Kathleen Parker

That Saddam Hussein. What a character.

As his trial resumed this past week, we learned that the deposed leader of Iraq was shocked - shocked, I tell you - by the Abu Ghraib prison photos, which he hadn't seen until his lawyer produced them in court in April.

Said his lawyer, Bushra Khalil, to London's Sunday Times:

"I was scared as his eyes were focused so intensely on the pictures and I could see the shock on his face."

Saddam's thinking: Nude pyramids. Why didn't I think of that?!

The same story goes on to describe Saddam as a poet more interested in foreign affairs than his own trial. An American guard says: "His personality is very different from what we expected," by way of confirming Saddam's assertion that he and his guards have become friends.

We also learn that Saddam is "resolute," while we are to infer that he is brave in the face of death and loyal to his countrymen. He's ready to die, he said, and he'd stand firm again were his country to be invaded.

Fortunately, I was all out of hankies as this story hit the wires. Also, providentially, I happened to be reading a book that allowed me to maintain perspective even as others apparently were wilting in the presence of lunatic grandiosity.

The book is called "Mayada, Daughter of Iraq," by Jean Sasson, and tells the story of a woman journalist, Mayada Al-Askari, who was arrested and tortured in 1999 along with the other "shadow women" of cell 52 in Baladiyat prison.

I might have missed Mayada's story, published three years ago, if a friend of mine, Salley Lesley, hadn't written a song inspired by the book, which in turn inspired me to read it.

You, too, may have missed it. Sasson says many newspapers and networks (Fox was one exception) declined to interview Mayada when she visited the United States. The French refused to publish the book, in which Mayada speaks briefly of her appreciation for President George W. Bush and the liberation of Iraq.

Perhaps it helps to have been kidnapped by government thugs, separated from one's children, thrown behind bars, beaten, shocked, half-starved - and kept awake every night by the screams of other tortured innocents - to appreciate a war that few support three years later.

Even Mayada is critical of the lack of postwar planning that has led to the deaths of many more innocents, but she isn't likely to be swayed by Saddam's prison bonhomie or his jailhouse poetry.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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