About the time President Bush's campaign for toppling Saddam Hussein got into gear in the fall of 2002, some pointers to the man's seemingly dual personality emerged from his long-time mistress who escaped to the West in summer 2002.
Details provided by the 54-year-old tyrant's moll, Parisoula Lampsos, showed another side to the man who set himself and his country apart from the international community. As Saddam's lover for 30 years, she was one of a string of women who shared his bed.
While he enjoyed watching videos of his enemies being tortured, often to death, he also had a human side, she revealed, like dyeing his hair, eating desert gazelle for dinner and enjoying a tipple, usually Scotch. His favorite movie, she said, was "The Godfather" - which makes you wonder because there are only so many times you can view any film and still enjoy the, by now, horribly predictable outcome.
She also mentioned that Saddam uses Viagra and enjoyed dancing to Frank Sinatra, all innocent enough for a man who has used deadly sarin and VX nerve gases to destroy his enemies. Not only did he kill members of Iraq's Kurdish population, but thousands of Iranians died during the seven-year war of the 1980s.
The overriding perception in the West is of a man with a predilection for extreme actions.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair made some revelations about Saddam Hussein in his Iraqi dossier, made public in early September 2002. The despot was responsible for a large number of executions.
More than 9,000 prisoners, many political, executed at various prisons between 1984 and recent years.
In October 2000, dozens of women accused of prostitution were beheaded without any judicial process. Some were executed for purely political reasons. Guards routinely rape women prisoners.
Methods of torture used in Iraqi jails include using electric drills to mutilate hands, pulling out fingernails, knife cuts and sexual attacks. Prisoners at the Qurtiyya Prison in Baghdad and elsewhere are kept in metal boxes the size of tea chests. If they do not confess, they are left to die.
Blair detailed some of the activities of Saddam's son Udayy who maintains a private torture chamber known as the Red Room in a building on the banks of the Tigris disguised as an electricity installation. In 1994, he created a militia that used swords to execute victims outside their homes and he has personally executed dissidents, notably in the Shi'ite uprising at Basra, which followed the Gulf War.
Nobody is immune to persecution, not even members of Saddam's family. A cousin of Saddam, Ala Abd al-Qadir al-Majid, fled to Jordan from Iraq citing disagreements with the regime over business matters. He returned to Iraq after the Iraqi Ambassador in Jordan declared publicly that his life was not in danger. Met at the border by Tahir Habbush, Head of the Directorate of General Intelligence (the Mukhabarat), he was taken to a farm owned by Ali Hasan al-Majid.
There, Ala was tied to a tree and executed by members of his immediate family who, following orders from Saddam, took turns to fire bullets at him. In total, some 40 of Saddam's relatives, including women and children, have been killed. His sons-in-law, Hussein and Saddam Kamel, who defected in 1995, returned to Iraq from Jordan after the Iraqi government had announced amnesties for them. They were executed in February 1996 within an hour or so of arriving back in Baghdad: Udayy shot both in the face at point-blank range.
What is clear to the observer of current events is that the world political view presents a very different picture from what one hears and sees in America. In Europe, for instance, it is largely the media that leads the appeasement charge, very much as it was in 1939. Then there was a powerful lobby that urged the Free World to ignore what was going on in Germany. There was, as a consequence, a considerable body of opinion - even in America - to let Hitler get on with whatever he was doing.
It would seem that the international community is faced with this selfsame syndrome today. So much of the criticism of American actions to protect itself from international terrorism comes from those who know least about the esoterics of nuclear, biological and chemical disciplines. They also show little regard for history. In many instances, emotions are driven by ignorance of what is taking place in a California-sized country of about 25 million people.
Those who would rather let things stay as they are tend to ignore the facts: two major Iraqi invasions of its neighbors, bombing both its own citizens and those of Iran - either with chemical or biological weapons - and in Iran's case, both. Saddam has a history of pathological violence.
But how many critics of any sort of pre-emptive action are aware that all key health workers in Britain have been inoculated against smallpox? "If deemed necessary, millions more doses will be distributed to protect the whole 58 million population," Reuters reported Oct. 10, 2002.
While Saddam Hussein has neither the human nor economic resources to even remotely threaten the world the way that the Third Reich did, his weapons of mass destruction are far more potent than anything Germany fielded in World War II. Being the ultimate manipulator and having deployed them before, he could do so again. As before, he would volubly protest his innocence.
Is there anybody who can provide real evidence as to who bombed the USS Cole? Or blew up the two American embassies in East Africa with horrific loss of life? Or who motivated the first bombing of New York's World Trade Center? Or blew up the Khobar Towers, killing dozens of American servicemen and women?
So is the world community going to wait for an Iraqi-engineered smallpox attack to ravish European or American cities, or for one of his atom bombs to blow away half of Chicago before Saddam's tyranny is checked?
That concept is not as far-fetched as some would like to make it. Loaded on to a freighter, it could - using the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes - arrive in America's heartland long before any customs inspector gets anywhere near the ship.
Europe might look at these issues a little differently were it Paris or Frankfurt in Saddam's sights. Sixty-five years ago, other nations did nothing and we now appreciate the consequences of that culpable lapse of judgment.
Al Venter is a Chinook, Wash., writer who contributes to defense and intelligence publications.