FTN – 3/23/03- Part II

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BOB SCHIEFFER, Chief Washington Correspondent: And welcome back to our special one-hour edition of Face The Nation.

We want to bring you up to date on the latest developments in the war. First, Iraqi television has shown pictures and says that five Americans have been captured in a town in southern Iraq.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who was just here with us a moment ago and saw the pictures, says that photographing prisoners of war is a violation of the Geneva Convention.

We talked earlier this morning with our CBS News correspondents who are in Iraq. We're going to go first to Scott Pelley, who is reporting from the port town of Umm Qasr.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS News Correspondent: The headline of the morning from Umm Qasr, Iraq, is that there have been no Marine casualties, but an unknown number of dead Iraqi soldiers, wounded Iraqi soldiers, after a firefight that lasted much of the morning and into the afternoon.

It all started when Iraqi soldiers took up positions outside the main port of Umm Qasr, where Fox Company of the United States Marine Corps is guarding the port. The Iraqi soldiers opened fire on some Marines. A number of -- a couple of platoons of Marines ran up on top of a sand berm and immediately began returning fire. They were returning fire with their M-16s, heavy machine guns and mortars.

The Iraqis were holed up in a building about 3,000 yards away and were arrayed in a number of trenches, as it turned out, in the desert. When the Marines discovered that, they went at the building with some heavier weaponry, including a Javelin anti-tank missile. They fired the missile once. The missile went long. But the second time they fired the missile it was a direct hit right into the front of the building with a tremendous explosion. You could hear the Marines on the line yelling Hooray!' when they saw that warhead hit.

But still, believe it or not, the fire kept coming, particularly from the trenches around the building, so the Marines called in heavy armor: Marine M-1 Abrams tanks. The tanks arrived in short order and began driving over the desert, unloading their .50-caliber machine guns into the trenches, clearing out the Iraqi opposition. Then, for good measure, the tanks rolled up on the building where the firing had come from, leveled their 120mm cannons and opened fire, putting several rounds in that building and knocking out any opposition from there.

But it seemed for a time that the longer that the Marines looked into the desert, the more Iraqi soldiers they saw. So for good measure, toward the end of the firefight, they called in for close air support. At least one Marine FA-18 fighter dropped several bombs, and we did not have any more opposition at that point.

So at the end of about a five-hour firefight, the Marines took no casualties. The Iraqis took many casualties, from all appearances. And the Marines are going to go out into the battlefield, perhaps tomorrow, to see what the battle wrought. Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Scott, those prisoners are they picking up any information from the prisoners that they've taken?

PELLEY: They are, Bob. Actually, there's a lot of intelligence that's coming from the prisoners that are being taken. We've seen a number of prisoners that are being held in makeshift POW camps, if you will. We saw about 36 Iraqi soldiers who were being held by the British not far from here. They've arrayed barbed wire around them and the men are out in the open, but they are being given food, water and medical attention.

One of the prisoners that was taken by Fox Company is an Iraqi colonel. Now we can't show you the colonel's picture or mention his name because of the rules here, but we are told that the colonel is, as they put it, affable and friendly, and has been very helpful to the Marines. One of the things that the Marines need to know in Umm Qasr is exactly where the pockets of opposition are. It's not at all clear.

Many Iraqi soldiers have shed their uniforms, put on civilian clothes, blended into the neighborhoods, and in groups of one or two or three, they're taking shots at the Marines moving through the town. So the colonel has been helpful in some respects in explaining to these Marines where his men are and where his men intend to be in the town, and what kind of resistance they will be putting up. Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you very much, Scott. You're doing a terrific job out there. Keep up the good work.

Just after we talked to Scott, we checked in with Jim Axelrod. Now he is with the 3rd Infantry Division, and they're on the way to Baghdad. Here's his report.

