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Appetite for fish proved fatal for Saddam Hussein, Iraq veteran says

| Wednesday, April 22, 2015, 10:42 p.m.
Eric Maddox, 42, of Sapulpa, Okla., is a retired interrogator from the defense intelligence agency who acquired the intelligence that led to Saddam Hussein’s capture.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Eric Maddox, 42, of Sapulpa, Okla., is a retired interrogator from the defense intelligence agency who acquired the intelligence that led to Saddam Hussein’s capture.

To find Saddam Hussein, Eric Maddox followed the fish.

Maddox, a former Army interrogation specialist who led the hunt for the ousted Iraqi dictator, spoke at a fundraiser Wednesday at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland.

A special operations task force captured Hussein Dec. 13, 2003, near his hometown of Tikrit. He was found hiding in an underground bunker known as a spider hole near a farmhouse.

Four months earlier, Maddox interrogated Hussein's cook, who told him Hussein's favorite dish was masgouf — grilled fish spiced with salt and pepper.

Hussein's inner circle couldn't go to the fish market after the dictator was overthrown. Maddox knew Hussein would have to get his fish some other way.

Another source told him an associate of Hussein built a fish pond and stocked it with carp. A fisherman at the pond told him where Hussein's bodyguard was hiding. The bodyguard eventually led the special ops team to Hussein.

“If you look at any high-value target, you can track them down through their vices,” Maddox told the Trib before the fundraiser.

“Saddam Hussein was tracked down through his fish. (Osama) bin Laden was tracked down through his messengers and his wives. … All high-value targets are human. After a while, they're like, ‘Man, I need some fish. I need some women.' ”

Maddox, 42, interrogated more than 300 people before finding Hussein. Most were uncooperative, but Maddox said he did not resort to waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques.

He got Hussein's bodyguard to talk by having special ops round up 40 of the man's relatives and using them as leverage.

“I told him, ‘I'll let them all go. I'll let every single one of them walk if you give me Saddam Hussein,' ” Maddox said. “When he broke, he just said, ‘We've got to go. We have to go right now.' ”

Maddox wrote a book about the manhunt called “Mission: Black List #1: The Inside Story of the Search for Saddam Hussein — As Told by the Soldier Who Masterminded His Capture.” It is being developed into a feature-length film.

Maddox became a consultant after retiring from the military last year. He lives in Sapulpa, Okla.

The fundraiser benefitted Operation StrongVet Western Pennsylvania, a group that raises money for veteran programs.

Tony Raap is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7827 or traap@tribweb.com.

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