|Double trouble: Actor Dominic Cooper plays both Uday Hussein and his body-double, Latif Yahia, in “The Devil’s Double.” Below: Uday Hussein was notorious for his mistreatment of women while his father, Saddam, ruled Iraq. Uday (along with his brother Qusay, and Qusay’s son Mustapha) was killed by U.S. forces in a house in Mosul, Iraq, on July 22, 2003. (C) FILMFINANCE VI 2011 — ALL RIGHTSRESERVED|
Author Latif Yahia sends a warning to the West
Bearing witness to brutality in ‘Devil’s Double’
Friday, Jan. 13, 2012
|Living witness: Latif Yahia wrote “The Devil’s Double” in 1992 about his experience living life as a body-double for the son of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. (C) FILMFINANCE VI 2011 — ALL RIGHTS RESERVED|
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Vanaf 8 september in de bioscoop: The Devil’s Double (NL)! Van James Bond regisseur Lee Tamahori komt deze knallende actiefilm over de dubbelganger van de zoon van Saddam Hussein! Ook wel de Scarface van het Midden Oosten genoemd dus deze film mag je niet missen!
Mooie vrouwen in gouden bikini’s, de aanwezigheid van de internationale cast en regisseur, een stormloop op Tuschinski en meer dan genoeg BN’ertjes die deze film niet wilden missen: alle ingrediënten voor een geslaagde première waren aanwezig. Maar het meest bijzondere was toch wel dat de echte Latif Yahia acte de presence gaf met zijn familie. Inderdaad, de man die gedwongen werd de dubbelganger van Uday Hoessein te worden; een sadistische en totaal ontspoorde dictatorszoon.
Could you live with the devil for five years? How about become him?
At only 23-years-old, Iraqi military official Latif Yahia faced both dilemmas, as the psychotic eldest son of Iraq’s notorious dictator brought him to the edge of hell and back with a job offer.
Or rather, a job assignment.
To be a fiday, a double…
Adapted from Yahia’s autobiographical book, the 2011 Sundance film “The Devil’s Double” directed by Lee Tamahori and starring Dominic Cooper as both Yahia and Uday Hussein, is being called a “must-see summer movie” and the “Scarface of Arabia.”
While Yahia praised the film and Cooper’s performance, stating that “no one has played him [Uday] as well as Dominic….great performance,” it’s apparent that nothing about the film’s inspiration was glamorous.
For five years Yahia, now a Ph.D and well respected author, endured torture, forced plastic surgery, and psychological torment at the hands of a man he calls “completely erratic” – Uday Hussein.
Yahia and Hussein became classmates in their adolescence but it wasn’t until the closing of the Iran-Iraq war that Yahia was called summoned to undertake what would become the most heinous and disturbing task of his life.
Becoming Uday Saddaam Hussein.
Yahia recalls the emotional chords struck by certain scenes in Tamahori’s film: “The scene that affected me the most was the torture scene where Uday is whipping me on the bench. It reminds me of all the torture that I suffered at his hands. The scene where he tries to have me kill the father of the raped girl, not just because I refused and slit my wrists but because, although the movie doesn’t show it, Uday actually took the gun as I was bleeding and shot the man anyway, right there in his office.”
Forced to duplicate Hussein’s mannerisms, demeanor, and even dental alignment, Yahia assured me that Uday, as crazed and powerful as he was, never truly took hold of who he was.
“I never lost myself, if I had I would have given in to Uday’s lifestyle and psychotic behavior as his “friends” did,” Yahia says. “Always in the back of my head I would say “I am Latif Yahia, my father is Yahia, he raised me to be a strong and true man.”
Reflecting on the most difficult aspects of his experience as a body double, the now husband and father recalled the anguish of witnessing Uday’s treatment of women.
“Uday would find them anywhere and everywhere, if they didn’t come willingly he had them abducted. He had his pimps bring groups of girls around and he would choose, whomever was leftover the pimps could have…. I believe they should all rot in hell.”
While discussing film, which has not been shown in Iraq, Yahia also notes the sociopolitical impact “The Devil’s Double” had on the Muslim world, and why U.S. involvement in Iraq has destroyed a connection to his homeland.
“Iraq has been brought back a thousand years, thanks. The Muslim people all know what their leaders are and how they behave, in Iraq we had one Saddam and one Uday, now we have hundreds, every Ministers’ son acts in the way Uday did.”
He continues, “Anyone who says Iraq is stable is lying, delusional, corrupt and/or working for the American government. I have no feeling for a country that is run by Iranians and occupied by American forces.”
