Saddam sees the world in his own terms and takes the same approach to interviews with television reporters. Saddam will allow only cameramen from Iraqi TV to record his interviews, including the present one. He says this is for security reasons. Rather and his crew could not bring their own camera crews or even a tape recorder.
The Iraqis provided three cameras for the interview. They provided the interpreters to translate Saddam's remarks into English and they provided the tape of the interview, hours after it was over.
CBS translators in New York carefully compared the official Iraqi translation with their own interpretation and found their translation of Saddam's remarks to be accurate. Those remarks include a surprising assessment of the outcome of the 1991 Gulf War and an equally surprising renunciation of the tactics that left Kuwait's oil fields in flames at the end of that war.
Rather: Mr. President, if there is an invasion, will you set fire to the oil fields? Will you blow the dams, or your reservoirs of water, to resist the invasion?
Saddam Hussein: Iraq does not burn its own wealth, and it does not destroy its own dams. We hope that this question is not going to be used by those who intend to attack us, to cover their backs while they themselves destroy Iraq's dams and oil wells. Iraq will not destroy its oil or dams, but will use them and protect them for the benefit of Iraqis.
Rather: Mr. President, Vice President Richard Cheney of the United States says that if, and when, an American-led army comes into Iraq, it will be greeted with music. It will be treated as an army of liberation. If Americans are not to believe that, why should they not believe that?
Saddam Hussein: If the Iraqi army, or any other army, were to cross the Atlantic and occupy America, is it going to be received by the American people with music? I am categorically certain that no Iraqi will welcome any American when he is an occupier. But all the Iraqis will welcome any American who comes as a friend.
That is why, now that you are here, you are being welcomed, even though you come from a country threatening to destroy Iraq. Haven't you seen the kind of welcome you've received, by officials and ordinary citizens? You can roam about in the town. But if an American soldier is here as an occupier, he won't be received in this way. So as long as you are not a soldier, you are a guest, and a guest is always treated with respect.
Any American, if they want to know the real position of the Iraqi people, they must ask themselves a question. In 1995, the Iraqi people elected Saddam Hussein President of Iraq, and in 2002 they reelected him. And the percentage of the voting was, respectively, 99.6 percent and 100 percent, in those two elections.
Rather: 100 percent?
Saddam Hussein: 100 percent. This, I know may sound very strange to you, but even if you take out whatever portion you want to take out of that, then the ratio would remain high in favor of reelecting Saddam Hussein.
Now, what does that mean? It means that the Iraqis have decided to take a patriotic stand, under the circumstance of war and the blockade. In order to say to the foreign powers that are threatening Iraq it is we, the people of Iraq, who decide our way, not you telling us what to do.
Rather: You mentioned in 1990 and 1991 and the Gulf War. You fought the father, George Bush the first. He and the forces he led prevailed on the battlefield. Now you face the son, who has an even greater, even more modern, even more lethal military force aimed directly at your heart. Why would you think you could prevail this time on the battlefield, or do you?
Saddam Hussein: You know that in both cases, we did not cross the Atlantic to commit aggression against the United States, neither by land or sea or air. The officials in America are the ones who are talking about the intention of attacking Iraq. Isn't it the responsible thing, the moral thing, and the most basic thing to do, to warn the aggressor that if they attack us, we will not surrender?
If we ask the question to any honest American, including you Mr. Rather, 'let us suppose that during any time in the future, if another power comes to America, do you do nothing?' I will answer. I will tell the Americans that if such a thing happens to you one day, do not surrender. Stand and defend your country, and your dignity.
And, as you know we didn't commit aggression against America. America is the one who is daily killing our children, our women. As I'm talking to you, there are American planes in the south and the north dropping their bombs on the citizens and on their property. This happens daily.
If there is a law in the world that says the stronger ones get their way, it means surrender to the law of the jungle. And we do not want to surrender to the law of the jungle. It is our duty to defend our country, so we will not surrender. Not to America, not to anybody else.
And even if a power has the power of America multiplied by whatever power you want, we will resist. We will fight with honor. And only Allah can give victory. Just a quick historical correction that might interest you and the American people. In 1991, Iraq was not defeated. But our army withdrew from Kuwait by our own decision. It's true, they left Kuwait under bombing. But when they were back inside Iraq they were not defeated, and neither were the Iraqi people.
Rather: Mr. President, respectfully, a lot of Americans are going to hear that and say 'what is this man talking about?' Uh, all of those Iraqi tanks coming out of Kuwait, with the turrets knocked out, indicate a beaten army on the battlefield… There's no joy in my saying that, but the point is, I'm asking you to explain what you mean by saying you were not defeated in the 1990-91 war. Because I can report to you with accuracy that overwhelmingly the American people believe that was a resounding defeat for you and Iraq.
Saddam Hussein: Let me answer this. You know the goals of Bush the father, and you know he attacked us repeatedly after that? So why did he repeat his attack if we had been defeated?
When there is military conflict, there is attack and there is retreat. And when we saw that Bush the Father, the president, had mobilized 28 armies against us, when we saw that the whole world was in fact collaborating against us, we realized that we had to withdraw from Kuwait.
We did not lose more than 10 percent of our equipment in all of the battles. That was the worst loss suffered by any of our units. So, we lost a battle, but we were not defeated. In what sense does Iraq threaten America? The Iraqi people are not the enemies of the American people. Mr. Rather, you are a well-informed man. And you know the battle is not over until the guns are quiet, and when the national will is bent to what the aggressor wants.
It's not enough to have superiority in planes and missiles. In the final analysis, the guns will tell the tale of a courageous people defending themselves against the occupiers.
This is a decision made by the people of Iraq. They will continue to commit themselves to the role that will make them respect themselves as well as others. So let us pray and ask Allah to give people the faith that will spare them harm.
Rather: Mr. President, you say that knowing that poised on you border is a tremendous armada, ready to deliver destruction and awe.
Saddam Hussein: Yes, I understand. I hear and I see. But the final truth will be decided by Allah on Iraqi soil - in Baghdad. I'm not talking about the fate of Americans in America. But the fate of Iraqis in Iraq, and the fate of anybody who attacks Iraq.
Rather: Mr. President, I appreciate your remembering that we met in 1990. and I interview you in this great building. Given this sober moment and the danger at hand, what are the chances this is the last time you and I will see each other?
Saddam Hussein: You want me to say what I truly believe?
Saddam Hussein: 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.