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Is Saddam Hussein Alive or Dead?

Aired March 21, 2003 - 12:30   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Keeping track of a number of different strains of the story as the ground war is on, and one of the interesting to us, at least one of the interesting questions -- that's the 7th Cav. Look at that shot. I mean -- I'm sorry, but that - go ahead and take that full for a second, if you want. That's just the clearest, cleanest shot you can imagine. That's a videophone shot and these are - believe me, I don't understand the technology here, but that's coming from the middle of nowhere in the south Iraq desert of the 7th Cav on its way to Baghdad.
One of the strains of the story that we've kept track of tonight is this intriguing report in "The Washington Post" today that U.S. intelligence in -- well, today, technically, yes, now, Friday's "Washington Post" that U.S. intelligence officials believes Saddam Hussein was in fact in the bunker when in south Baghdad, when the missiles hit last night, when the war officially started. It's raised a lot of questions. Of course, the most obvious was, is he alive or dead? Are the pictures that we saw of him, were they made before, was that a double, all of that? And has this effected the war planning?

Simon Henderson has -- is with was the Washington Institute. I think this is right, the Washington Institute of Near East Policy. Anyway, he's studied -- his line of work is understanding Saddam Hussein. Everybody has to have a line of work, and that's Mr. Henderson's. And I thank goodness for that, because we need someone who can help us on that point. Mr. Henderson, are you able to hear me? There you are. I see, you can hear me.

SIMON HENDERSON, SADDAM HUSSEIN BIOGRAPHER: Yes, I can hear you. Just based on...

BROWN: Thank you. I know, you've been patiently waiting, and we apologize for that. Just weigh in on this question in two respects: You've studied this man, you have some sense of how he might react in a situation. What would it mean to him if he became convinced that somebody close to him gave up his location?

HENDERSON: Saddam Hussein has spent his whole life surviving threats. He is essentially paranoid. If it was as close as we think it was last night, that he was missed by inches or minutes, then he will be even more paranoid. And furthermore, there's an additional point here. The people around him, the people who put their trust in him, those most loyal aides will also know that Saddam Hussein is in the target of the United States. And if it was not last time, it might be next time.

BROWN: And there is a kind of logical, and therefore. What might that mean then? How does that change the game, if you will?

HENDERSON: Well, although the United States is applying huge military pressure, the success in the end is a political result, that Saddam is either killed or overthrown. And preferably killed by his own people. That would be a much more palatable political conclusion for the United States.

And so, if the regime can collapse and collapse in on itself, this is the best way from a military point of view, that he can work for the Americans and the British.

BROWN: These people around him, are they great believers in him, or are they practical people, who say, this is a pretty good deal, I'm close to the president of Iraq?

HENDERSON: You are right. The number of people who are there and who actually believe in him are probably just a mere 10 percent of the population. They partly believe in him out of ideology, and they partly believe in him because he has provided them with the extra benefits and privileges from being the member of the elite guard or the elite Baath Party around about him. But they will be questioning him and questioning themselves at this time whether they actually want to die for him.

Now of course, there are people who are ready to die for him. But there are others as well who perhaps have a similar surviving instinct to Saddam himself, and must well be considering the option now of running for it and defecting from this regime.

BROWN: You said there are people around him who genuinely believe in what he believes in. One of the things that has never been especially clear to me is what it is that he believes in, other than power.

HENDERSON: Yes. Well, power is the most dominant part of the Saddam's ideology. But nationally, the Baath Party is a mishmash of socialism and Arabism. And Saddam sees himself as a great Arab leader and a great Iraqi leader. A very historical prospective, although he is not a particularly intellectual person at all. But he thinks he is head and shoulders above other Arab leaders at this time. And if only the rest of the Arab world would recognize his leadership.

Of course, the rest of the Arab world considers Saddam rather cynically. They admire him for standing up to the United States, but at the same time they would not vote to go on live in Iraq and live under his regime of terror and torture.

