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Don Yaeger
March 24, 2003
As Iraq's top Olympic official, Uday Hussein is accused of the torture and murder of athletes who fail to win
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March 24, 2003

Son Of Saddam

As Iraq's top Olympic official, Uday Hussein is accused of the torture and murder of athletes who fail to win

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As he stood at the double-door entrance to the office of Iraqi National Olympic Committee president Uday Hussein, the boxer knew what awaited on the other side. He had just returned from a Gulf States competition, where he had been knocked out in the first round. Now it was time to pay the price. � Inside the yellow-and-blue office, Uday, the older of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's two sons, paced the floor, waving his expensive Cuban cigar and glaring out the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Baghdad. "He was yelling about how Iraq should not be embarrassed by its athletes," recalls Latif Yahia, employed for nearly five years as Uday's body double—he would stand in for Uday on occasions that were deemed a security threat—and one of his closest associates to have escaped to the West. "He kept saying, "This is my Iraq. Embarrassing Iraq embarrasses me.' "

With a wave of Uday's arm the manacled boxer was led into the room by Iraqi secret service. Sitting behind a dark wood desk beneath an oversized portrait of himself, Uday began his tirade. "In sport you can win or you can lose. I told you not to come home if you didn't win." His voice rising, he walked around the desk and gave the boxer a lesson. "This is how you box," he screamed as he threw a left and a right straight to the fighter's face. Blood dribbled from the athlete's nose as Uday launched another round of punches. Then, using the electric prod he was famous for carrying, Uday jolted the boxer in the chest.

Blood was streaming from a cut above the boxer's eye when Uday ordered his guards to fetch a straight razor. The boxer cried out as Uday held the razor to his throat, and as he moved the blade to the fighter's forehead, Uday laughed. He then shaved the man's eyebrows, an insult to Muslim males. "Take him downstairs and finish the job," Uday screamed.

Says Yahia, "They took him to the basement of the Olympic building. It has a 30-cell prison where athletes—and anyone else who is out of favor with Uday—are beaten and tortured. That was the last I ever heard of that boxer."

The Butcher's boy, as he is sometimes called, is reputed to be the most brutal member of Iraq's notorious ruling family. As an infant he reportedly played with disarmed grenades. By 10 he was accompanying his father to the torture chamber at Qasr-al-Nihayyah (the Palace of the End, where many political enemies, including deposed King Faisal II, were killed) to watch Saddam deal with dissidents. By 16 he bragged of committing his first murder, telling classmates he had killed a teacher who had upbraided him in front of a girlfriend.

For nearly 20 years Uday Hussein has been the most powerful force in Iraq's athletic hierarchy. In 1984, when Uday was 20, Saddam handed his son the reins of both the country's Olympic committee and its soccer federation, hoping Uday could help rebuild the spirit of the nation's youth while also proving himself a worthy successor to his father. The Iran- Iraq war, which would drag on for eight years and lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of young Iraqis, was demoralizing Iraqi youth. Success in sports, Saddam thought, could lift their spirits and restore national pride.

" Saddam's plan didn't work," says Issam Thamer al-Diwan, a former Iraqi volleyball player who now lives in the United States and carries a list of 52 athletes he claims have been murdered by the Hussein family. "Iraqi sports are worse today than ever. Our teams used to win. There was much pride in playing for your country. But Uday never understood pride, only fear. He was never an athlete. He thought he could use his father's sadistic approach to improve performance. He has failed."

In fact Iraq, once an Asian sports force that sent 46 athletes to the 1980 Summer Olympics, now rivals Liechtenstein in terms of athletic insignificance. Iraq sent just four athletes to the 2000 Games in Sydney. "People don't want to play because they [are afraid] to lose," says Sabah Mohammed, Iraq's former national basketball coach, who fled to London in 1999 and claims that nine members of his wife's family have been executed by the Hussein regime. "Can you blame them? No one wants to speak out against Uday." (SI's attempts to reach Uday for comment through the Iraqi permanent mission to the United Nations were unsuccessful.)

Uday's penchant for violence has long been an open secret among international athletic officials. Amnesty International reported in 2001 that Uday had ordered the hand of a security officer at his Olympic headquarters to be chopped off five years earlier, after the man was accused of stealing sports equipment that was missing (but later turned up). In 1997 FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, sent two investigators to Baghdad to question members of the Iraqi national team who'd allegedly had their feet caned by Uday's henchmen after losing a World Cup qualifying match to Kazakhstan. The investigators spoke only to people whom Uday had selected. The result: a report exonerating Uday.

"Did the torture of those players happen?" asks Sharar Haydar, a longtime Iraqi soccer star who participated in 40 international matches for the national team and was a teammate of many of the victims. "Absolutely. But when you interview athletes who are under Uday's control, what else do you expect them to say?

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