    - Livro bem escrito, tranquilo de ler várias páginas de uma vez.

    Pontos negativos:

    - Partes censuradas pela CIA;

    - Embora o autor critique o governo americano várias vezes, o faz com zêlo e omite informações importantes, até por ainda ser um funcionário do Estado;

    - O livro perde muito tem

    Pontos positivos:

    - As conversas com Bush no salao oval;

    - Opinioes de Saddam sobre determinados eventos e figuras historicas;

    - Alguns detalhes surpreendentes sobre o governo de Saddam e traços de sua personalidade.

    - Livro bem escrito, tranquilo de ler várias páginas de uma vez.

    Pontos negativos:

    - Partes censuradas pela CIA;

    - Embora o autor critique o governo americano várias vezes, o faz com zêlo e omite informações importantes, até por ainda ser um funcionário do Estado;

    - O livro perde muito tempo com informações e análises sore a CIA, quando poderia, até pelo vasto conhecimento do autor, trazer mais detalhes sobre a biografia de Saddam, que é o assunto que provavle ente interessa a maioria de quem adquiriu Debriefing the President;

    Um livro interessante de ler, mas confesso que eu esperava um pouco mais. Um exemplo são os motivos que levaram à invasão do Kuwait que são abordados de forma muito simplória e ficam aquem das justificativas dadas pelo próprio Saddam, posteriormente, quando interrogado pelo FBI. Isso pode se dar pelo fato do interrogatório do FBI ter sido mais eficiente ou pelo autor querer esconder o jogo.

    Veredito:

    Um trabalho que não é ruim, mas poderia ser muito mais melhor se: 1) com mais páginas e informações; 2) O autor ainda não fosse funcionário do governo americano. Infelizmente, embora Nixon seja imparcial e crítico em diversas oportunidades, em outras transparece um excesso de zêlo chapa-branca. O autor não quis se queimar profissionalmente, e isso acabou afetando a profundidade do livro. 3,5 estrelas.

  • Chris Lawson
    Dec 22, 2016

    For Years At The CIA, I Lived And Breathed Saddam

    DEBRIEFING THE PRESIDENT is an informative look into the life of a senior CIA analyst, John Nixon, who happens to also be the one who debriefed Saddam Hussein. When he was first confronted with the dictator, Nixon thought, “Holy shit, it’s Saddam!” Nixon was introduced as "Mr. Steve."

    Although he spoke cordially with Hussein, the author makes it clear that he wasn't fooled; he knew exactly what this man stood for: "He was a ruthless dictator who,

    For Years At The CIA, I Lived And Breathed Saddam

    DEBRIEFING THE PRESIDENT is an informative look into the life of a senior CIA analyst, John Nixon, who happens to also be the one who debriefed Saddam Hussein. When he was first confronted with the dictator, Nixon thought, “Holy shit, it’s Saddam!” Nixon was introduced as "Mr. Steve."

    Although he spoke cordially with Hussein, the author makes it clear that he wasn't fooled; he knew exactly what this man stood for: "He was a ruthless dictator who, at times, made decisions that plunged his region into chaos and bloodshed." And, "Saddam was tough, shrewd, and manipulative."

    The author explains that for interrogating Hussein, he was given a $75 gift certificate to a local Italian restaurant!

    Nixon believes, like many others, that the U.S. effort to capture the dictator was misguided, and came at too high a price. Looking back, it just seemed not worth it: "In hindsight, the thought of having Saddam Hussein in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the awful events and wasted effort of America’s brave young men and women in uniform, not to mention the $ 3 trillion and still counting we have spent to build a new Iraq."

    Nixon's offers withering criticism of the Bush administration; they just didn't understand Iraq, and especially Saddam: "The United States had vastly misunderstood both him and his role as a determined foe of radical currents in the Islamic world, including Sunni extremism." Nixon sees Saddam's removal as a tragic mistake, with lots of unintended consequences: "Saddam’s removal created a power vacuum that turned religious differences in Iraq into a sectarian bloodbath."

    DEBRIEFING THE PRESIDENT is a deadly serious book, but it does have a few light moments. Describing the CIA staff living in Iraq, Nixon recalls their poor conditions: "We lived in trailers, and often four or five of us were packed into each one." Longing for American food was common, and there was a single "Burger King" restaurant not too far away--they just had to make sure they weren't blown up on the way there: "Like other service personnel, CIA officers made special trips to the airport, braving the gauntlet of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) for a Whopper and fries."

