In the spring of 2001 the National Guild of Hypnotists, an organization based in New Hampshire, got an e-mail from government officials in Iraq who were looking for someone to treat an unnamed patient in Baghdad. Dwight Damon, the guild president, immediately thought of Larry Garrett, a practitioner in Chicago. “I didn’t think the average person would be interested in this,” says Damon, “but Larry’s adventurous. He’d like the challenge.”
That March an Iraqi neurologist attending a medical conference in Chicago visited the 62-year-old Garrett at his office in Logan Square. Garrett says the neurologist told him an “important businessman” had been injured in a car accident, causing a stroke that had made it difficult for him to walk. He thought hypnosis might help.
Garrett’s mother and children and many of his friends thought going to Iraq was a bad idea. But his girlfriend wasn’t concerned, and he wanted to go. “You have to understand my personality,” he says. “If you say to me, ‘I have a friend with a problem,’ I’m right there for you. I’m a very trusting person. I also had fantasies that maybe I could create connections between the U.S. and Iraq, to better relations.” He says the neurologist told him all his expenses would be covered and he’d be paid a cash fee.
Garrett got clearance from the U.S. government to travel on a humanitarian visa. The Iraqis sent him a plane ticket, and on May 8 he flew to Amman, Jordan. He was met by a driver with an SUV, and they, accompanied by two French businessmen, set off through the desert in the middle of the night.
Guards detained them at the Iraqi border, where Garrett learned that the businessman he was going to see was actually Uday Hussein, Saddam’s older son. “I felt a spark of energy in my heart,” he says. “Iraq is a place where they stand on your toes and they beat you. I knew I had better do a good job or I wasn’t coming home.”
Garrett took his first hypnosis class in 1968. At the time he was employed as a rug reweaver. “I was a pretty anxious person then,” he says. “I suffered from bleeding ulcers and headaches, and I smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. I had a lot of issues.” He was skeptical about hypnosis, but after three days in the class, taught by Fred Schiavo in Arlington Heights, he felt much calmer. He studied with Schiavo for a year and decided to become a hypnotist himself, opening his own office in 1970.
He uses a technique that involves him sitting in one room and using his voice, soothing music, and natural sounds to relax a client who’s sitting in another room and listening through headphones. “This way,” he says, “noises and odors–like my bad breath–don’t detract from what we’re doing.” He treats everything from nail biting and sleep disorders to general anxiety, but most of his clients come to him because they want to stop smoking. After he helped WGN radio host Bob Collins quit, Collins talked him up on the air, sending hundreds of customers his way.
The SUV drove into Baghdad at dawn, and no sooner had Garrett been dropped off at the Al Rashid Hotel than the driver was arrested and his car confiscated. “They said the driver was not supposed to have gone into Baghdad,” he says. He was troubled but didn’t want to leave. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
That first day Garrett met with Uday’s doctors and physical therapist and went over his medical records. He learned that in 1996 Uday had been shot repeatedly during an assassination attempt, which had caused his disabilities. His left foot had a tremor, and when he walked he hesitated before letting the foot hit the ground. He also walked with a cane and bent toward the left when he stood. His doctors thought his physical problems were aggravated by anxiety and mental stress. Garrett agreed that hypnosis might help.
At 1 AM the second day Garrett got a call in his hotel room. “The patient awaits you,” said Kamal, the bodyguard assigned to him. A Mercedes limousine carried him to a hospital, where he was shown into an examining room. At 4 AM Uday, tall and dressed in a silk shirt and expensive slacks, walked in accompanied by several guards. Garrett says Uday said in clear English, “Mr. Larry, I am honored that you came. I thank you very much.”
Uday perched on the edge of an examination table, and Garrett sat on a stool. “Uday had a pathetic face that looked like it had been beat up,” he says. “He had a weak, handicapped appearance–and they wanted him to be brave and strong.”
Uday described his difficulty walking. Then Garrett told him there were too many people in the room for him to work. “I told Uday that hypnosis is a very intimate experience, that we didn’t need an audience,” he says. “He said something in Arabic, and all but two of the people left.”
