In a new book released on Tuesday, FBI interrogator George Piro describes Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as a "charming, charismatic and likeable" man, with a taste for wine, women and Cuban cigars, while praying five times a day.
In "The Terrorist Watch" by award-winning Washington journalist Ronald Kessler, published Tuesday, Piro describes how he was sent to lead the interrogation of Saddam following his capture by U.S. troops in December 2003.
Piro was then the 36-year-old head of the counterterrorism response section at the Federal Bureau of Intelligence. He was a fluent Arabic speaker born in Beirut whose family had emigrated to the United States when he was 12.
The agent's account describes Saddam as having a mania for hygiene, and won his trust by supplying him with copious amounts of baby wipes, to clean his hands and food such as apples.
While praying five times a day in captivity, Saddam also liked fine wine, Johnny Walker Blue Label scotch and Cuban cigars. He also had an eye for the ladies.
"When an American nurse came to draw his blood, Saddam asked Piro to tell her in English that she was cute," Kessler writes, adding that Piro refused.
The agent rebutted the belief that Saddam frequently employed body doubles for public appearances. "He told me no one could play him," Piro said with a laugh.
The FBI man spent five to seven hours with Saddam each day over seven months of interviews lasting until July 2004.
Saddam confirmed that he only "pretended" to have retained weapons of mass destruction, to keep arch-rival Iran on the back foot, and believed that he could resume a nuclear program once U.N. sanctions were eventually lifted.
Outside of the formal interview room, Piro said he and Saddam talked about history, politics, art and sports. Using a notebook given to him by his FBI interrogator, the ruthless fallen dictator began to write love poems.
Piro asked Saddam about his savage campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s, which is estimated to have left 182,000 people dead including 5,000 civilians gassed to death in the northern town of Halabja in 1988.
"Saddam said it was a decision he made, but he didn't want to engage in that conversation," Piro told Kessler.
On his own family, Saddam said he distrusted his son Qusay as a potential challenger to his rule. Qusay and his sadistic elder brother Uday were killed in a shootout with U.S. troops in Mosul in July 2003.
While hating both the U.S. presidents who had gone to war against him -- George Bush and his son George W. Bush -- Saddam liked Americans, even expressing admiration of presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
He confessed to making a "tactical error" in his dealings with both the presidents Bush -- underestimating the U.S. military in the first Gulf War, and disbelieving that the younger Bush was serious about invading Iraq.
When the interviews were finally complete, Piro said Saddam turned emotional.
"We sat outside, smoked a couple of Cuban cigars, had some coffee, and chatted," the FBI agent recounted. "When we were saying bye, he started to tear up."
Saddam had a pistol but refused the chance to shoot himself when he was captured by U.S. soldiers in a fox-hole near Tikrit, even though he believed he would ultimately face the death penalty.
"Execution would serve his purpose, which was preserving his legacy and his place in history," Piro recalled.
Saddam was unrepentant to the last before he was hanged at the end of 2006.
"However, he was charming, he was charismatic, he was polite, he had a great sense of humor. And yeah, he was likeable," Piro said.