Forced to Be the 'Devil's Double': The Horrifying Job of 'Being' Saddam's Son
Living in the lap of luxury in a plush apartment with gourmet food, designer suits, top of the line watches and as many pliant women as you desire, all provided gratis at any hour of the day or night, doesn't sound like such a bad gig, does it? But when the price for all this involves standing idly by while rape, murder and torture are being committed, the perspective changes drastically.
Watching those crimes and worse still were what was required of Latif Yahia, who was coerced into serving as the body double and "brother" of Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein, in Baghdad in the late '80s. Many considered Uday to be a true psychopath in the worst sense of the word, and Latif says he earned that twisted reputation.
"From 1987 until late 1991, I was the Double for Uday Saddam Hussein," explains Latif. "It was not something that I applied for, nor was it something that I wished to be. Had I not succumbed to his demands, I would not have been the only member of my family to feel his wrath."
At the age of 15, Yahia and Uday had been classmates, and many had commented on their physical likeness. Uday remembered this, and when the time came that he needed a body double like his father, he compelled Yahia to serve him.
Conscripted Into Hell
So how did a nice, educated Iraqi soldier of Kurdish descent, who wanted nothing more than to follow his father's successful footsteps in the appliance business, ever consent to become involved in such a nightmare? It was made abundantly clear to him that the men in his family would be thrown in prison and beaten, and his sisters would be raped and tortured if he didn't cooperate. Latif himself had to be thrown in solitary confinement and beaten before he consented to participate.
Latif's story is currently being brought to light in the new Lionsgate film, "The Devil's Double." Dominic Cooper, whom you might remember as the hopeful young fiance in "Mama Mia" and a handsome, vacuous playboy in "An Education," plays both Latif and Uday. How does Yahia feel about seeing such a grueling part of his life portrayed on film?
He says the experience was both cathartic and overwhelming. "In a way, something was relieved out of me," he confides. "The sadness that I had before -- my story is being told and it's a release."
The film depicts Latif's disgust and indignation at Uday's penchant for drugs, violence and women, knowing that the wrong move could put him and his family in the hospital or in their graves. He was forced to undergo painful plastic surgery, and diction and body coaching, so that he could serve as a double to Uday in public and in private when there was risk, or when Uday simply preferred to party rather than attend political functions. Latif "took bullets" both for and from Uday, and was forced to stand by while Uday defiled school girls, tortured Olympic athletes for failing to win and committed numerous other unspeakable crimes.
Uday's actions were so evil and perverse, in fact, that Cooper had a hard time playing him -- there wasn't anything about the character that he could even remotely relate to. "I just despised the man," he said. "There was nothing that I could see in him that I could latch onto and like. It was beyond my capabilities to get into the mindset of a man who did the things he did."
Finally Breaking Free
You can imagine how hard it would be to leave a job like this. Latif was under constant surveillance, and was beaten and imprisoned when he displeased Uday. He was finally able to flee to the north, where Kurdish rebels first imprisoned him because they thought he was Uday. When Latif was able to convinced them of his true identity, he was released and granted asylum in Austria in 1992.
Although Uday was crippled in an assassination attempt in 1996, and eventually killed by an American task force in 2003, Latif is still hesitant to reveal his own whereabouts. He appears to have made his way to Ireland where he lives with his family. Although he has a PhD in International Law and is an author, blogger and now film consultant, he will forever be defined by the days he spent in hell as the "Devil's Double."