Like George W. Bush, the Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya - the man who first drew the world's attention to the extent of Saddam Hussein's crimes in his seminal 1989 book, Republic of Fear - was woken at 5am last Sunday by a phone call from Baghdad.
Makiya was in America, where he made his home as a professor at Brandeis University during his long exile, and was staying with his family in Massachusetts when he heard Saddam had been captured. 'I jumped up and woke the kids. We put our arms round each other and for a long time, just hugged. I felt such enormous relief, and great happiness he hadn't been killed. I knew at that instant that his trial would be a truly historic opportunity, one of the greatest trials of the past 100 years.
'We are going to try someone whose crimes are on the scale of those committed by Hitler and Stalin. But it's vital we don't try him simply as a person, as a monster, as an individual embodiment of evil. There is the opportunity to indict the system that produced him, and which Saddam helped to produce.'
The capture, says Makiya, and the humiliating TV pictures of Saddam being checked for lice, 'are a very big shock for all the Arabs - a shock in a good way'. They showed the dictator shorn 'of the bombast and nationalism' of his rule. The task now was to assign 'top, world-class investigators, top, world-class prosecutors' to assemble a complete indictment of the Baathist regime. If that can be accomplished, 'we can affect all Arab politics in a very positive manner'.
Makiya has established the Iraq Memory Foundation in Baghdad, planned as a memorial and a vast information resource. His hope is that 'truth can help heal a society that has been politically brutalised'.
The foundation has amassed millions of files from Baathist government agencies, including the intelligence service and Special Security Organisation, the brutal network led by Saddam's late son, Qusay. One of the most dramatic finds came last month, when Makiya unearthed a web of tunnels, whose entrance lay beneath the tomb of Baath party founder Michel Aflaq, inside the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters. It contained three million files with new insights into the regime's repression and depravity.
'There is a blacklist of schoolchildren, a register of every schoolchild in Iraq, listing their relatives and their supposed political affilitations. If a file recorded that a brother or an uncle had been executed for political reasons, that child was blighted. There was a special intelligence department that collected rumours, and tried to track their source. And we have files on the mass graves - including documents which show how the regime tried to fabricate a claim that they contained not its victims, but Baathists killed in the Shia and Kurdish uprisings of 1991.'
Makiya's intention is to follow the model of the commission established by the Gauk Commission in the former East Germany, the body responsible for the 120 miles of former Stasi files seized after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Eventually he wants to catalogue all the Baathist records under one roof. 'This won't just be a resource for scholars, or a record which will help to shape the minds of future generations of Iraqis. Ordinary Iraqis will be able to come to discover exactly what happened to their father, sister or brother, and using a user-friendly computer terminal get access to all the relevant files.'
Despite funding for the project by the US Congress, Makiya has found himself 'banging on doors in Washington' for the past 10 days, trying to deal with a lengthening list of obstacles. The first is 'the old, bureaucratic wrangles' which bedevilled US support for the Iraqi opposition before the war. Makiya should have access to $1 million. Instead, he has been funding the foundation out of his own pocket, 'using money I just don't have,' because although Congress has earmarked money, State Department officials say it can't be yet released.
Makiya wants to employ more staff and already knows he has much material 'which will be dynamite for Saddam's trial'. The State Department's hostility - which may well be linked to the fact that Makiya has for years been close to its bête noire , Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress - means this work cannot begin.
The foundation faces problems from the Pentagon's Iraq Survey Group, the body still hunting for weapons of mass destruction. The ISG currently holds the largest of all caches of regime documents, more than 8 million. But 'they are very secretive,' Makiya says, 'and they are only looking at them for one thing - WMD.'