Military nurse recalls softer Saddam

Updated: 2007-01-01 11:00

St. Louis - A military nurse who cared for Saddam Hussein in jail said the deposed president saved bread crusts to feed birds and seldom complained to his captors, except when he had legitimate gripes.

Master Sgt. Robert Ellis cared for the former Iraqi leader from January 2004 until August 2005 at Camp Cropper, the compound near Baghdad where Saddam and other "high value detainees" were held.

Ellis, 56, an operating room nurse in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, said he was ordered to do whatever was needed to keep Saddam alive.

"That was my job: to keep him alive and healthy, so they could kill him at a later date," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story published Sunday. Saddam was executed Saturday.

Ellis checked on Saddam twice a day and wrote a daily report on Saddam's physical and emotional condition.

Saddam told Ellis that cigars and coffee kept his blood pressure down, and it seemed to work. Saddam would insist that Ellis smoke with him.

Ellis said Saddam did not complain much, and, when he did, his complaint was usually legitimate. "He had very good coping skills," Ellis said.

Saddam shared with Ellis memories of happier times when his children were young. The former president described telling the youngsters bedtime stories and giving his daughter half a Tums tablet when she had a stomachache.

When he was allowed short visits outside, Saddam would feed the birds crusts of bread saved from his meals. He also watered a dusty plot of weeds.

"He said he was a farmer when he was young and he never forgot where he came from," Ellis said.

When Ellis told Saddam he had to leave for America because his brother was dying, Saddam hugged him and said he would be Ellis' brother.

"I was there to help him, and he respected that," Ellis said.

Saddam never discussed dying and expressed no regrets about his rule.

"He said everything he did was for Iraq," Ellis said. "One day when I went to see him, he asked why we invaded. Well, he made gestures like shooting a machine gun and asked why soldiers came and shot up the place. He said the laws in Iraq were fair and the weapons inspectors didn't find anything.

"I said, 'That's politics. We soldiers don't get caught up in that sort of thing.'"

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