Is Saddam's Son More Brutal Than His Dad?

It was a father's dilemma: What to do with a wayward son? In Saddam Hussein's case, the problem was his son Odai, who has been accused of murders and rapes too numerous to count.

For Saddam, the answer was to put Odai in charge of Iraq's Olympic committee. In the 16 years since, Odai Hussein has more than lived up to his reputation for capricious cruelty.

One example: 20/20 uncovered evidence linking Odai with the torture and interrogation of some 20 American prisoners captured during the 1991 Gulf War, including former Navy Cmdr. Jeff Zaun, who was forced at gunpoint to appear on Iraqi television and forced to denounce his country.

In his first television interview, Zaun told 20/20 that he was routinely beaten and threatened with death before he made the tape.

"They brought me in and told me they were going to kill me," he said. "I'll remember — for the rest of my life I'll remember — the guy with the pistol in his hand."

According to Odai's former press secretary, Abass al-Janabi, the dictator's son was one of five people supervising the treatment of the American prisoners. If the pilots did not give information, the orders were to torture them, Janabi said. He said he did not know if any of the pilots revealed accurate information.

American investigators believe Odai is one of the few who could know the whereabouts of American pilot Scott Speicher, who remains missing after his plane crashed in northern Iraq.

"If you say that this is a sadistic regime ... then it is possible to understand that Saddam and Odai might keep an American pilot alive ... for the purpose of causing other people pain," said Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. diplomat who works with Indict, a London-based group that tracks alleged human rights abuses by Iraqi officials.

Olympic Horror

But Odai saved some of his harshest cruelty for his own countrymen.

"Odai Hussein as head of the Olympic committee has personally directed the torture of athletes who have not done well. He has participated himself in beatings, in amputations," Galbraith said.

"It's the only Olympic committee in the world that has its own prison. … It has really become a chamber of horrors," said Galbraith, whose group receives funding from the U.S. government.

If only a fraction of what is said about 38-year-old Odai, Saddam's eldest son, is true, he would still be considered at least as brutal as his father — and more deviant.

"I think the best comparison is with the [former] Ugandan dictator Idi Amin ... who also was a sadist, who enjoyed killing people, and who engaged in all sorts of very erratic behavior," said Galbraith.

Galbraith says Odai is guilty of a long list of atrocities, from his treatment of Olympic athletes, to rapes and murders, to his reported role in ordering the torture of American prisoners of war.

In the event of war with Iraq, Odai will be "one of the top targets for the United States," Galbraith said.

Wealth and Power

With his dictator father looking the other way, Odai has amassed a fortune in a country of great poverty. Former aides say he has collected some 1,200 luxury cars, buying them or simply taking them because it suits his fancy.

"Odai is a spoiled child, but one with lots of power," said Galbraith.

Odai's power may explain why when 20/20 asked people on the streets of Baghdad about him — with government guards watching — they were quick to praise him and defend him against his critics in the West.

"He's very kind. He loves the people very much," said one woman.

Defectors Tell of Torture

But Iraqis who have left Iraq tell a much different story. Former members of Iraq's Olympic teams gave numerous first-person accounts of Odai's behavior to 20/20 and ESPN.

A former player on Iraq's soccer team, Sharar Haydar, said Odai sent him and other players to prison as punishment for the team's defeat by Jordan. Haydar, who defected in 1998, said he was beaten daily with 20 blows to the feet, and given only bread and water.

Another defector, weightlifter Ahmed Reham, who was the flag bearer for the Iraqi team at the 1996 Atlanta Games, also says he was tortured.

"They used special sticks — electric sticks. Pipes filled with stones, and the special sticks. If you get hit on the head you might die. You have no idea how cruel these guys are," he said.

Rape Called a ‘Hobby’

When it comes to women, Odai's behavior is reputed to be even more dangerous.

"Raping is one of his, let me say, hobbies," said Janabi, Odai's former press secretary. "I am not exaggerating."

Janabi, who defected in 1998, says he witnessed Odai committing numerous rapes.

According to Janabi, Odai's rape victims were as young as 12 and powerless to resist him. After a visiting Russian ballerina resisted Odai's advances in 1994, Odai had his men secretly film her making love with her trainer, Janabi said, then invited her to a party and told her he had a surprise. "He showed her the film. And he raped her after that." said Janabi.

Latif Yahia, who for years served as Odai's security double, says Odai found violence sexually exciting. "He loves to hear the woman scream. … He loves the rape. … He's a sadist."

Yahia described, in detail, nighttime scenes in Baghdad of group sex and violent acts. He said he once saw Odai beat and rape a pregnant woman. "Odai, he can't sleep with a woman if he don't hit her and see the blood coming out of her," he said.

Yahia, who wore the same French suits and aftershave as his boss to fool potential attackers, admits that he sometimes took advantage of his assumed status and had women brought to him.

Odai has made his share of enemies. He was seriously wounded in a 1996 assassination attempt, and now walks with a limp. His younger brother Qusai has emerged in recent years as a top military adviser to Saddam, and Odai is said to be jealous of his brother's power.

Allegation From Visiting French Students

Such stories from defectors are hard to confirm. But in Paris a former French official told 20/20 of an equally bizarre, more recent account allegedly involving Odai and a delegation of French college students in 2000.

Two of the students, a man and a woman, told French authorities that Odai invited them to a party in their honor at a Baghdad hotel. But when they got to Odai's room, they say three of his bodyguards forced them at gunpoint to have sex with each other while being taped on video.

According to Alexis Debat, who was a desk officer at the French Ministry of Defense at the time, the French government concluded there was little they could do about it. "I mean, after all, this is Saddam Hussein's son," said Debat, who is now a consultant for ABCNEWS.

A ‘Bully’ Unlikely to Fight

When the United States last attacked Baghdad in January 1991, Odai went into hiding, according to former aides, at one point literally cowering in his bedroom by himself at a protected safe house on a small island in the Tigris River. Janabi says Odai spent the first 23 days of the war at the safe house.

Odai does have several thousand troops supposedly loyal to him, but his detractors doubt he will make a last-ditch stand and fight to the end.

"Odai Hussein is like any bully," said Galbraith. "He enjoys exercising power on those who are weak, and when he is threatened, he behaves like a coward. So I don't think Odai Hussein will fight to the end.

"I think there is an excellent chance that he will be captured and will be put on trial for the multiple crimes he has committed," Galbraith said. "The only problem will be if the Iraqi people get to him first. Then there might not be more than very tiny pieces left of him."

Comments