And so, Saddam is left with the quandary at the moment of -- does he make a run for it, which I think seems unlikely, or does he try and bluff it out. And if he can bluff it out -- I think his logic is, if he can bluff it out for the next two or three days and survive and retain radio and television ways of communicating with the Iraqi people to show that he has survived, he is rather hoping that international public opinion and demonstrations around the world and international diplomatic pressure from the many countries which are apprehensive about what the United States is doing might well force President Bush into a cease-fire. I think this is a bad calculation on behalf of Saddam Hussein, it's a wrong calculation. But I think that's what his mind-set is at the moment.

BROWN: And these -- these two now almost 40-year-old sons. They are both a little bit under 40. One of whom is quite a bad actor. Are they great believers in anything, or do they just sort of recognize it's been a pretty good deal to be the son of Saddam Hussein to this point?

HENDERSON: Well, he's always looked to his sons, both to reflect his greater glory and also to succeed him. His eldest son, Uday, was badly injured in an assassination attempt several years ago. And since then does not appear to be able to walk properly, or if at all. He is also, quite frankly, psychotic, mad, an evil man, a rapist, a murderer, a torturer. And even -- as far as we can make out Saddam thinks he's unstable as well. And so Saddam seems to have put most of his trust in his second son, Qusai, who is 34, also, who is in charge of the Special Republican Guard, in charge of the security elite around Saddam himself.

But Qusai is -- might not be as mad as his elder brother, but he is certainly as evil as his elder brother. Neither of them can be considered as options to replace Saddam and be acceptable from an American point of view. And frankly, then probably not acceptable from an Iraqi point of view. When Saddam goes, the whole edifice collapses. And the -- his family and the elite of the Baath Party will either be killed or will have to run a long, long way.

BROWN: Is it the older son who was in charge -- this is just one of the more sickening stories that I've ever heard -- who was in charge of the Olympic team in Iraq and he said to have built a torture chamber and would torture those athletes who performed badly by his view?

HENDERSON: Yes, indeed, that's certainly the one. Saddam sees himself as a combination of a great leader, a great fighter and a great communicator. And somehow he's divided these responsibilities amongst his sons, inherited in a sense. With his eldest son, Uday, being the great communicator, and his younger son Qusai being the fighter.

Uday, apart from owning a radio station, a television station and a newspaper, also is in charge of the Olympic committee, in charge of the soccer federation. He's supposedly tortured members of the Iraqi soccer team after they failed badly in the Asia Cup several years ago. The international officials, when they heard of this, had to make some investigation, and they were not unable to clear Saddam, and frankly I think they decided that it was better for them politically not to press the inquiry too far.

But the worst story about Uday and there is a whole chapter of dreadful occasions, was that he slaughtered his father's bodyguard and food taster back in the -- more than 10 years ago, when he disliked this man because he had been procuring women for Saddam, and Uday felt this was an insult to his mother and Saddam's wife. Indeed it was. And at a party which was actually attended by President Mubarak of Egypt's wife. And he attacked this man. It's not clear -- either with a knife or with an electric carving knife or with a -- some sort of sword. And Saddam was outraged by this, as well he should, and he kicked Uday out into exile briefly.

This exile in Switzerland did not last very long, because the Swiss were not very happy about this man turning up there, and Uday was -- pretty dreadful behavior in Geneva as well, and at one point pulled the knife on a Swiss policeman, and at which point the Swiss decided, please, go home.

BROWN: OK. I was going to say, I don't mean to be flip, but actually I do in this case, nice family. You got a lot of bad actors in the family. Just I'm just curious. You have no way to know more than any of the rest of us. Did you gut tell you he is alive or not?

HENDERSON: I beg your pardon?

BROWN: I said, do you think Saddam is alive today or not?

