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January 25, 2008

Saddam's Interrogator Speaks

George Piro, an FBI agent who was Saddam's sole interrogator, will be on Sixty Minutes this Sunday:

Saddam Hussein initially didn't think the U.S. would invade Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, so he kept the fact that he had none a secret to prevent an Iranian invasion he believed could happen. The Iraqi dictator revealed this thinking to George Piro, the FBI agent assigned to interrogate him after his capture.

Saddam still wouldn't admit he had no weapons of mass destruction, even when it was obvious there would be military action against him because of the perception he did. Because, says Piro, "For him, it was critical that he was seen as still the strong, defiant Saddam. He thought that [faking having the weapons] would prevent the Iranians from reinvading Iraq," he tells Pelley.

He also intended and had the wherewithal to restart the weapons program. "Saddam] still had the engineers. The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there," says Piro. "He wanted to pursue all of WMD…to reconstitute his entire WMD program." This included chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Piro says.

I've long believed claims about how "Saddam was bluffing!" and "Saddam was going to restart his WMD programs the second our back was turned!" were bogus. (For instance, see here and here.)

I may have to reevaluate. However, based on just the Sixty Minutes teaser, I remain skeptical. Here's why:

1. The US recorded all the interrogations of Saddam. I have a hard time believing if there were sections that would make Bush look good, we wouldn't have seen them.

2. There's no evidence for any of this. Despite what CBS says, of course, Saddam "admitted" over and over and over again that Iraq had no WMD. Iraq said it in dozens of UN declarations, and Saddam personally said it on Iraqi national TV and in an interview with Dan Rather. And there's no indication he took any specific action to bluff the US or Iran in some way; on the contrary.

The CIA Duelfer report is also extremely vague about any direct statements of intent by Saddam about his future intentions. The most it provides is this: "During a custodial interview, Saddam, when asked whether he would reconstitute WMD programs after sanctions were lifted, implied that Iraq would have done what was necessary." This interview was almost certainly conducted by Piro. Meanwhile, the Duelfer report also provides direct statements by underlings that Saddam repeatedly told them Iraq would NOT reconstitute its WMD programs if the UN followed through on its declared intention to create a mideast "zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery.”

So it's possible is Piro isn't being honest here. (My antennae quiver at the fact the first journalist he spoke to is Ronald Kessler, author of embarrassing hagiographies of both George and Laura Bush.) It's also possible Saddam was not honest with Piro. You can easily imagine Saddam would want to claim he had some kind of master plan, rather than accidentally fucking up to the degree his country was invaded.

3. It's also possible Piro is overstating something real. Saddam might have acted in some minor way at different times to obstruct inspections, with the idea this would make Iran believe Iraq still had something, while trying to come clean at other times.

In any case, I'll definitely watch the Sixty Minutes segment. Sadly, though, the reality behind it—whatever it is—won't matter. Given the way America works, the Piro interview will establish for all time that Saddam was bluffing, was itching to get nukes, etc.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 25, 2008 09:25 AM

Jon, you nailed it with option No. 2. The historical record is full and overwhelming on this point: Saddam declared, over and over, in public, to the UN, to his own people in their own language, even to Dan Rather (who, admittedly, is an al Qaeda agent) that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction. And as you say, if these "revelations" by Piro actually existed, they would certainly have been trumpted by the Bush Administration long before now; indeed, they would have no doubt featured very heavily in the Duelfer report itself.

Given everything we know about this case (and our security apparatchiks in general), I would say that it is, oh, 95 percent certain that Piro is lying: either in knowing service to the historical obfuscation strategy you mention in your conclusion, or just to gild his own lily, get on the TeeVee, hawk a book, or whatever.

Anyway, we all know what really happened to the weapons of mass destruction: Saddam hid them all in Jordan. That's what Jesus told Mike Huckabee, so it must be true.

Posted by: Chris Floyd at January 25, 2008 12:36 PM

A funny thing happens when you imprison someone and threaten them a death sentence, they tend to tell their captors anything they want to hear. Weird, but true. I don't not if this is a case here but still something to consider I think.

Posted by: Non Nato at January 25, 2008 01:27 PM


I too have wondered long and hard about this, and have never been able to find any evidence that Saddam was maintaining (to anyone at all) the fact that he still had something saved back for a rainy day.

Something that might be more important and which has hardly ever picked up is this though:

(Male 1)

I am telling you, that not all your answers to Ekeus about the Chemical are correct and precise. You gave him numbers to satisfy him, and it seems until now he is satisfied with the total. But at the same time I know that America is looking to prove our use of chemicals against Iran! And we in fact did use Chemical on the Iranians. And we didn’t answer them that we used Chemical on the Iranians. So in all your programs that you present in Chemical there still will be a gap, and whenever he wants to raise it he can raise it with what’s called Leveling, the one you talked about. Between the imported data and the weapons produced and the destroyed, there is going to be a gap a number of weapons used in Iran you guys didn’t cover.

This comes from one of the documents (ISGQ-2003-M0004666_TRANS.doc) that was part of the Fort Leavenworth ISG document release, which has since time been un-released. Male 1 is fairly obviously Saddam, and here he is berating some other individual for not being honest with Rolf Ekeus.

This all relates to the so-called 'Airforce Document' that Iraq was unwilling to release in '98 and was a large part of the reason for Richard Butler's declaring Iraqi non-cooperation just prior to Desert Fox. The AF document revealed Iraq had used 19,500 chemical bombs during the I/I war where elsewhere they only admitted to 13,000. This left a gap of 6,500 bombs and maybe 1,000 tons of CW agent which Iraq never admitted to consuming, leaving this quantity as technically unaccounted for, despite the fact that Hussein Kamal said to Ekeus personally: "All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons". It strongly looks like Iraq was willing to admit to anything it had used on its own soil, such as during the Anfal campaign or against occupying Iranian troops, but was unwilling to admit to anything used over the border(s), the same thing may apply to Scud (and FROG?) missiles used in the 1991 Gulf War. This latter issue might then relate to why GWB had it in for Saddam in 2002/3 so much, precisely because Saddam had called GHWB's bluff back in '91 by going ahead and doing that which he was explicitly warned not to do.

Posted by: Simon at January 25, 2008 02:03 PM

It's true that there could be some difference between "We have no WMDs" and "We have no WMDs (wink)." Lying to Mom is not the same as lying to Dad, in other words.

But such an analysis of a dictator's public stance should have little effect on US intelligence estimates, just as it has no effect on the actual existence in Iraq of said WMDs.

Posted by: baldie mceagle at January 25, 2008 02:08 PM

Jon - The last paragraph is the most depressing thing you have ever written. My brain melted and dripped down into my shoes when I reached the end.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at January 25, 2008 04:34 PM

The FBI never lies (snark).

Posted by: Anonymous at January 25, 2008 08:38 PM

The FBI gonna get your number
Gonna getcha
Gonna getcha
Gonna jump out that sub-committee
And getcha--- Frank Zappa

Posted by: Mike Meyer at January 25, 2008 09:21 PM

My personal, favorite lie about Saddam and WMDs is when bush claimed that Saddam DID NOT ALLOW UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq in 2002-2003.

bush said that in public, in front of so-called "journalists" and nobody called him on it. First time was July 2003, I forget the other two (maybe more - I might have missed some).

Posted by: Susan at January 26, 2008 01:46 AM

Saddam, if he was playing a bluff hand, wasn't fooling anybody. The truth is Iraq produced hundreds, thousands of documents to the United Nations, destroyed even its conventional weapons on TV for the whole world to see, and let the inspector back into the country.

Posted by: Maezeppa at January 26, 2008 09:24 PM