    Mr. Nixon expresses frustration with the marginal competence of his superiors, as well as the inexperience of his fellow analysts. The agency is not what people might think: "The CIA, like most large bureaucracies , was plagued with competing fiefdoms."

    After the Iraq invasion, tons of newbie analysts were brought in, and the CIA thought they could be brought up to speed quickly. Nixon says they were simply not up to the job: "Few of them had analytic skills, and most were content to cut and paste material from previously published intelligence reports. . . " The agency foolishly thought that a good analyst could be developed quickly: "The Agency still thought it could take anyone and make him or her a first-rate analyst within a few months. I can say from hard experience that this approach simply doesn’t work."

    Nixon relates his frustration with the Bush administration and their pre-conceived ideas of the situation in Iraq. As a senior analyst, he was frustrated that they stuck to their options, "No matter what the intelligence showed."

    The author also has harsh words for CIA management, complaining of the "CYA" culture and just telling higher-ups what they wanted to hear, whether it was precise or not: "The CIA’s cover-your-ass culture is a formidable obstacle. Expertise is not valued, indeed not trusted, because experts can be wrong."

    Nixon had a handful of visits to the Oval Office, to brief the president and vice-president. I thought these accounts were perhaps the most fascinating part of the book. The author's final meeting with President Bush was tense. He was asked a lot of off-subject questions by the president, who was rude to the author when he didn't quickly respond (Nixon thought to himself, "What an asshole!")

    In this last briefing, Nixon answered the questions as best as he could, but his opinions conflicted with senior officials. Word got around about Nixon's turbulent briefing, and others in the agency seemed to avoid him: "When I walked around headquarters during the next few weeks, it was if I were radioactive."

    The author has critical words, of a different sort, for President Obama. The analysts at the CIA had high hopes for Obama, and thought he would be more interested in truly understanding foreign affairs, but they were disappointed: "The new president could not understand why the government spent so much on intelligence but, in his view, got so little in return."

    All in all, I found DEBRIEFING THE PRESIDENT to be an interesting, informative book. The author seems to me to be a dedicated, intelligent man, who gave his job 100%, under some difficult circumstances. I thought the book was well written, and I found his narrative easy to follow. I appreciate the author's expertise on Iraq--and especially his "insider view" on the life of Saddam Hussein and his last days. I especially appreciated the author's arguments for the need to have highly experienced analysts in the field, as opposed to "yes men" who simply tell higher-ups what they want to hear. It will be interesting to hear the reaction from those who were the object of this book's criticism

    Advance Review Copy courtesy of the publisher.

  • Daniel
    Jan 12, 2017

    An illuminating book. While the actual interrogation of Saddam comprises only two-thirds of the book, the reader learns a lot about how CIA analysts work and how they can be pressured by an administration to report news that flatters politicians' assumptions. Yes, there is some Monday-morning quarterbacking and there are a few moments where the author seems to have been mesmerized by the Butcher of Bagdad. But these don't detract from the overall impression that sticks with the reader about the

    An illuminating book. While the actual interrogation of Saddam comprises only two-thirds of the book, the reader learns a lot about how CIA analysts work and how they can be pressured by an administration to report news that flatters politicians' assumptions. Yes, there is some Monday-morning quarterbacking and there are a few moments where the author seems to have been mesmerized by the Butcher of Bagdad. But these don't detract from the overall impression that sticks with the reader about the difficulty of choosing the devil you know instead of the devil you don't. Recommended.

  • Keith CARTER
    Jan 13, 2017

    Excellent read, this book really opened my eyes regarding the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces. Nixon was one of the first of many agents of the CIA to debrief Saddam and although the man was a monster he also comes across as intelligent and articulate who was also proud of his country. But most of all it shows us that the U S had absolutely no plan for post-invasion Iraq. Bush Jnr seems to me to be nothing more than (if you will pardon my language) an A-----E.. This is not my normal choice

    Excellent read, this book really opened my eyes regarding the invasion of Iraq by coalition forces. Nixon was one of the first of many agents of the CIA to debrief Saddam and although the man was a monster he also comes across as intelligent and articulate who was also proud of his country. But most of all it shows us that the U S had absolutely no plan for post-invasion Iraq. Bush Jnr seems to me to be nothing more than (if you will pardon my language) an A-----E.. This is not my normal choice of book but boy am I glad I read it.

