Published December 12, 2008
WASHINGTON – He is the man who tracked down the Ace of Spades: Saddam Hussein, the top card in the U.S. military's deck of cards, found crouching like a mole in a darkened spider hole under a trap door at the back of a farm in Tikrit.
For the first time since the Army's 4th Infantry Division captured Saddam in a dramatic raid on Dec. 13, 2003, the U.S. intelligence officer who hunted him down has come forward with his story.
Speaking to FOX News, Staff Sgt. Eric Maddox, who still serves as an interrogator for the Department of Defense, described how he bucked what had been the strategy to find Saddam in the first months of the war -- going after the big name players in the defeated government who were on the loose in the hopes that, if caught, they would reveal Saddam's whereabouts.
"I think the entire story of how Saddam was captured was misunderstood. It was an interrogation over four months. I interrogated over 300 people," Maddox said.
Maddox arrived in Iraq in July 2003. He had never interrogated anyone before. He was sent to Tikrit by his commander — known simply by his nickname of BamBam because of the secret nature of his work.
He thought he was going to be there two days, and he had brought one change of clothes — a short-sleeved baby blue oxford shirt. His detainees told him later that insurgents had put a price on his head — describing him only as "the guy in the blue shirt."
Through careful triangulation and the targeted renditions of low-level drivers and bodyguards — about 32 relatively unknown characters, none of whom ever served in prominent positions in Saddam's government — a Special Operations Task Force unit was taken to the farm in Tikrit where Saddam was hiding.
Maddox said he never tortured anyone, mostly because he doesn't think it works.
But he finally got his lucky break. He arrested a driver who, after eight hours of interrogation, revealed the name of the man who held the key to finding Saddam.
"He finally stopped and said, 'You don't get it do you?' Maddox recalled.
"I said, 'Who do you work for?'
"He said, 'I work for Muhammad Ibrahim.'
"I said, 'Who does he work for?'
"He said, 'He works for the president.'
"And I knew he was talking about Saddam. I said, 'What's he doing for him?'
"He said, 'he's running the insurgency.'
"I said, 'in Tikrit?'
"He said, 'No, in the whole country.'"
That interrogation took place on Dec 1. Over the next 13 days they rounded up 40 family members of Muhammad Ibrahim — anyone who knew him. A lead took them to a house in Baghdad on Dec. 12 — the last day of Maddox's tour in Iraq. They arrested three people — among them Muhammad Ibrahim's lieutenant. The other detainees had bags placed over their heads.
"So I was interrogating the lieutenant and eventually he said, 'I do know Muhammad Ibrahim,' Maddox recalled.
"I said, 'Where was he last night?'
"He said, 'He was at the house (where the raid had taken place).' "
Maddox thought he had escaped.
"I'm like, 'We just missed him.' And my interpreter says, 'No, he was at the house."
They had him.
"So I ran to the cell thinking he's one of these three guys," Maddox said excitedly. "So I lifted up the hoods."
They had Muhammad Ibrahim — the head of the insurgency and Saddam's right-hand man — and they hadn't even known it.
"So I looked at him and I said, 'You are Muhammad Ibrahim. I've been waiting to meet you.'
"And my translator says, 'He's been waiting to meet you too.'"
Maddox had three hours before he was to fly out of Iraq, since his tour was up. He told that to Ibrahim -- and that he had 40 of his relatives in custody and 20 more on a list to nab.
"At the end of those two hours, he did say I'll take you to him (Saddam)," Maddox said.
The task force flew him from Baghdad to the farm in Tikrit. They spent several hours looking for Saddam. Ibrahim didn't want to finger him. Eventually, he walked to the spider hole and kicked a rope.
"The special ops team members noticed it. So they backed him away and pulled it up. And there he was," Maddox said.
Muhammad Ibrahim remains in an Iraqi prison. The Special Forces team found 11.2 million dollars at his house that had been used to fund the insurgency. His family members were set free.
Maddox returned to the U.S.
Saddam Hussein was hanged on Dec. 30, 2006.
Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox recently wrote "Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein — As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture," By Eric Maddox with Davin Seay, published by HarperCollins.