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Tour of prison reveals the last days of Saddam Hussein

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN shoots first video inside Saddam Hussein's cell, gets a look at his journal
  • Marine general describes Hussein's last day and preparation for execution
  • Hussein planted a garden, worked out, wrote poetry while in prison
  • Hussein was friendly with guards, who called him "Vic" for Very Important Criminal
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The guards at the Baghdad detention facility called their prisoner "Vic," and let him plant a little garden near his cell.

art.hussein.cell.cnn.jpg

The cell where Saddam Hussein spent his final days is furnished with the basics.

The rest of the world knew him as Saddam Hussein, a man blamed for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis during more than 20 years as the country's president.

The nickname and the garden are among the details about the former Iraqi dictator that emerged during a tour of the Baghdad cell where Hussein slept, bathed, and kept a journal in the final days before he was executed in December 2006.

U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, who oversees detention operations for the U.S. military in Iraq, shared excerpts from the journal and showed CNN the cell -- the first time it's been recorded on video.

Hussein was hanged on December 30, 2006, for his role in the killings of 148 people in a town north of Baghdad after a 1982 attempt to assassinate him. Video Watch Stone tell how Hussein prepared for execution »

Stone described how Hussein began that day.

"So he got up. He was informed that, in fact, [this] would be the day that he would be going to the execution. He bathed himself here in a very modest manner," Stone said, pointing to the sink in the corner of the room. "It was winter, so it was cold."

Hussein took extra time to put on the familiar dark suit he always wore to court, Stone recalled.

"As he went out, he said goodbye to the guards and then got into the vehicles and proceeded to the execution," the general said. See timeline of events leading up to Hussein's execution »

Notes taken by the guards assigned to Hussein said he asked them to give his belongings to his lawyer and tell his daughter he was going to meet God with a clear conscience, as a soldier sacrificing himself for Iraq and his people.

The cell is a small, windowless room painted a nondescript beige, with a gun-metal gray floor and concrete sleeping platform. It has a stainless-steel combination sink and toilet in the corner.

Those guarding the former Iraqi leader developed a sort of rapport with him, giving Hussein the nickname Vic -- derived from the initials V-I-C posted near his name in the holding facility.

"Why did you all call him Vic?" asked CNN's Kyra Phillips.

"Ah, a little-known secret," Stone said. "When he came here there was a debate. Do you call him Mr. President? No, that doesn't sound very good. What do you call him?"

Hussein also had a prisoner number, but that wasn't going to work as a name either.

"One day he looked across at us and said why do you have initials by my name?" Stone said. "And we said, well, that stands for 'Very Important Criminal'" ... and he said, 'OK, that's what I want to be called.'"

Guards allowed Hussein to exercise and keep a garden in a small outdoor courtyard.

"This was probably his favorite area," Stone said of the courtyard, where Hussein also smoked cigars and wrote in his journal, trying to shape his legacy even though he had lost control of the country.

In his writings, Hussein said it was his responsibility to document history so that "the people ... may know the facts as they are and not as those who want to counterfeit it."

"So he is afraid that history will not be recorded as he wants it recorded?" Phillips asked.

"As he wants it recorded, exactly!" Stone said.

The former Iraqi leader showed a philosophical side in his poetry.

"The nights are darker after the sunset, but the smoke and the burning overwhelms the city," Hussein wrote as bombings and fighting enveloped Baghdad and echoed into the prison.

"You will feel suffocated under its skies. The days are now nights. No stars. No moon, but lots of screams."

In another piece, Hussein called on citizens to change.

"Dear nation: Get rid of the hatred, take the clothes of hate and throw it into the ocean of hatred," he wrote. "God will save you and you will start a clean life, with a clean heart."

Though authorities executed Hussein for his role in killing about 150 people, he was on trial at the time of his death for genocide. Those charges implicated him in the killings of up to 100,000 Kurds during the 1988 Anfal campaign against Kurdish rebels -- a campaign that included the use of poison gas against Kurdish towns in northern Iraq.

Stone said Hussein's poetry may have been another attempt to ensure his legacy.

"There is a certain cunningness to him," Stone said. "There's a desire to sort of piece things together so that this is what you'll remember."

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  • Fighting that has left scores dead in Iraq's strategic southern oil city of Basra and other regions continued to rage on Thursday, with officials and witnesses reporting pitched battles between Iraqi security forces and militia members.
  • In Washington on Wednesday, a federal indictment was unsealed charging that Hussein's intelligence agency footed the bill for a U.S. congressional delegation's trip during a buildup to the Iraq war.
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