  • Melissa
    Jan 22, 2017

    The most interesting aspect of this book is the decidedly black and white thinking that permeated the Bush foreign policy. We had preconceived ideas about Iraq and the Middle East that clearly interfered with our ability to act rationally and intelligently in the Middle East. Facts were cherry picked to support preconceived ideas about Iraq and Hussein. Clearly destabilization of the Middle East was a result of the Bush administration's failure to listen to facts instead of what they just wanted

    The most interesting aspect of this book is the decidedly black and white thinking that permeated the Bush foreign policy. We had preconceived ideas about Iraq and the Middle East that clearly interfered with our ability to act rationally and intelligently in the Middle East. Facts were cherry picked to support preconceived ideas about Iraq and Hussein. Clearly destabilization of the Middle East was a result of the Bush administration's failure to listen to facts instead of what they just wanted to hear. I think the author's assessment of the situation is correct especially given what we now know. The search for WMD truly blinded the administration and was possibly a ploy to start a war that it wanted to wage. Saddam was a terrible dictator, but we are still living in the aftermath of a failed foreign policy.

  • Murtaza
    Jan 17, 2017

    Firsthand accounts of historical figures have always been fascinating to me, and this is a particularly captivating recollection by a former CIA officer of his interrogations of Saddam Hussein. John Nixon studied Saddam from afar for years, and later had the rare opportunity of confronting him face to face in weeks of interviews. The simple fact of having quotes from Saddam is amazing, but Nixon is also a smart interlocutor and writer. He eschews cliches and gives a humane and thoughtful account

    Firsthand accounts of historical figures have always been fascinating to me, and this is a particularly captivating recollection by a former CIA officer of his interrogations of Saddam Hussein. John Nixon studied Saddam from afar for years, and later had the rare opportunity of confronting him face to face in weeks of interviews. The simple fact of having quotes from Saddam is amazing, but Nixon is also a smart interlocutor and writer. He eschews cliches and gives a humane and thoughtful account of his discussions with Saddam, as well as the consequences of the American role in Iraq generally.

    A few things that are particularly striking are Nixon's accounts of the organizational dysfunction within the U.S. government and the CIA in particular. The CIA has a public reputation as a highly sophisticated (and nefarious) organization, but from his telling it functions just like any other dysfunctional bureaucracy. While it accomplishes its goals sometimes, it is also full of departmental politics, careerists and time-servers. It is notable that some of those tasked with interviewing Saddam, a highly consequential role, didn't have much knowledge or experience on the subject. Nixon himself had only a few years of study on Iraq and the Middle East and evidently spoke little Arabic (despite this, he seemed to be among the most knowledgable about Saddam in the CIA). Many others in sensitive roles seemed to be similarly situated. Its a reminder that all organizations, even the CIA, are full of people of varying degrees of knowledge and skill, and there are few if any large bureaucracies that are full of supermen. Through his work he also spends some time briefing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and has interesting insights on both (he describes Bush as "an asshole" at one point when he makes a snide comment at him during a briefing).

    The subtext to the entire book is Nixon's relationship with Saddam. The surreality of confronting Saddam in the flesh after years of studying him is well conveyed. Through their conversations he grapples with the difficult question of what America's role should have been when dealing with an undeniably murderous ruler like Saddam. Ultimately, he takes a pragmatic perspective, arguing that Saddam, while a heinous individual, was not the Hitlerian figure he had been caricatured as in the United States. Nixon argues instead that Saddam was a product of the political environment in his country. He describes him as parochial and unworldly, but deeply knowledgable about the currents of his own society; far more so than those who invaded and attempted to make a new political order in the void that he left. Ultimately Nixon describes the invasion as a great error, citing reasons that are humane and thoughtful, regardless of ones own beliefs.

    All in all this is an excellent book, lucidly written and by an author who comes across as quite likeable and self-reflective. Close-quarters accounts of history are always engaging, and this is a particularly good example.

