Saddam’s Interrogator Speaks

As Bruce notes below, 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 the America works, the Piro interview will establish for all time that Saddam was bluffing, was itching to get nukes, etc.

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