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Sunday, December 22
The horrors of Saddam's 'sadist' son

By Tom Farrey

In the history of the world, an expanse that covers Genghis Khan and Adolf Hitler and other despots both past and present, there is no shortage of absolute rulers whose human rights records compare with that of today's designated pariah, Saddam Hussein.

Uday Hussein
Since being charged with overseeing the Iraqi National Olympic Committee in 1984, Uday Hussein allegedly has made sport of imprisoning, torturing and murdering athletes.
There may never have been a sports official, though, as brutal as his son, Uday.

As president of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee, Uday allegedly tortures athletes for losing games. He sticks them in prison for days or months at a time. Has them beaten with iron bars. Caned on the soles of their feet. Chained to walls and left to stay in contorted positions for days. Dragged on pavement until their backs are bloody, then dunked in sewage to ensure the wounds become infected. If Uday stops by a player's jail cell, he might urinate on his bowed, shaven head. Just to humiliate him.

This is the picture that emerges of Uday Saddam Hussein from interviews in the United States and England with former Iraqi national team athletes in several sports. Some of them claim they were personally tortured. All of them say they lived in fear that they would be punished at Uday's whim.

"You may find (his brutality) absurd or disgusting," said Issam Thamer al-Diwan, former coach of Uday's personal club volleyball team and a national team player before that. "Well, Uday thinks this is legitimate."

Human rights monitors for the United Nations have amply documented the savagery of Saddam Hussein. His eldest son and a possible successor, Uday, reportedly grew up watching his father punish political opponents as a way to control a large, diverse country. Uday, now 38, has earned his own reputation for violent behavior. In an Amnesty International report, Uday reportedly ordered that the hand of an Olympic committee security guard, accused of stealing sports equipment, be cut off. The missing equipment was later found. Similar incidents tied to Uday later became part of a United Nations report on human rights in Iraq.

Unidentified Iraqi table tennis player
Indict, a human rights group, submitted this photo of an unnamed Iraqi table tennis player, who claims he was tortured under orders of Uday Hussein, in its report to the International Olympic Committee.
But far less is known about Uday's treatment of Iraqi athletes, whose accounts suggest they were tortured for reasons that are not always apparent -- but had nothing to do with politics or crime.

Some athletes say he does it to encourage better performances. Others say he does it just for fun.

"The word that suits him is sadist," said Latif Yahia, who as Uday's former body double and a member of his entourage claims to have witnessed the punishment of about 10 athletes. "I think Saddam's more human than Uday."

Uday Hussein did not respond to requests for comment that were placed separately through the Iraqi permanent mission to the United Nations, Mohammed Aldouri, and the Iraqi National Olympic Committee. In a brief telephone interview, Jabbar al-Hadooshi, who identified himself as an INOC deputy, offered a blanket denial that any athletes have been imprisoned and punished.

"There was no torture," he said through a translator. "What we suffer from is the embargo (against trade with Iraq imposed by the United Nations). The embargo has affected every sector in Iraq, including sports."

He did not explain his rationale other than to say the embargo has affected Iraq's ability to buy the sports equipment necessary to produce winning teams and athletes.

Former players and coaches, though, say Uday is the problem with Iraqi sports. They say the threat of being tortured, and the interference of Uday -- who is known to scream at players at halftime of soccer matches and dictate to coaches who will play -- undermined their performances.

"The Iraqi teams used to produce the champions of Asia in many sports," said Abid "The King" Kadhum, an Iraqi soccer star from the 1960s and '70s who later became coach of Uday's personal soccer club, al-Rashid. "They have declined since the arrival of Uday."

Iraq's only Olympic medal came in 1960, a bronze in weightlifting. That was long before Uday became head of the country's committee in 1984, and now the nation barely participates in the Olympics. Iraq sent just four athletes to the 2000 Games in Sydney, down from its high of 43 in 1980. Still, Iraqi officials have expressed interest in bidding for Baghdad to become host of the 2012 Summer Games.

Tales of torture
Several former Iraqi athletes interviewed for Outside The Lines say they were tortured under orders by Iraqi National Olympic Committee chief Uday Hussein. Three have agreed to tell their own tales of abuse for

Issam Thamer al-DiwanIssam Thamer al-Diwan: Among Iraqi's most decorated volleyball players and coaches, al-Diwan says he was left shackled and contorted in painful positions for days at the whim of Uday Hussein.

Sharar HaydarSharar Haydar: Imprisoned and tortured after he told INOC officials he planned to retire from the Iraqi national soccer team, Haydar eventually defected to Hungary to escape Uday Hussein's wrath.

Raed AhmedRaed Ahmed: A 12-time Iraqi national weightlifting champion, Ahmed carried his country's flag at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. It was there, after seeing President Clinton applauding, that he decided to defect during the Games.

In 1997, FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, sent soccer officials from Qatar and Malaysia to Baghdad to investigate a report that members of the national team were imprisoned and had their feet caned after losing a World Cup qualifying game to Kazakhstan. FIFA exonerated Iraq, saying they found no evidence of torture after interviewing and physically examining 12 players.

Sharar Haydar, who was on the Iraqi team at the time but sat out the game with an injury, told that players, indeed, were tortured. He said his teammates joked with each other about their inability to tell the truth to the FIFA officials during their two-day visit.