Garrett says he then proceeded to relax Uday, through a process hypnotists call an induction, until he went into a trance. “You’re speaking to someone like a child,” Garrett says. “Drumming up motivation in the person to change.” In soft, low tones he told Uday he would soon have more confidence, that his left leg would be stronger, that his foot would lose its tremor, that he would stand erect.
When Uday opened his eyes he spoke in Arabic to Simani, his chief aide. “The patient said that was good,” Simani told Garrett. “But the next time it must be deeper.”
Late the next night the phone rang again in Garrett’s hotel room. “The patient awaits you,” said Kamal.
Garrett hypnotized Uday again. “When I was done Uday opened his eyes, and he had a smile on his face,” he says. “Simani told me, ‘The patient said that was better, but the next time it has to be much deeper.’ I had Uday feeling stronger. I was giving him confidence. But I knew I needed to knock the guy out. Uday didn’t care so much about being hypnotized–he wanted to be unconscious.”
As Garrett talked to hotel staff and local merchants he learned why Uday had been so anxious to do something about his physical problems. “I heard that decisions were being made about who was next in line to Saddam,” he says. “There was speculation that power might go to Qusay [Uday’s brother]. This was the time when Uday had to do something or he was going to lose his position.”
For the third session Garrett was taken to Uday’s house, a spacious building fronted with blue ceramic tile and surrounded by an eight-foot concrete fence. He was ushered into Uday’s bedroom, where a painting depicted a warrior protecting a woman from a giant bird. Uday, dressed in a flowing white robe, took off his shoes and lay down with two pillows under his head and a blanket pulled to his chest. “I used the imagery in the painting with Uday–that he was strong like the warrior, that he could protect his country,” says Garrett. “I talked him into a state where he was breathing like he was snoring. Afterward, Simani said, ‘The patient said that was excellent.'”
After the sessions Uday would ask Garrett questions about the United States and where he lived, and he would tell Garrett details about his own life. “He was an educated man, with a background in engineering,” says Garrett. “He was versed in the Koran. He had visited the U.S. with his cousin when he was 17. He expressed some political views, but he didn’t involve me in them. I must say I was developing a fondness for him.”
Uday also arranged for Garrett to see some local sights. He visited a Sufi mosque, where he says he saw people swallow razor blades and put skewers in their eyes and through their cheeks without drawing blood. He went to the Al Amariyah bomb shelter, where several hundred Iraqis had died during the gulf war, and says he was shown carbonized body parts on the ceiling. “I was in tears,” he says. He toured the ruins of Babylon, saw antiquities in museums, and took pictures.
“By the tenth day Uday felt reinforced by what we had been working on,” says Garrett. “He was walking better, without hesitation.” He gave Uday some self-hypnosis tapes he’d made, and Uday thanked him for coming.
Once Garrett was home, he says, CIA and FBI agents came to see him. “They were thrilled that I had taken photos,” he says. “I had been up and down the streets of Baghdad, and they wanted me to show them where Uday’s house was. I think they were using me.” He says agents told him Uday had committed “a lot of crimes against humanity.” He responded, “All I know is that he is highly respected.”
Garrett says he didn’t know much about what Uday had done and didn’t learn until later that he’d tortured Iraqi athletes who failed to play well, raped girls as young as 12, bludgeoned to death his father’s valet, and organized the Saddam Fedayeen, a paramilitary group of thugs who fought and killed for the government. But at the time Garrett didn’t feel he needed to find out what the agents were referring to. “I cared about using my skills and ability to get closer to a man everybody feared,” he says. “It would better help me understand the person. I’ve hypnotized a lot of famous people–Ann Landers’s daughter, Carol Burnett’s daughter Carrie Hamilton, and Rock Hudson before he got sick. I’ve met murderers in the county jail through my work. My philosophy of living is stay in the moment. I don’t value judge people as to what they are about.”
In August 2001 Garrett was invited to return to Baghdad. He was excited about going. “This time I would know a lot of people–I had made friends,” he says, mentioning Kamal. On September 9 he flew directly to Baghdad.