In 2003, Uday Saddam Hussien was killed along with his brother Qusay and nephew Mustapha during a U.S. Task Force 20 confrontation. Yahia was less than satisfied at hearing the news.
“I was FURIOUS! Not because he I liked him! I wanted justice! I wanted to see him in court, I wanted to stand in front of a judge and say ‘Look what this madman did to me,’ I wanted the Iraqi people to get Justice, killing him was the easy way out. No one got closure or justice that day.”
What is justice?
After reading Yahia’s book and seeing the film, I am moved by the power of individual resilience and personal character, even when the world is trying to rip it away from you. Perhaps justice is the ability to propel forward, unscathed by the evils of one’s past.
Having spent the last 15 years in Ireland, despite 105 letters to the Ministry of Justice in Ireland, Yahia still awaits to hear back from his third citizenship application. His previous two were denied.
“I will never give up my fight for free speech, freedom, and justice…I work for peace around the world, with people who believe in peace and humanity.” Yahia is now working on what he refers to as a “controversial” documentary film, and seems to be following the promise made on his personal website.
“As my dearest friends and family say ‘I don’t have a filter’ but for me it’s easy to talk about these things, I don’t have a political party to toe the line in, I’m not affiliated to anyone or anything. Therefore I can speak the truth and the only one that will pay the price will be me. If I survive the release of the documentary.”
Although Latif Yahia is still in search of a homeland, 19-years after the darkest chapter in his life, it seems that he is, in some way, at home with himself.
by: Michael J. Totten
Uday Hussein pushes drug abuse, sex, and impulsive violence to their extremes. He doesn’t just blow cocaine up his nose; he snorts it off the tip of a dagger. He likes to kill people when he gets drunk and even disembowels one of his father’s best friends at a party. We see him prowling the streets of Baghdad in his sports car and abducting young girls in school uniforms—including one still wearing braces—and taking them back to his bedroom to drug and rape them. He rapes another woman on her wedding day while she is wearing her wedding dress; a few minutes later, he is annoyed when she throws herself off a balcony. The man is pure id, scoffing at the Muslim saying “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and insisting that God never gave him anything. “Everything I want, I just take for myself,” he says. He sure does. “You should have been killed at birth,” his furious father says, holding him down and aiming a long curved sword at his genitals. You ought to know you’ve gone off the rails when Saddam Hussein is appalled by your behavior.
Poor Latif Yahia. Not only is he forced to become Uday’s body double; he must also effectively erase his identity and become Uday. The official story is that he was killed on the front lines in the war against Iran. Even his family believes this for a while. He undergoes plastic surgery so that he’ll look even more like Uday than he already does, and he’s expected to adopt Uday’s facial expressions, mannerisms, and tones of voice. Uday even wants him to kill, and Latif gets himself into serious trouble when he refuses. Presumably the only reason that Uday doesn’t kill Latif is that Uday desperately needs him to survive. He also seems to love Latif in a twisted sort of way—at least when he’s not beating and torturing him. Latif is seriously injured in an assassination attempt when the would-be killer mistakes him for the dictator’s son. (Of course, that’s the whole point of having a double in a place like Iraq.) The real-life Latif escaped from Iraq in the 1990s and spent years in therapy to soothe the emotional trauma of witnessing so much rape, murder, torture, and mayhem at the hands of the brutal man he had no choice but to serve. To this day, he says, he can’t fall asleep until five or six in the morning.
Dominic Cooper brilliantly plays both Uday and Latif. Despite the fact that the characters look the same, I never had any doubt which character was on screen; Cooper’s subtle shifts in body language and facial expression—a wild or soft look in the eyes, for instance—made it abundantly clear which role he was playing at every moment.
I don’t want to give anything away, but I can say at least that the film eventually departs from what took place in the real world to tack on an entirely fictional (though emotionally satisfying) ending. The writers presumably thought the departure made for a better story. Despite the modification, the film is well worth seeing for its vivid, accurate depiction of the viciousness of Uday Hussein and of the filthy regime he was born into.
The Devil’s Double is also blessedly free of even the tiniest anti-American jab, something that can be said of few feature films Hollywood has produced that take place in Iraq. (The only others worth watching are Three Kings and The Hurt Locker.) It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the film was made to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the American-led coalition. Latif doesn’t seem to be a fan of the war himself, for one thing. And though Uday Hussein did meet his end at the hands of American soldiers in Mosul in 2003, The Devil’s Double isn’t about the United States, even peripherally. Latif’s book was written before the invasion, and hardly anyone knew it existed until after the overthrow of Saddam’s regime. So few copies of the first edition were published that if you want to buy one from Amazon, you’ll have to pay $1,000, as of this writing. The most expensive copy costs over $100,000.
