After decades of defiance, bluster and lavish living, the end for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein came in a narrow, dirty "spider hole" buried six feet underground.
Working on a tip provided earlier in the day by one of his former bodyguards, 600 4th Infantry Division soldiers swarmed the spot near Hussein's hometown of Tikrit around 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday and captured the disheveled leader without firing a single shot.
Emerging from the hole looking haggard and wearing a long beard, the Iraqi leader gave up peacefully and was quickly whisked into U.S. custody, where doctors took DNA samples to verify his identity, according to newswire reports. Video footage of Hussein being checked for lice and having his teeth examined was beamed around the world and sparked jubilant celebrations in the streets of Iraq as citizens fired gunshots into the air and honked their horns.
In a press conference Sunday afternoon, President Bush said, "It marks the end of the road for him and all who killed and bullied in his name. Now the former dictator of Iraq will face the justice he denied to millions."
Word of Hussein's capture did not leak out until Sunday morning U.S. time, as officials awaited the results of medical tests and positive identification by former members of Hussein's ruling party. Bush was given confirmation of Hussein's capture at 5 a.m. ET Sunday morning.
After eight months of searching for Hussein, soldiers surprised the former ruler, who was "caught like a rat," according to 4th Infantry commander Maj. Gen. Ray Odinero. The former Iraqi leader was found with a pistol and a suitcase containing $750,000 in U.S. currency, but he had no communications equipment or computers.
The hole, one of 20 such hideouts Hussein was said to have been shuttling between, consisted of two narrow concrete rooms buried six feet below ground with a small ventilator fan to bring in fresh air. Six feet long, two feet across and three feet high, the hole was just big enough for Hussein to lie down in and was strewn with clothing, medicine, rotting fruit, candy bars, books and a crude kitchen. The hole was a long way from the dozens of lavish, gilded palaces Hussein built during his 23-year presidency.
As he emerged with his hands up he reportedly said, "I'm Saddam Hussein. I'm the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate." One soldier is reported to have told Hussein that President Bush "sends his regards." Asked during a press conference Monday morning (December 15) what that message may have been, Bush replied, "Good riddance. ... The world is better off without you, Mr. Saddam Hussein."
Interrogators are questioning Saddam about the 13 people left on the most-wanted list as well as the whereabouts of any weapons of mass destruction. They have also reportedly been asking him about the ongoing attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq to determine who has been coordinating the ambushes, which have claimed more than 100 lives.
While Hussein has been described as being everything from cooperative and talkative to sullen and sarcastic, officials have not said if he has given up any significant information, though a U.S. commander told the Associated Press that the troops who captured him found "descriptive written material of significant value" in the spider hole.
It is expected that a public war-crimes tribunal in Iraq will try Hussein. "We will work with the Iraqis to develop a way to try him that will stand international scrutiny," Bush said Monday. "Iraqis need to be very much involved. ... We will work with the Iraqis to develop a process."
A member of the Iraqi Governing Council suggested that the trial could begin early in the new year. It is expected that Hussein will be asked to account for the more than 300,000 people he is said to have had executed since he became president in 1979, as well as for crimes committed against Iran and Kuwait during Iraq's wars with those countries.
It is unclear whether Saddam will face execution. The U.S. occupational authority has suspended the death penalty in Iraq, and it will be up to the country's transitional government — slated to take office on July 1 — to decide whether to reinstate it. It is also unclear if anyone will collect the $25 million bounty that was on Hussein's head, as some of the information that led to his capture was provided by Iraqis being held in U.S. custody.
The president called Hussein's capture "a great moment for the people of Iraq," and he added that, "The enemies of a free Iraq have lost their leader. Iraq is on the path to freedom."
Visit CBSNews.com for up-to-the-minute coverage of the capture. For more on the situation in Iraq, check out "Conflicts in the Middle East" and "Reporting From Iraq," in which Gideon Yago shares his experiences from a recent visit.