By: Greg Mitchell
A very different kind of ?feel good,? America-as-land-of-opportunity story this month involves a man named Basam Ridha. Where else could a young exile end up appearing with George Clooney in a Hollywood movie ? and then, thanks to the man in the White House, get a chance to return to his native land to serve as official hangman?
Ridha, former actor in the Clooney film ?Three Kings? and on television in ?24? ? yes, he has a Screen Actors Guild card — now acts as an adviser to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki. He also appears as a spokesman for the Iraqi government on American TV, and handles all of the arrangements for executions in Iraq. He?s the guy who is frequently quoted when hangings there are botched. When one notorious prisoner?s head got severed in the process back in January, Ridha called it an ?act of God,? adding, in something of an understatement, ?it was not a pretty scene.?
E&P discovered that and other interesting details in doing research following last weekend?s piece about him by the Los Angeles Times? Tina Susman. That story had featured a can?t-miss lede: ?Basam Ridha traded the business of Hollywood for the business of hanging.? She went on to call him ?the go-to man for all things gallows.?
Now we?ve found a picture of Ridha posing with George Clooney on the set of ?Three Kings.? It was featured in ?The Daily Reveille,? the newspaper for Lousiana State University, on April 23, 2003. The story opens: ?LSU graduate Basam Ridha Al-Husaini had to flee for his life, leaving his family behind and the country he calls home. After the recent fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime he will finally be able to return to Iraq after 21 years….In May 1982 two of his brothers had been imprisoned by Hussein, and Al-Husaini decided to leave Iraq and come to the United States.?
Currently, Ridha, is putting his engineering degree to use in carefully planning the next high-level hanging, starring ?Chemical Ali.? At least 100 such executions have taken place since 2005. Ridha denies any blame for the circus surrounding Saddam Hussein?s passing: Surprised by the speed with which it was carried out, he was not in the room that night but far away in Dubai. After another botched execution early this year, he ordered a new gallows built.
How did Susman, the L.A. Times bureau chief in Baghdad, get that story?
?I’d first spoken to Basam in February over the phone for a story about an upcoming execution,? she told E&P. ?He was always happy to talk and became a great source of information whenever a hanging was in the works. Little by little I began learning about his background. When I learned that he lived in L.A so long, it seemed a natural story for the L.A. Times. The Hollywood bit was icing on the cake.
?But it’s the kind of story that could not have worked without the perfect subject, and he is a great subject. He’s remarkably up front about his attitudes, enjoys talking to journalists, and is one of those rare political types who says exactly what he thinks, even if he knows it might offend some people. The interview was at times entertaining, and at times, such as when he talked about the search for his brothers and the toll it had taken on his family, quite heart-wrenching. I wanted to portray him as someone who was angry and wanting revenge, but using that anger in a way he believes is somehow good for other Iraqis. It’s not such an unusual attitude here.?
Sussman had pointed out in her story, ?Ridha plays down his Hollywood experience but admits it was lucrative. He still collects residuals.? He did have a speaking role in “Three Kings,” after all.
Perhaps he could star in a remake of the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood classic, “Hang ‘Em High.”
Leila Fadel of McClatchy Newspapers had profiled Ridha back in March. He told her, “We’re not accustomed to executing; that’s why we made mistakes, unlike Saddam and his people. They did not care.” Last December, he informed The New York Times that Iraqis were lining up to slip the noose around Saddam’s neck.
As recently as ten days ago he was serving as a spokesman on non-hanging matters. Fox News went to him after Maliki?s government got passing grades on only 8 of 18 benchmarks from the U.S. Fox observed that Ridha took exception to how this was characterized. “We are making progress,? he said. ?A lot of people say there is pressure and we have a deadline. There is no such thing. I think for the most part it looks like a war in Washington, a media war, more than a war in Iraq.
“The question is: a failing grade as far as the Americans are concerned or as far as we are concerned, which we count the most. ? We are going to conduct our own business, for our own country, for our own agenda, for the thing that works for us.”
Ridha had also served as adviser to a previous prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari. USA Today on Feburary 12, 2006, quoted Ridha defending his boss by explaining that he would ?not be able to make an overnight success of Iraq, but he has a vision.”
When we asked Susman what Ridha thought of her piece, she responded: ?I haven’t heard from him on the story. I got one response from a reader who insinuated that Basam himself should hang for his attitudes. Funny enough, the stories I get the most reaction to are those about the oil legislation here. People are passionate about revenue-sharing agreements.?