Uday had been using the self-hypnosis tapes Garrett had made for him and was now able to run using a contraption that resembled a giant walker with bicycle wheels. Garrett heard from hotel staff and store clerks that Uday had been rumored to be impotent–something neither Uday nor his doctors had mentioned–but no longer was. “There was excitement about that,” he says.
At their first meeting Uday greeted Garrett warmly and said he wanted to reach a point where his knee wouldn’t lock up, causing him to fall. He also asked Garrett a lot of questions about how self-hypnosis controlled the mind. “That evening was a great session,” Garrett would later write in an article in the Hypno-Gram, the National Guild’s periodical. “He responded well. I taught him some guided imagery of his knee relaxing and spent about two hours chatting about the world and life.”
In the early evening on September 11, Garrett was in the hotel lobby. “The television in this shop started showing scenes that I thought were from a movie,” he says. “It was a broadcast though, and the excitement became unbearable.”
Soon he was taken to Uday, who told him, “Mr. Larry, I have great sorrow for your family and your people.” Uday said he could leave, but then they learned that all flights had been canceled. Uday offered Garrett a short-wave radio so that he could listen to the news in English.
Unable to go home, Garrett went back to working with Uday. “We just carried on business as usual,” he says. During the day he made self-hypnosis CDs for Uday at the Baghdad radio station Uday controlled, and at night he hypnotized him. Uday also lent Garrett a computer so that he could e-mail his family and let them know he was all right.
During their long talks after the hypnosis sessions, Garrett says, “Uday referred to reports that Iraqi soldiers had raped women and killed young children in a village during the gulf war, saying that wasn’t the way of his country’s military. He said it was a small group that committed the atrocities and that they’d had their heads removed. The heads were sent to the village.” He says that despite the grisly tales, he appreciated Uday’s forthrightness. “He never spoke to me as a leader or the son of a leader. He never condescended. It was just two men sitting around at night.”
Garrett, who had taken lots of photos and video footage, asked if he could make a video of Uday, in which he would perhaps offer Americans his condolences. He says Uday replied, “As God would will it,” and smiled. Then he described a tent in the desert supported by a center pole and two side posts, which Garrett took to represent Saddam, Uday, and Qusay. “If you take out the small posts the tent will collapse,” said Uday. “I’m not able to go against the wishes of our leader.” There would be no video.
Garrett was finally able to go home on September 19. Uday quietly said good-bye and asked him to return in October. U.S. officials wouldn’t allow it, and Garrett never heard from Uday again.
Garrett says that when Uday and Qusay died in a shoot-out in Mosul in July 2003 he wasn’t sad. “It was too bad all these people in Iraq were getting killed, including Uday,” he says. “Uday was a human being, after all. But you know, he was also just a person I hypnotized, like Rock Hudson, and when Hudson got AIDS I didn’t have concern for him. I refrain from going into the past. When somebody dies, they die. It’s not coldhearted. I’m just somebody who lives in the moment.”
These days Garrett sees clients three days a week and puts out the four-page bimonthly “West Logan Square Newsletter,” which he started in 1993 to publish positive news about his neighborhood. There’s no crime news, and typical headlines are “A Dream Come True” and “Practice the Power of Now!” Looking back, he says he’s glad he went to Iraq and could see doing similar trips. “If someone called from North Korea and said there’s a guy who wants to be hypnotized, I’d go. I consider it an honor when somebody seeks my services.”
As this issue was going to press, we received word that longtime Reader staff writer Grant Pick had died. Michael Miner remembers him in Hot Type. We’ll miss him.
Art accompanying story in the printed Reader newspaper of February 4, 2005 (not available in this archive): photos/Paul L. Merideth, courtesy of Larry Garrett.
Art accompanying story in printed The Reader’s Guide newspaper of February 11, 2005 (not available in this archive): photos/Paul L. Merideth, courtesy of Larry Garrett, Amr Nabeel/AFP/Getty Images.