A story about Iraq written by an Iraqi is refreshing. Events in that country are far too often analyzed as though the United States were always at their center. Even during the darkest days of the insurgency, between 2004 and 2006, far more Iraqis were injured and killed by other Iraqis than by American forces. And many more Iraqis were killed and traumatized during the period in which The Devil’s Double takes place than after the American-led invasion.
If you’re inclined to view this film as a justification for the war in 2003, you’ll have a case. At least the invasion prevented Uday from ruling the country even more viciously than his father did. But the genre that the movie truly belongs to is Totalitarian Studies. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, which it did in the case of Saddam Hussein, what happens when a boy is raised with absolute power before he has a chance to mature? The Devil’s Double answers that question with the force of a punch to the stomach.
Michael J. Totten is a contributing editor of City Journal and author of The Road to Fatima Gate and In the Wake of the Surge. Visit his blog at www.michaeltotten.com.
Uday Hussein’s many vices and wanton sadism appalled even his father. And one man was on hand to witness it all – Uday’s unwilling ‘body double’
By: Colin Freeman
The siege of the Iraqi mansion lasted five hours, starting with a loudspeakered call to surrender and ending with the crash of missiles from a United States helicopter gunship. By the time it was over, half the house’s wedding cake-style facade was missing, affording the media a unique, through-the-rocket-hole tour when they were finally allowed near it.
Inside we found an elegant inner balcony splintered with bullets, and for anyone with a knowledge of gangster movies, one scene sprang to mind: the closing shots of Scarface, where Al Pacino’s drug baron makes his famous last stand.
“That film was mentioned a couple of times,” grinned Lieutenant Colonel Rick Carlson, commander of a unit involved in the raid, when I put this to him later.
So came the spectacular demise of Saddam Hussein’s notorious sons Uday and Qusay, whose lives resembled a real-life gangster flick, and whose deaths in July 2003 produced one of the few moments of universal good cheer in the ever-mounting gloom of post-war Iraq. For the US military, it was a much-needed morale boost in a steadily fraying mission, netting both the Ace of Hearts and the Ace of Clubs in the “Deck of 55” most wanted. For Iraqis, meanwhile, it meant the passing of two of the regime’s most feared men – in particular Uday, whose psychotic, unhinged brutality made his father look statesmanlike.
Yet as celebratory gunfire erupted over Baghdad, Latif Yahia, a 39-year-old former commando, was one of the few Iraqis who didn’t reach for his Kalashnikov. Not just because he was thousands of miles away in exile in England, where assault rifles are still frowned upon as party poppers, but because he didn’t want to cheer. He wanted to cry.
“The Americans should have taken Uday alive,” he tells me now. “I wanted him to face trial, so that I could tell the world what he had done, all the killing.”
Playboy, murderer, and sadist extraordinaire, Saddam’s elder son left no shortage of people with horror stories to tell in his wake. Yet for Latif, the trauma of his encounter with him was uniquely personal, one that still haunts him every time he looks in the mirror. For back in 1987, after noticing his striking likeness to Saddam’s son, Iraq’s secret service picked him to be Uday’s “fiday”, or body double, a job that involved becoming the living, breathing copy of the nation’s greatest hate figure.
Being the stand-in man on any occasion where Uday feared one of his many enemies might assassinate him was just one of Latif’s occupational hazards. Far worse was the window it gave him into the ruling family’s inner circle, attending Uday’s debauched parties, mixing with his entourage of pimps and thugs, and looking on as his doppelganger rampaged with impunity. And, to his ultimate horror and guilt, sometimes enjoying it.
“Until now, I haven’t slept properly because of thinking about him,” he said. “I am stuck with Uday for the rest of my life, and will probably take him with me to my grave.”
Now, though, 19 years after fleeing Iraq and claiming asylum in Europe, Latif has another chance to give Uday’s crimes an airing, and, hopefully, give his designer-stubbled, Ray Ban-wearing demon a final exorcism.
The Devil’s Double, released this week, is a film loosely-based on Uday’s early life – shot entirely from the point of view of his body double. Coming in the wake of Green Zone and the Hurt Locker, it is the first major Iraq movie to explore life in the ruling clan. And while Uday played no real role in the wider political drama of the war, he proves an illuminating focus point, being in many ways the personification of the regime’s dark side. Addicted to drink, sex and violence in equal measure, he was despised even more than his father – as I myself found when I was a correspondent based in Baghdad after the war.