"I mean, nobody was going to say anything," Haydar said.

Many exiled athletes and coaches are still reluctant to talk about playing sports under Uday, fearing retribution against themselves or family members left behind in Iraq. But those who did agree to speak with had plenty to say, describing governmental treatment of athletes that defies comparison. The only parallel in modern sports history might be from the era of Stalinist Russia, when the secret police chief was known to send soccer players to Siberian gulags.

The athletes' accounts buttress reports from Amnesty International and the United Nations, which, without describing the torture of athletes, have cited the existence of a secret prison inside the Iraqi National Olympic Committee headquarters. Yahia said the building has become little more than the criminal business headquarters for Uday, who allegedly uses the facility to store cigarettes and other illegal goods.

"We took $125 million from Kuwait," Yahia said, of the looting he claims he was ordered to participate in after Iraq invaded the neighboring country in 1990. "This is just for Uday. The cars, furniture -- every single thing (we took) was stored in the Iraqi Olympic building."

Uday also used his Olympic association when his band of thieves were denied in Kuwait. In October 1990, Uday wrote a letter to his uncle Ali Hassan al-Majid, who was in charge of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, requesting that he allow Uday's associates to take a Kuwaiti printing press that he coveted "as a service to the sports movement." The letter, later recovered after U.N. forces pushed the Iraqi military back out of Kuwait, is signed by Uday on his personal stationery.

"This is not a sports place," Yahia said. "This is Uday's palace, Uday's world."

Uday Hussein
While Iraqis have suffered through 11 years of the U.N.'s trade embargo, Uday Hussein has overseen a smuggling operation he runs out of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee.
Uday, known for his affinity for fast cars and Cuban cigars, was considered Saddam's heir until 1996 when an assassination attempt left him partially disabled below the waist. Now, his younger brother, Qusay, has been given more responsibility within the regime. Uday, however, does oversee much of the news media in Iraq and runs a state security unit called "Saddam's Revolutionary Fighters," whose job is to protect his father from threats to his power.

That security unit, like his business empire, is housed in the Olympic committee building, creating an atmosphere of fear, athletes say.

"(Anyone) who comes to apply for a job with the government as a doctor, engineer or instructor must get a security clearance from the Olympic committee, which is strange and extraordinary," said Muhsin Hassan, a former national team boxer. "They do this only to spy on them, so anyone can see (Uday) controls everything in Iraq."

Beyond the torture of athletes, forces working for Uday and his father have killed more than 50 former athletes and sports figures, according to the Iraqi Olympic Council, a nascent group of exiled Iraqi athletes. Thamer, who heads the group, said most of the athletes were killed for what were described as political reasons. But, he argues, their status as high-profile, influential athletes often made them greater threats to the regime. (See dossier of allegations by Iraqi athletes against Uday Hussein.)

Charges of
ethical violations
Indict, a London-based human rights group created in 1997 that seeks to bring criminal charges against the top leaders of the Iraqi regime, has submitted a formal complaint to the International Olympic Committee. The complaint states that the Iraqi National Committee and its president, Uday Saddam Hussein, have committed and continue to commit gross violations of the IOC Code of Ethics.

Under the dignity section of the IOC codes, Indict alleges that every provision has been violated. Overall, the INOC may have violated as many as 11 statutes, if the allegations can be proven true.

"They executed them because they were popular as athletes," said al-Diwan, who has submitted the list to the U.S. State Department and plans to send it to the International Olympic Committee.

The allegations in the report come on the heels of a formal complaint filed with the International Olympic Committee earlier this month. Indict, a London-based human rights group created in 1997 that seeks to bring criminal charges against the top leaders of the Iraqi regime, asked the IOC Ethics Commission earlier this month to suspend or expel the country from the Olympics based on violations of the IOC code of ethics. The IOC, which has no sway over a nation's choice for its Olympic committee chief, is reviewing the request.

"The IOC strongly condemns any violation of athletes' rights," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said in a statement to "The Olympic Movement's mission around the world is aimed at the development of stronger individuals through the practice of sport. Any abuse of this system runs counter to our organization's ideals."

Most of the athletes who spoke with were not mentioned in the Indict complaint, but each is supportive of efforts to protect Iraqi athletes. The first-person accounts of three of those athletes are detailed in this report, along with a timeline that serves as a dossier of allegations and evidence of abuse by Iraqi Olympic officials.

"We are ready to stand face-to-face with those who defend Uday, in the same courtroom," al-Diwan said. "We can bring thousands of witnesses (and pieces of) evidence when Uday is brought to trial. We are ready to do this."

Tom Farrey is a senior writer with He can be reached at ESPN producer Mary Sadanaga contributed to this report.

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 Outside the Lines
Sports in Iraq have ebbed under the rule of Uday Saddam Hussein, president of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee.
Standard | Cable Modem

 Outside the Lines
Uday Hussein runs his various enterprises from within the INOC headquarters, including Saddam's Revolutionary Fighters and an alleged smuggling operation.
Standard | Cable Modem

 Outside the Lines
Dozens of Iraqi athletes reportedly have been executed since Uday Hussein became INOC president in 1984.
Standard | Cable Modem

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