Saddam: Before And After

<B>Dan Rather</B> Looks Back At Saddam's Last American Interview

The Saddam Hussein that American troops found disheveled and disoriented in a spider hole outside Tikrit was a very different figure from the dictator Dan Rather interviewed last February in a Baghdad palace.

It was the last interview Saddam granted to an American reporter, and it started with a question that's as timely today as it was then: Are you afraid of being killed or captured?

"When we were young, we decided to place ourselves to the service of our people. We did not ask the question whether we were going to live or die. It's morally unacceptable to ask such a question. Nothing is going to change the will of God. The believer still believes that what God decides is acceptable," said Saddam.

Rather asked Professor Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University, and a CBS News Consultant, to evaluate other parts of that February interview. 60 Minutes found that many questions raised then are still unanswered today.
During the first piece of the interview, Hussein said: "I think America and the world also knows that Iraq no longer has the weapons. And I believe the mobilization that's been done was, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

Was he telling the truth or was he most likely lying? And is he likely to tell us now where they are?

"This is a time for the argument of the weapons of mass destruction as being the pretext for the war. We will now find out if Saddam has weapons of mass destruction," says Ajami. "We're going to be talking to him about weapons of mass destruction. And we will be asking him whether the weapons really existed. He wanted the weapons of mass destruction. Whether he really fully was in control and fully knowing of his weapons programs, we don't know."

When Hussein was asked if he had been offered asylum anywhere, and if he could consider going into exile to save his people death and destruction, he said: "We will die here in Iraq. We will die in this country, and we will maintain our honor - the honor that is required of our people."

That was 11 months ago. And the fact is that he surrendered today, meekly, although he had both an AK 47 automatic weapon and a pistol on him. What are we to make of his surrender without a fight?

"This is Saddam. He talked about heroic outcome and wanted to write his own legend - even his own sons and 14-year-old grandson last July died in the firefight. He surrendered without a fight," says Ajami. "You can see the man's legacy and legend and his character in a different light now we know about his capture."

In his 1990 interview, Saddam speaks of honor. He speaks of the Arab tradition: death before honor. What happened to that?

"There is something interesting here. One part of what you ask him, and I think he can still be hold it that and would be vindicated. He did not seek asylum. He knew there was no place to run, there was no country in the world that was going to have him and face the full wrath of American power," says Ajami. "What's interesting, what's ironic, and what's really the swindle of dictatorship is that here is this man who talked about being the greatest Arab in modern time, eventually being found in a hole in the ground like a rat."

In another part of the interview, Rather asked Saddam about his connection – if there was any - to Osama Bin Laden or al Qaeda.

Last February, Saddam denied having any relationship with either. Is there any more reason to believe him now than we did then? Do we have any more evidence that what he said then was untrue?

"We were hit on Sept. 11 and the trail that began in Kabul was going to take us all the way to Baghdad and all the way to that hole in Tikrit where we found Saddam Hussein, so it may be ironic for Saddam Hussein that maybe he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but he strutted around as though he did. Maybe he didn't have links to al Qaeda, but we were looking for these links and we established that the one person we need to go to after the Taliban was going to be Saddam because we needed to go to the heart of the Arab world," says Ajami.

"Our president keeps saying, the heart of the Middle East is gone because when we struck Iraq, and when we struck Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan and the Taliban, we didn't get any satisfaction, Saddam was our next target and that's his cruel ironic fate."

The big question, however, is what impact will the capture of Saddam Hussein have on the insurgence in Iraq, the motivation to continue to kill
Americans and Iraqis?

"I love his response here because in a way, this time at bat it's a mixed record for Saddam Hussein because he said, 'Don't expect any great welcome here. People will not be throwing flowers and roses at you and not be welcomed here' when we were and weren't. We were welcomed in southern Iraq where Shia victims were glad to be rid of him, and northern Iraq and the Kurdish victims were glad to be rid of him and faced the insurgency," says Ajami.

"So in a way, he had a reading of his own country, we would be resisted and I think as we now look and see the insurgency we still haven't fully controlled and put down, I think some of what he said was vindicated."

As for the immediate future?

"I believe the way we captured Saddam Hussein, and the fact that he gave up without a fight will take the oxygen out of a certain kind of resistance to the American presence. When a man himself in this hole in the ground gives himself up without a fight, it's kind of very difficult – for those from Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc. - who would come to Iraq, to fight and die for the cause," says Ajami.

"Now, there are what our military calls the FRLs or former regime loyalists. They too, I think, will be deeply discouraged and deeply dispirited by the way he gave up. Will everything come to an end, will all the resistance come to an end? No. Not quite, but I think it's a great day for us and we have turned a corner in this battle for a decent and stable Iraq."

Before Rather ended his interview with Saddam last February, he asked him one last question: "Given the sober moment and the danger at hand, what are the chances this is the last time you and I will see each other?"

Hussein replied: "Only Allah decides the fate of man. But the almighty also says man should prepare what is necessary here on earth. Then I can see that in the future, we will meet another time, no matter what happens or what takes place. And I hope that the Iraqi people and the American people will live in peace and have a relationship that expresses their national interests without one side harming the other."

As we now look at pictures of a disheveled, bearded Saddam being examined by an American soldier, it seems safe to say that Saddam's stated wish about Americans and Iraqis living in peace could be one step closer to reality.

  • Rebecca Leung

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