JIM AXELROD, CBS News Correspondent: This is Jim Axelrod with the 3rd Infantry Division on a relentless drive northward. We've just broken out of a convoy that's been going on more or less for 30 hours, with time spent only stopping on the ground to refuel. It has been driving and driving and driving, 10,000 or so vehicles, on a dramatic push north, roughly along the general shape of the Euphrates River. In fact, the 1st Brigade Combat Team, the particular unit of the 3rd Infantry Division that I am with, are the first American ground troops to get north of Najeff.

The idea has been to move, move the 10,000 vehicles and the 17,000 or so soldiers, continuing that push north.

The 3rd Infantry Division is one of two main ground troops on the push north to Baghdad. They've encountered very little resistance so far. There has been some artillery volley. There have been the capture of some EPWs, 23 Iraqis who were arrested by soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, and then another dozen or so we saw on the road as we came. But the more or less the resistance has been very light to moderate, allowing the 3rd Infantry to make very good time on the push north. However, that could be changing in the next day or two.

The most fierce resistance is expected, if it's going to come at all, to be coming after the area that the 3rd has made it to so far. So as tired as these soldiers are after this grueling 30-hour convoy, their fiercest fighting may yet well lie ahead. Jim Axelrod, CBS News, with the 3rd Infantry Division in central Iraq.

SCHIEFFER: We also checked in with Mark Strassmann. Now he is with the 101st Airborne. They're on the Kuwaiti side of the border. But this is the unit where a U.S. sergeant was arrested today for allegedly throwing grenades into three tents at his own command center. One fellow serviceman was killed and 13 were wounded. We asked Mark what is known about this soldier.

MARK STRASSMANN, CBS News Correspondent: He has an Arabic last name. We've learned that he converted to Islam a couple of years ago. Whether that had anything to do with what happened last night is unclear, but clearly, what he did apparently do -- somebody certainly did – is targeted some of the top officers with this brigade and hurt about 11 of them badly enough to have them choppered to a local combat hospital.

And one soldier was killed, and there's just a lot of disbelief and shock and a sense of betrayal here. I mean, these guys always realize that there could be a threat from outside the camp, Bob, but I don't think anybody really suspected there could be a threat from inside the camp.

SCHIEFFER: Do we have any information as to whether he was working with anyone else, or do we believe this was the act of one person?

STRASSMANN: Everything that I have seen so far, Bob, suggests that it was the act of one person.

Right away, they were also questioning two Kuwaiti nationals last night when this happened, who had just come into the camp because they are Arabic-speaking translators. But there's nothing to suggest, that I have seen, beyond that initial inquiry -- asking each of them questions that -- that they were involved at all. It really does seem to be the act of one person, at least for now.

SCHIEFFER: And as you understand it, this was not the work of -- he was not disgruntled about something. The other soldiers are telling you that he was doing this for reasons other than that.

STRASSMANN: Well, yes and no. I mean, nobody has a real sense of why it was he was doing what he was doing, but I can tell you that there were some complaints over the last few days about his mood and his attitude. He had been sort of reprimanded for being insubordinate. I mean, there clearly seemed to be some troubling signs there, and how well these guys should have recognized that is also unclear. But last night, something went really, really wrong here, and a lot of guys got very badly hurt.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Now let me shift to another situation. What information do you have about this Patriot missile that apparently by accident struck a British warplane?

STRASSMANN: Well, it was crazy. I mean, it was in the middle of all this--of all this sneak attack on the tents here. We looked up in the sky and thought it was just a flare, and then somebody said, `Oh, wait, that's a Patriot.' And it certainly looked like fireworks had gone off in the sky. And then we had heard that, OK, it was a Patriot, and they were trying to tell us that it had, in fact, knocked down some sort of incoming Iraqi missile.

Hours later, what--as seems to become more and more clear, is that it inadvertently knocked down a British fighter that was coming back from a mission. Its crew of two one is missing, and other, U.S. and the Brits won't confirm that the Patriot hit the plane, but what they will say is that it was the only Patriot missile fired in Kuwait yesterday, and certainly it was fired around this area at about the same spot and the same time when the British plane went down, so they're saying everything but yes. But if you connect the dots, it certainly seems as though the Patriot hit the British plane.

