One-On-One With A Tyrant

On Wednesday, March 9, Dan Rather will anchor his final broadcast of a 24-year tenure as anchor of CBS Evening News. He looks back at some of the stories he reported through the years.

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 caught the world by surprise.

The question was: What would Saddam Hussein do now?

Threatened with force, would he fight or back down? Baghdad was the only place to get the answers, which is where CBS News Anchor Dan Rather went.

"Reporting from Baghdad, this is Dan Rather."

Rather was there reporting in 1990: "Then Saddam began rounding up foreigners, including Americans, as human shields."

"Late one night we got the news we'd been waiting for," says Rather. "The Iraqi president had agreed to an interview."

It was sometimes testy exchange.

Saddam: "We can conduct a dialogue with the United States on this matter."

Rather: "But would that include the possibility of you withdrawing from Kuwait?"

Saddam: "Kuwait is part of Iraq."

Dr. Sadoun al-Zubaidi was Saddam's translator that night. He says that before the interview, the Iraqi president wanted to know about the American journalist he'd be facing.

"He said this is a tough journalist," says al-Zubaidi. "I said, 'Yes, he's a very tough journalist. He has won the trust of his people by being tough.'"

There were tense moments.

Rather: "President Bush has said that you are equated with Hitler, that you're a bully and a dangerous man."

Saddam: "From which angle has Mr. Bush chosen to compare me with Hitler?"

Rather: "You invaded a weak neighbor who was no threat to you."

Al-Zubaidi recalls after the interview, Saddam said, "This man is not easy but very, very polite."

Rather: "Well, I'll take that."

Saddam lost the war, and he lost Kuwait. But he survived and clung to power for 13 more years.

On the eve of another war with America, CBS News was granted a second exclusive interview. Once again al-Zubaida was at Saddam's side.

Dan: "Do you have, have you had, any connections to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?"

Saddam: "We have never had any relationship with Osama bin Laden."

Away from the cameras, Saddam had his own questions, like how had President Bush convinced the public that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and a link to Sept. 11?

It was clear the Iraqi president was cut off from the outside world and his staff was losing the information war.

"They were not professional in the sense that they could deal with the international press," says al-Zubaida. "His press secretary never held a press conference. ... Incredible isn't it?

"So it all fell, when we had a crisis situation. It all fell on Saddam Hussein himself."

And this time around Saddam bristled at challenging questions.

Rather: "Mr. President, have you been offered asylum anywhere? And would you, under any circumstances, consider going into exile to save your people death and destruction?"

Saddam: "I understand that what motivates Mr. Rather is something to provoke me, and this is an American style of journalism that doesn't please everybody, but it's OK. Despite that, I will answer you. We will die in this country and we will maintain our honor."

In December 2003, U.S. forces found Saddam hiding in a spider hole of a bunker and arrested him. Today, Iraq's national security adviser said he expects Saddam to go on trial by the end of this year.
  • Jaime Holguin

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