During the late 1980s, I was working as an officer in the Iraqi Army when my commanding general received a letter that demanded I report to a palace in Baghdad within 72 hours. When I went to the palace, I was brought to see Uday Hussein, Saddam’s older son. “I want you to be my fiday,” he said. In Arabic, fiday means body double or bullet catcher. I didn’t understand. “Do you want me to be your bodyguard?” I asked. “No,” he said. “Our intelligence service says we look like each other, and I want you to work as my double.”
I felt like somebody had hit me in the head with a hammer. “Do I have a choice?” I asked, thinking this was somehow a joke. “If you refuse,” Uday said, “you can go back to the Army. We don’t have a problem with you.” It was a lie. As soon as I left the palace, his guards threw me in the trunk of a car and took me to jail. Everything was painted red inside the cell to make you stressed and remind you of blood. A completely red room is also disorienting.
They kept me in this jail for a week before Uday asked to see me again; he was trying to torture me psychologically. This time he threatened to rape my sisters, who were only little girls at the time. “I’ll do it, but leave my family alone,” I told him. And that’s when it all started.
After that, I often saw rape, torture, killings. The torture was really sick when Uday was doing it. One time I was sitting in the Iraqi Olympic Committee office, and the father of a girl Uday had raped was brought in. She was a beauty queen—Miss Baghdad. The father had tried to complain to Saddam, so Uday wanted to take revenge. He asked me to shoot the guy in the head, but I refused. He said, “I’m ordering you—shoot him!” I went crazy. I grabbed a knife and cut my wrists in front of him. He was shocked. I was taken to the hospital, and Uday never asked me to shoot anyone again after that.
I escaped Iraq in the early 1990s. But I spent five years afterward in counseling and psychological treatment, dealing with the things I saw: torture and kidnapping of girls, rape, and all these things. Once I tried to commit suicide by taking tablets; another time I tried to hang myself. I was so depressed. I was taking a lot of Valium to calm down. Even now I don’t get to sleep until 5 or 6 in the morning. I always have nightmares. When you live in the West, you don’t see things like torture.
In 2003 I was watching the news in my office in Manchester, England, when I heard that Uday had been killed by American soldiers. I had a cup of coffee in my hand, and I smashed it straight into the TV. I was very angry. I didn’t want to see Uday get killed. I wanted him to be tried in court, to be tried for his crimes. I wanted to be in court to be able to say, “Look at what this guy did to me.” I wanted justice. But it never happened.
A movie based on Yahia’s Life, The Devil’s Double, opens in the U.S. this month.