SCHIEFFER: OK. Well, thank you very much, Mark, and be careful.

And since we did that just a few minutes ago, the British government has connected the dots and has confirmed that, indeed, it was a Patriot missile that hit the British plane.

We want to turn now to Professor Jerrold Post of George Washington University, a longtime employee, if that's the word, at the Central Intelligence Agency. You're a profiler. You have now done a profile of Saddam Hussein. With us also, Dana Priest, the Defense Department orrespondent who also covers the CIA for The Washington Post.

Professor, knowing what you do about Saddam, if he's not dead or injured, what do you think he's doing right now?

JERROLD POST, Former CIA Profiler, Saddam Hussein Expert: If he's not dead or injured, he's assuredly under massive stress. That bull's-eye in the decapitation attack, so-called, was squarely on his forehead. And he has to be very concerned who in his inner circle betrayed him. This is a paranoid man always, and right now his defenses will be magnified all the more.

DANA PRIEST, The Washington Post: Do you think he would kill himself in a situation like this?

POST: Well, unlike Hitler going down in the last flaming bunker in suicide, this is not a man who is -- he's very concerned with his historical reputation as a major radical Arab leader in the mode of Nebuchadnezzar, Saladin and Nasser, and he would not do that, nor would he go into exile.

SCHIEFFER: He would not? Why do you think that?

POST: Because it would defile his reputation, basically. And he, indeed, was quite strong in the interview with Dan Rather, saying that it would be a dishonor and an indignity to Iraq to do that. And by Iraq, he means Saddam Hussein.

SCHIEFFER: Well, do you believe he is more a zealot than a criminal? I mean, because -- and I say that asking the question this way. Many times, criminals that we deal with in this country, that the police deal with -- in the end, survival will win out over whatever ideology or beliefs they have, and they'll try to leave. But you do not see him reacting in that way.

POST: He is the quintessential survivor. He's by no means a martyr. Having said that, I think it is quite probable; indeed, he will attempt to use what is surely now a substantial network of bunkers to survive. But that doesn't mean his reputation as a heroic leader, as instilled in him in his boyhood, finally fulfilled in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait. He does not want to defile that.

PRIEST: You know, the intelligence community has been predicting that, backed into a corner he would use chemical and biological weapons. Isn't he backed into a corner now? Why haven't we seen that?

POST: Yes. I have been predicting that as well. When this man is backed into a corner, he can lash out quite dangerously, and that raises a question of his hold on power, because there's certainly been a concerted attempt by the administration to split him from his leaders.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said back in November that the generals have a major role to play in the reconstruction of Iraq. Of course, if they get involved with WMD, all bets are off.

President Bush himself said something quite similar. He may well order the use of these weapons. His generals would be well-advised to disobey those orders.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think his sons, if he is injured and unable to lead, have the credibility with the people to take up the reins of leadership? Or...

POST: They are certainly entirely ruthless. They are chips off the old block. Having said that, I don't believe they have the gravitas, the capacity, to hold this government together. And I think it's important to recognize that under the hard core of loyalists, there are many in this leadership who are only there out of fear and intimidation. The least quiver of disloyalty can lead to being killed.

PRIEST: Do you think it's conceivable that his inner circle doesn't know he's injured, if he is injured? Does he use doubles? Are his doubles so good that even the inner circle might be fooled by them?

POST: He does use doubles, and it is going to be very important to convey to the leadership circle underneath the very core that he is still there, because once he goes, it's really going to rapidly fragment and disintegrate, in my judgment.

SCHIEFFER: How do we know he has these doubles? I mean, this sounds so odd. I mean, it's almost like something in a fantasy movie or something. Does the government, as far as you know, have absolute proof that there are these people? And were these people -- were their faces cosmetically changed? Do we know who they are?

POST: Indeed, these were people with a general physical resemblance, who then had quite skillful plastic surgery. But going beyond just the plastic surgery, they would then have to have the mannerisms, the vocal intonations and so forth, and that's very hard to carry off. In fact, when I first saw the image of Saddam after the revelation, after the decapitation attack, I thought it was a double.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you very much, Professor. It does raise a question: What do you suppose is going through the minds of the doubles right now? We'll...

