NEW YORK -- Thrust unexpectedly into the role of prison guards for Saddam Hussein, a group of young American soldiers found the deposed Iraqi leader to be a friendly, talkative ''clean freak" who loved Raisin Bran for breakfast, did his own laundry, and insisted he was still president of Iraq, according to a report published yesterday.
An article in GQ magazine's July issue says Hussein greatly admired President Reagan and thought Bill Clinton was ''OK," but had harsh words for both President Bushes, each of whom went to war against him.
''The Bush father, son, no good," one of the soldiers, Corporal Jonathan ''Paco" Reese, 22, of Millville, Pa., quotes Hussein as saying. But a fellow soldier, Specialist Sean O'Shea, then 19, says Hussein later softened that view. ''Towards the end he was saying that he doesn't hold any hard feelings and he just wanted to talk to Bush, to make friends with him," O'Shea, of Minooka, Pa., said.
A third soldier, Specialist Jesse Dawson, quoted Hussein as saying of Bush: '' 'He knows I have nothing, no mass weapons. He knows he'll never find them.' "
The three soldiers were members of C Company, Second Battalion, 103d Armor Regiment, a Pennsylvania National Guard unit from the Scranton area activated for duty in Iraq in late 2003. They were chosen by the FBI to serve as guards at a US military compound where Hussein was a high value detainee, or HVD. Pentagon officials had no immediate comment because they had not seen the article, a spokesman said.
The soldiers' descriptions of Hussein's life in prison match the recent photos of him that apparently were smuggled out of prison, showing the former dictator in his underwear and a long robe. They describe a man who once lived in palaces and now occupies a cell where he has no privacy.
The soldiers say Hussein was preoccupied with cleanliness, washing up after shaking hands and using diaper wipes to clean his meal trays, his utensils, and the table before eating.
Hussein told his guards that when the Americans invaded Iraq in March 2003, he ''tried to flee in a taxicab as the tanks were rolling in," and the US planes attacked the palace to which he intended to escape rather than the one he was in, injuring his bodyguards.
Hussein told the guards that his capture in an underground hide-out on Dec. 13, 2003, resulted from a betrayal by the only man who knew where he was and had been paid to keep the secret.