On the hot July night that news emerged that he had been killed, the Iraqi capital erupted with so much gunfire that I thought a full-scale insurrection had broken out; by contrast, the celebrations when Saddam was caught five months later were more muted.
Iraqis used to tell me that their worst nightmare was Uday inheriting power, a fear that was not without justification, if the words that Latif claimed his employer once said to him are anything to go by: “Just wait till I’m president, I’ll be crueller than my father. You will often remember these words, and yearn for the days of Saddam Hussein.”
Starring Dominic Cooper as both Uday and Latif, the film is directed by Lee Tamahori, best known for his portrayal of violence within New Zealand’s Maori community in Once Were Warriors. The mayhem in that, however, is nothing compared to the savagery in The Devil’s Double. It applies the gangster movie blueprint to an entire country, replacing the Mafia with the Hussein clan, although Uday is far more crazed than anything Coppola or Scorsese have so far conjured up.
In one horrific scene, he uses a carving knife to stab to death Kamel Hannah, his father’s personal pimp, at a party attended by the wife of the recently-deposed Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. The incident is entirely authentic, according to Latif, save for the minor detail that Uday actually used an electric rose pruner that he had at his side. Even so, Latif says the violence has been toned down.
“The movie shows 20 per cent of what really happened, at most,” he says. “On one occasion, in a jail back in ’91, I remember Uday dealing with a Shia prisoner who had been involved in the uprising against Saddam after the first Gulf War. He said: ‘I won’t kill you by the gun,’ and instead put a drill through his head. When he’d finished, he looked around and said: ‘This is what happens to those who stand up against us.’ They killed half the people in that jail, and put the bodies in among those still alive. Then they released the survivors, just so they could tell other Iraqis what they’d seen.”
Latif first met Uday in 1979, when the two were at the Baghdad College High School for Boys, the country’s answer to Eton. The Iraq of that time was a very different place: Saddam, newly in power, was still relatively popular, having used Iraq’s oil money to create one of the Middle East’s most developed countries, while Baghdad was the region’s party capital, full of bars, discos and nightclubs.
Even then, Iraq’s First Family were a law unto themselves. Latif’s teachers learnt this the hard way when Uday first turned up at school, surrounded by five bodyguards. Having turned a blind eye to his habit of throwing chalk at them during lessons, and parking his yellow Porsche in the school’s basketball court, one teacher finally protested when Uday brought a girlfriend into class. “The teacher told Uday this was forbidden in an all-boys school,” recalls Latif. “He was never seen again.”
A keen painter, Latif won Uday’s friendship after drawing a portrait of Saddam, but knew to keep his distance. When university beckoned, he even switched to reading law when learning that Uday had enrolled on the same engineering course.
Then, one day in September 1987, while serving at the front during the Iran-Iraq war, he was whisked by limousine to a palace in Baghdad, where Uday, sat in a white leather armchair and smoking one of his trademark Montecristo No 6 cigars, told him of the top-secret plan to make him his “fiday”. After all, his father had been using one for years. “I want you to be me. Everywhere, always,” he said. It was an order, not a request. When Latif at first refused, he was thrown for days into a blood-encrusted jail cell with no lavatory. When he still protested, Uday threatened to feed his sisters to his pet dogs.
Thus began his secret service-organised “training programme”. He and Uday already bore a sharp resemblance to each other, with the same round eyes, thick eyebrows and slightly curly hair. But nothing was left to chance. To start, there was cosmetic surgery – a cleft added to the chin, and dental treatment to mimic Uday’s bucktoothed grin, which even gave him Uday’s distinctive lisp as well. To be really convincing, though, he also had to study the unique Uday school of deportment, honing, as he puts it, a “supercilious, dictatorial arrogance”.
How to mimic Uday’s childlike giggle, cocky stride and slovenly manners, always sitting slumped rather than straight up. How to greet people with a studied stare, and make his point by gesturing with a revolver. How to cruise around Baghdad in a different Porsche, Ferrari or Lamborghini every day, which also had to match whichever loud designer suit he was wearing. How to cradle a Montecristo between middle and index fingers, and knock back vast quantities of Dimple, the unsophisticated Scotch that was Uday’s favourite. And how, when attending discos, to up the tempo by blasting a few gunshots into the ceiling. For Latif, though, the hardest part of the fakery was played on his own family. He signed a contract saying he would never, on pain of execution, tell anyone that he was Uday’s double; this included his parents, who were told he had gone missing at the front, and whom he was forbidden from seeing again.