POST: That's right.

SCHIEFFER: We'll continue with our expanded edition of Face The Nation after this short break.

(COMMERCIAL)

SCHIEFFER: We want to show you again this tape that was on Al-Jazeera earlier today in which they said that some American military people had been taken prisoner. Now what we have done is we have blackened -- or blurred the faces of these people so they would not be seen. But this is the tape you're -- you're seeing. We got it, we didn't know what was on it when we received it. But they're claiming -- and tell me, how many do we say -- they're saying that five American -- have been captured, and that one of them, I believe, is a woman. Have they made clear that these are military people? Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld speculated they might have been journalists.

Do we know that, CBS? We do not know that. So we have shown you that, and that's -- that's really the latest news.

We want to go out to Cottonwood, Arizona, now where Senator John McCain is standing by. Of course, Senator McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

With us from Wilmington, Delaware, Senator Joe Biden. Let's go first to Senator McCain, though. Senator McCain, what do you make of this film that was just shown?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, R-AZ, Armed Services Committee: Well, Bob, if they're civilians then there are clear rules for treatment of civilians. They should not even be kept. They are noncombatants.

If they are American servicemen, I want to assure their families that they are smart, they are tough, they are well-trained and this will be a short conflict and you can be assured that we will demand that they are treated according to the rules of war, and if they are not treated according to the Geneva Conventions then we will make it clear to whoever their captors are that there will be severe punishment and reprisals for any mistreatment of American fighting men and women.

PRIEST: Senator McCain, if your prediction is correct and this is short, that means reconstruction will begin right away. Do you think the United States is going to have to be doing some significant diplomatic fence mending to get other countries to help out in the reconstruction? I'm thinking of France in particular.

McCAIN: Well, I think most nations, particularly the Germans, will be eager to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq. I don't know what the French will do. They continue to act in a very unusual way by opposing a resolution through the United Nations that we have not even proposed.

I think they've lost their relevance. But clearly we will welcome the support of every nation in the world, including the French, in rebuilding Iraq. And I am confident that many nations will help us.

SCHIEFFER: What do you think ought to be our attitude toward Saddam Hussein at this point? If he should suddenly decide that he wants to leave, do you think we should let him do that now, or does he no longer have that option?

Sen. McCAIN: I think the die is cast, Bob. If he is willing to surrender, we will treat him, I think, to a visit to the Hague for his war crimes that he has committed, not only in this conflict, but more importantly on this own people and throughout his nefarious career.

SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you a quick question. If he does use chemical weapons, do you – how should we respond? Should we respond with a nuclear weapon?

McCAIN: Oh, no. I think we're very successful so far, and I think it's important to mention that we've not seen the environmental disaster in the Gulf. We have been able to minimize the fires. We have not seen an attack on Israel yet. This trip that they're making to Baghdad, as we speak, is a remarkable blitzkrieg kind of activity that -- so far I think we've been very successful.

But I think Secretary Rumsfeld is right, the toughest part may lay ahead of us as this column approaches Baghdad. But if things continue to go well, this is a remarkable achievement, but we'll keep our fingers crossed.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Thank you very much, Senator McCain.

McCAIN: Thank you, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: Let's get the view now of Senator Biden who, of course, is the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. Just general question, Senator, how does it look to you at this point?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, D-DE, Foreign Relations Committee: Looks remarkable. I think the Marines and the Brits should be -- they've secured one of the largest oil fields in the world without much damage. We're on the march. As John has said, and as the president himself has said, there may take longer than we anticipate, but the secretary of Defense earlier said we're moving as swiftly as we can with the lowest civilian casualties to move as quickly as we can to internationalize this in the aftermath of the defeat of Saddam. And so I think it's going remarkably well, Bob, and there -- it seems to me there should be absolutely no letup, there should be no daylight among any of us as to what the objective is. It's to secure those weapons of mass destruction, to provide a transition government and to get this internationalized as quickly as we can while we maintain total control of the security situation.

