Read no further if you’re feeling queasy this morning.

“Saddam was gangsta’,” he said, brutal and tough. But Ellis had seen another side of the former dictator and knew him in a way few others could…

Saddam told Ellis that smoking cigars and coffee kept his blood pressure down, and it seemed to work. Saddam would insist that Ellis smoke with him.

At one point, Saddam went on a hunger strike, refusing to eat when the guards would slide food through the slot on the bottom of his door. But when they changed tactics and opened the door, he started eating again.

“He refused to be fed like a lion,” Ellis said.

For a while, when he was allowed short visits outside, Saddam would feed the birds bread saved from his meals. He also watered a dusty plot of weeds.

“He said he was a farmer when he was young and he never forgot where he came from,” Ellis said…

Saddam never gave Ellis trouble. He didn’t complain much, and if he did it was usually legitimate.

“He had very good coping skills,” Ellis added.

Saddam also talked to him about happier times when his children were young: how he told them bedtime stories and how he would give his daughter half a Tums when she complained of a tummy ache.

After Ellis got an emergency call from America that his brother was dying, he told Saddam he was leaving immediately. Before he left, Saddam hugged him and said he would be his brother.

Here’s the point where I had to run to the bowl:

“He said everything he did was for Iraq,” Ellis said. “One day when I went to see him, he asked why we invaded. Well, he made gestures like shooting a machine gun and asked why soldiers came and shot up the place. He said the laws in Iraq were fair and the weapons inspectors didn’t find anything.

“I said, ‘That’s politics. We soldiers don’t get caught up in that sort of thing.'”

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