At first, being Uday had benefits. Latif was billeted in a five-star apartment with four full-time servants, its own bar, and a wardrobe packed with Uday’s hand-tailored clothes. He was also introduced to Saddam himself, or a man he assumes was him: one scene in the film shows the Iraqi leader playing tennis with his own double, the two impossible to be tol apart. But the scales soon fell from Latif’s eyes as he saw at first hand Uday’s appalling behaviour, which was normally covered up by Iraq’s state-controlled press.
Saddam’s son ran his own dark empire in Iraq, controlling the lucrative underworld smuggling rackets that thrived during the years of UN sanctions. His vast wealth allowed him to buy hundreds of cars, stashed all over Baghdad in underground garages and torched once the US invaded so nobody else could own them. (Uday employed somebody just to scour the internet for photos of new or collectable cars, which were then placed in a ring binder. He employed his own fisherman and two lion-tamers, too.)
He also ran the Iraqi Olympic Committee – the only one in the world that had its own jail, where athletes who did badly in international contests would be tortured using increasingly elaborate methods Uday had found on the internet. Worst of all, though, was his penchant for kerb-crawling around Baghdad.
Like Uday’s request for Latif to become his “fiday”, proposals of a quick night of romance with the president’s son were not negotiable. Dozens of girls would be paraded before him at the Baghdad Boat Club every night, and most would end up in his bedroom. Those who refused were abducted by his bodyguards and raped, first by Uday, and then by his henchmen. (It’s said he never slept with the same girl more than three times.)
Latif chronicles several such incidents in his book I Was Saddam’s Son, including the events of one notorious night at Habbaniya, a resort in Iraq’s western desert. Spotting a woman on honeymoon, Uday dragged her up to his sixth-floor hotel room, where he beat and raped her.
“Afterwards, he comes grinning out of the bedroom, pours himself a brandy and goes on chatting as though nothing had happened,” Latif writes. “Suddenly, we hear a long shrill scream that goes on forever. I dash into the bedroom, and see the door open to the balcony… she jumped from the sixth floor because she couldn’t stand the shame. What could I have done? Uday’s bodyguards, who almost derived more pleasure from their boss’s acts of cruelty than he did himself, would have killed me.”
So what made Uday so crazy? The Devil’s Double doesn’t dwell on this too much, but Latif has theories of his own. For all that Uday’s childhood was spoilt and overindulged, he points out, it was also traumatic.
Saddam, he claims, inducted Uday into the ways of the “family firm” from a young age, taking him to his first public execution aged just five, and, aged ten, showing him videos of regime opponents being tortured. Living up to family expectations was also hard. After all, when your father has already grabbed the titles of President, High Excellency, and Conqueror of All Iraq, there is very little left to achieve.
“This evil man, this gangster, he would cry like a baby when he was drunk, and talk about how his father ignored him,” says Latif. “He was close to his dad, but after he murdered Kamel Hannah [the pimp killed with a rose pruner], Saddam started favouring his brother Qusay to take over from him. At that time Uday also got rid of all his professional bodyguards, and just had pimps and thugs around him. That made things even worse.”
Things got worse for Latif too, as anger over the gassing of the Kurds in 1988 and disastrous 1991 Gulf War defeat made the ruling family more unpopular. He suffered two assassination attempts during public engagements on his boss’s behalf, nearly losing a finger in a grenade blast. When he returned to Baghdad for treatment, however, Uday’s only concern was that he too may have to forfeit a finger if his double’s digit couldn’t be saved. The film eventually depicts Latif escaping Iraq with one of Uday’s former girlfriends, Sarrab, and as the closing credits point out, “the rest is history”.
Minus his double, Uday spent his final years paralysed from the waist down after being shot while out cruising for girls one day, although even that does not seem to have curbed his lust. When US troops searched his various hide-outs after the war, they reportedly found Viagra, porn movies and an HIV testing kit, as well as millions of dollars’ worth of fine wine and a heroin stash.
Latif, who now lives and blogs in Belgium, joined the exiled anti-Saddam opposition, although to this day, he insists the US-led invasion was a mistake, simply replacing one gangster clique with many. “I knew it would put Sunni and Shia and Kurd against each other,” he says. “Now you have lots of people all wanting to behave like Saddam and Uday.”
Nor does he wish ever to return to his home country, whatever rosy claims are made in the West about it now becoming a democracy. Because from his own bitter experience, the problem is not just the thugs who tend to hog power in Iraq, but the willingness of the people to follow them slavishly.
“The problem is not Iraq as a country, but the people. I am sorry to say this, but if you read the history of Iraq, you will see it has been like this for 7,000 years – that is to say,
a–holes, clapping their hands for anyone, and selling their mothers for money. It will take 50 years, maybe more, to change the place.”
The Devil’s Double opens in cinemas on Friday