SCHIEFFER: What do you mean when you say, 'Get this internationalized as quickly as we can'?

BIDEN: Well, the one thing we don't want to do, Bob, is after this victory is allow our critics to paint us as sort of post-colonial occupiers, and that's why I think that it's very important that we get an international agreement, that the U.N. participate in the civilian side of this with a robust -- us maintaining the security part of this as we transition. To make up a word, we Iraqize this as quickly as we can.

We move toward a Baghdad conference, and with the entire international community, giving it sanction to a transition government here. That's what we're about. We're not about colonializing. We're not about their oil. We're not about trying to gain contracts or international economic advantage. We're about stripping him, under the UN resolution, of his weapons of redestruction and -- of mass destruction and now making sure the regime has changed.

SCHIEFFER: Final question, Dana.

PRIEST: Senator Biden, on that point, your committee in particular in Congress has never really fully funded the U.N. effort and not managed to create a real civilian alternative to the troops.

Do you think there will be consensus to do that now?

BIDEN: Well, we finally -- there's a torturous process -- have fully funded the UN. I think the president has made that commitment. I know Senator Lugar and I are absolutely committed to that.

And I believe the president will stay the course on it and the quicker and swifter we get about this victory with the least amount of civilian casualties, the better position we're going to be in to provide this transition and accomplish our larger goal.

SCHIEFFER: Senator Biden, thank you so much for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

BIDEN: Thank you, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: I'll be back with a final comment in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL)

SCHIEFFER: Well, I want to sum this up here by going back to Dana Priest.

Dana, where do you think we stand? You heard the secretary of Defense this morning. We now have these prisoners that the Iraqi television is showing. The secretary says things are going pretty well, and overall they seem to be, but we're not done yet, are we?

PRIEST: Well, not only are we not done, but we're really just now getting into the hard part, approaching Baghdad, having flown many other flights, being a little more vulnerable in the air. If they're going to use chemical weapons, we have -- the government has said they're going to be in the Baghdad fight. The regime hasn't collapsed. Where are they? What are they lying in wait for? I think the next few days will tell.

SCHIEFFER: You were among the first to report that the United States was targeting Saddam Hussein in that initial attack. Do you have any new information to indicate that indeed -- we know we hit the bunker.

Is there anything new about was he there?

PRIEST: Well, they do believe he was there, and they do believe he's injured. They have some eyewitness accounts. Whether those are completely accurate, we don't know because of the doubles. On this issue of trying to split the regime, we also know that they've created some safe houses in Baghdad where people who are of high rank can go and not expect to be killed by U.S. forces.

SCHIEFFER: OK, thank you very much, Dana.

Finally this final thought. We were all awed by the power and expertise of the US military last week but if you live in Washington, as I do, that appreciation of the military may have been tempered by another thought: `Does the government have any idea of how to deal with a terrorist attack back home?'

After watching Washington authorities deal with a farmer who drove his tractor into a shallow lake near the Washington Monument last week, I have to wonder. As Tractor Man threatened to blow himself up with explosives -- and anyone with binoculars could tell he had none -- he all but shut down a large part of this city for 48 hours. Traffic was tied up so badly that a hospital several miles away reported FedEx was unable to make deliveries and pickups there.

Had Tractor Man been an escaped elephant, he would have been shot with a tranquilizer dart and returned to the zoo in a matter of hours. Yet dozens of emergency personnel wasted two days holding a dialogue with him. It was like the setup in a caper movie. Thieves create a diversion, a fire or a wreck, and then steal the jewels while the cops are looking the other way.

You had to ask: Are our emergency personnel so poorly trained they would fall for the same trick during a terrorist attack?

Maybe we should forget that stuff about duct tape and those silly ads assuring us the government is doing everything possible to protect us and spend the money instead on realistic training and resources for our local authorities. When one guy on a tractor can paralyze a big part of the nation's capital for two days, we've got a problem.

That's it for us. We'll see you here next week on Face The Nation.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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