  • Chuck
    Jan 17, 2017

    4-stars

    Trust me, you don’t wanna read this. It’s so much easier to believe the blowhards on Fox News. Just forget what the CIA’s top expert on the matter has to say. And just forget the fact that Saddam neither had WMDs nor a thing to do with 9/11. And why should it matter that Saddam thought the attack on 9/11 should actually bring our countries closer together? Because the religious lunatics that attacked us were his enemies as well. It isn’t like Cheney and Rumsfeld and company had been plott

    4-stars

    Trust me, you don’t wanna read this. It’s so much easier to believe the blowhards on Fox News. Just forget what the CIA’s top expert on the matter has to say. And just forget the fact that Saddam neither had WMDs nor a thing to do with 9/11. And why should it matter that Saddam thought the attack on 9/11 should actually bring our countries closer together? Because the religious lunatics that attacked us were his enemies as well. It isn’t like Cheney and Rumsfeld and company had been plotting an invasion into Iraq for many years or that the whole world knew the stabilizing role Saddam played in Iraq and that removing him would end in disaster. Oh, except they did. And that essentially Saddam laughed into our faces and wished us the best of luck with that. Just forget it all. It’s so much easier to believe Saddam was a monster who kept the rule totally by fear and didn’t have any good reasons for anything he did. You don’t want to read something that portrays Saddam as being the least bit logical or rational, do you? Just tune into Fox News. They got your vote, er, back, I mean.

  • Ali
    Jan 19, 2017

    Brief Thoughts

    At first it was hard digesting the book, as the author seemed to normalize Saddam, but as the book progressed it was clear that's not the case - after all I grew up in Kuwait and was 7 during the invasion so I have no sympathy for Saddam and the book didn't change my perception of him. He was a ruthless dictator, he lived in his own arrogant head, acted with little wisdom and forethought. Impulsive and insecure. The intent of the author was to present what he witnessed both on the

    Brief Thoughts

    At first it was hard digesting the book, as the author seemed to normalize Saddam, but as the book progressed it was clear that's not the case - after all I grew up in Kuwait and was 7 during the invasion so I have no sympathy for Saddam and the book didn't change my perception of him. He was a ruthless dictator, he lived in his own arrogant head, acted with little wisdom and forethought. Impulsive and insecure. The intent of the author was to present what he witnessed both on the account of interviewing Saddam and his feeding back of briefings to Washington. And to that extent he did a great job.

    Key Takeaways

  • Vahan Zanoyan
    Jan 23, 2017

    For me, it was fascinating to read John Nixon's Debriefing the President. I was living in Washington DC in the mid-1980s and traveling frequently to the Middle East. I lived through many of the events that Nixon describes, and saw them from a different vantage point than his. His description of events and personalities is spot on. His analysis of the damage done to US foreign policy by the neocons is also spot on. Everyone in the White House, the CIA, the State Department and the Department of D

    For me, it was fascinating to read John Nixon's Debriefing the President. I was living in Washington DC in the mid-1980s and traveling frequently to the Middle East. I lived through many of the events that Nixon describes, and saw them from a different vantage point than his. His description of events and personalities is spot on. His analysis of the damage done to US foreign policy by the neocons is also spot on. Everyone in the White House, the CIA, the State Department and the Department of Defense should read this book.

  • Ian Divertie
    Jan 24, 2017

    Now this is the real deal! Written by the CIA officer who conducted all of the interrogations of Saddam after he was captured. He concludes the invasion in April 2003 of Iraq, using his talks with Saddam about the internal structure of the different factions within Iraq, was extremely foolish. Finally, there never where any Weapons of Mass Destruction or connections to Al-Queda. In fact the career CIA people knew that all along, but Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Feith, and Wolfowitz, all politically

    Now this is the real deal! Written by the CIA officer who conducted all of the interrogations of Saddam after he was captured. He concludes the invasion in April 2003 of Iraq, using his talks with Saddam about the internal structure of the different factions within Iraq, was extremely foolish. Finally, there never where any Weapons of Mass Destruction or connections to Al-Queda. In fact the career CIA people knew that all along, but Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Feith, and Wolfowitz, all politically appointed ideologues of the Bush Administration, invented the evidence we were shown, and other wise cooked the books. Politically appointed people are dangerous in some positions. Career people are good, but America is just too political of a country to tolerate true professionals in some positions, there is a big difference in outcomes. One honest, an other that could destroy the country itself. Only trouble can come from that in our critical agencies. Read and heed.