How A Sapulpa Man Tracked Down Saddam Hussein
HOUSTON, Texas - Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and that might be said of the story of Eric Maddox, of Sapulpa.
He's about to become the world's most famous interrogator.
The capture of Saddam Hussein was an event heard 'round the world. What we didn't hear was the story behind the capture.
And as unlikely as it seems, it actually began right here in Tulsa, on the running track at LaFortune Park, when Eric Maddox, Sapulpa native and newly minted OU grad, heard the voice of God, telling him to become an Army Airborne Ranger.
"I usually don't tell that story, but, you know, people in Oklahoma, they get that. They understand," Maddox said.
He'd never shot a gun, never jumped out of a plane and was terrified of heights.
"Every day of ranger school, I was like, 'Are you sure?'" Maddox said, laughing. "I barely passed."
Maddox's next decision was equally as improbable: he signed up to become an army interrogator.
"They said, 'Be an interrogator. That's the easiest one--it's eight weeks of training. You'll never have to do it, we don't have any prisoners," Maddox said.
Then came 9/11 and the start of the war in Iraq.
Within weeks, having never done a single interrogation, Maddox found himself in Tikrit... working with one of the most highly trained special forces units in the world. And failing miserably.
"The really scary part was when I realized, not only had I not done an interrogation, but when I started doing them, they didn't work," Maddox said.
The world would later learn that, in the early days of the war, torture was commonly used on Iraqi detainees, particularly at Baghdad's infamous Abu Graib prison.
"It was unaccepted legally, but expected behind closed doors," Maddox said. "It was expected from every level."
But circumstances had thrown Army Staff Sergeant Eric Maddox of Sapulpa into what was considered the backwater of Tikrit, working solo and developing his own technique.
"It was the best thing that happened to me, because there were no expectations. I could figure out how to get the prisoners to talk without torturing them," Maddox said.
Maddox also discovered a natural ability to take tiny bits of information from hundreds of prisoners and piece them together into a mosaic that slowly revealed the insurgency's hidden battlefield.
"And once you have an idea of the battlefield, you understand how to hunt down individuals who can take you to the next step and the next step and the next step," Maddox said.
Up until this point, Maddox's biggest claim to fame was helping defeat Jenks in the 1989 playoffs. But the search for Saddam had stalled, and Maddox had a plan.
"I went to the team leader and made a pitch. 'I know this sounds crazy, but I think I have a path, that if we follow, might possibly lead us to Black List Number one," he said.
Rather than going after high profile targets, Maddox was following a web of bodyguards, chauffeurs and shopkeepers, slowly working his way up the chain of command.
But his time in Iraq was drawing to a close, and when the raid finally came that netted his number one target, one of Saddam's bodyguards, Maddox had only two hours to convince him to give up the prize.
"I told him, 'Nobody knows who you are. I've been tracking you down and no one cares. They're just going to throw away the key. So when you change your mind, beat on your cell. You better let somebody know,'" Maddox said. "As I'm driving to the airplane to leave the country, they told me, 'That prisoner--what did you do? He's going crazy, beating the heck out of his cell in there.'"
Maddox got the prisoner to sketch a map detailing Saddam's location, then left the country.
Publicly, the Bush administration was eager to credit the CIA for the break that led to the Iraqi dictator, but behind the scenes, everyone from CIA Director Porter Goss, to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was showering Maddox with praise and medals.
"This is my most prized medal. This is the Legion of Merit, and it was presented to me by the team," Maddox said.
He said it was surreal, playing such an integral role in a such an historical event.
"It took me several years to come to the conclusion I wasn't going to wake up from a dream," Maddox said.
Now, the story is about to go public in a very mainstream way. Maddox wrote a book a couple of years ago. You probably haven't seen much of it, but a movie studio immediately bought the rights.
Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame, has signed on to play Maddox, and the screenplay is being done by the writer behind "Band of Brothers".
Shooting begins this August.
Meanwhile, Donald Rumsfeld was so eager to keep Maddox's services, that he established a civilian force of interrogators, hiring Maddox as the very first one.
His work for the Department of Defense continues to this day.