HENDERSON: I think it was him who appeared on television after the assassination attack on him last night. He certainly looked like him. And sounded like him. Although there is always consideration that he could be using one of his doubles, or rather the survivors from his elite if Saddam were dead or injured could be using one of his doubles to portray that he is still alive.

We're into what is both a rough regime and a sophisticated regime. Saddam himself when he appears on television comes over as one of the worst television broadcasters. He never looks at the camera, he shuffles badly, he sits badly, he does not engage the audience. He drones on with his long speeches, as though he is loved and appreciated. Just the sort of thing which wouldn't get you a job on television in any other part of the world.

But at the same time he is -- the people around him seem to have degree of public relations (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It was a clever political move to get him on television, if it was him, so quickly after the attack. And since then, he has also being shown meeting his senior officials, including prominently, Tariq Aziz, the man two or three days ago who was reported to have perhaps defected, and to show them as still acting as a coherent leadership. It's part of his game.

BROWN: Mr. Henderson, again thanks for your patience today. The last few hours did not play out exactly as we planned it, but that is often the case with us and we appreciate your time tonight. Simon Henderson has written the biography of Saddam Hussein, "Instant Empire: Saddam Hussein's Ambition for Iraq." Does not sound like beach reading to me, but if you want to pick up a book, there is one for you, and we appreciate his time.

Bob Franken is one of our embedded reporters, and he is in Kuwait. Bob, it's always good to see you.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have to officially describe those, Aaron, as a base near the Iraqi border. But nobody is going to contradict what you just said. It is, in fact, a major air base, one that has been responsible for the southern no-fly zone for the last decade, but now, of course, is responsible for a part of this war.

And what's interesting about the Air Force - in fact, the air component of this war, is that it's starting to become a supplement to the ground war, and that was certainly the case according to the commander in the events of the last 24 hours.

In that period of time, there were 141 sorties from that base, which was a huge spike, to use his words, from the amount of flights that had occurred in the previous 24 hours.

Now, most of them were focused on the Basra area, and that, of course, is consistent with what is going on on the ground. And most of them had to do with laying the groundwork, so to speak, for the advancing infantry troops. Laying the groundwork, an awful lot of anti-tank planes going in and strafing. A lot of fighters, that type of thing, trying to take out command and control centers.

And something else that was very interesting. Yesterday there was a long series of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), as they called them, which is to say alerts -- red alerts of the possibility of a chemical or gas attack of some sort. They say that that was the result of four missiles that were fired in the direction of coalition forces over the day.

One of the jobs for the patrols here was to go out and seek out those missiles sites. And although the commander would not talk about how successful their efforts have been in finding and destroying those sites, he did say, you'll notice that suddenly the number of alerts has gone down.

So there's some indication that perhaps they have been able to get rid of the sites that have been responsible for those four missiles attacks, which caused the tensions to rise so much here.

As for the plans from here on out, Aaron nobody seems to know. As a matter of fact, the captain says, while they did have a battle plan, it changes with each day which he says is what happens in war -- Aaron.

BROWN: Just, Bob, briefly. Was there a sense that something that was going to happen all of the sudden stopped down, that a plan literally stopped for a while and they are trying to figure out what to do. Was that a palpable sense that you had?

FRANKEN: It's something that they talked very openly about, that there was some belief that by now things would be moving along in high gear. But things were stopped a little bit because of the change in emphasis from the Pentagon, which we've heard an awful lot about, but there also had been some belief that things could be accelerated if the missiles attack continued. So it's a very fluid situation, and the point that you bring up illustrates that.

BROWN: Bob, thank you. Bob Franken, who is at an air base at an air base, and we won't say anything more about the location of the air base than that. It is often fascinating for me, General Clark and I have spent a good amount of time today and over the weeks. We have been talking about the implications for the battle plan if Saddam Hussein was injured or killed in this attack, and that perhaps commanders and planners and their civilian bosses made this judgment to hold off, and that that might be a good thing, but the coin always has two sides.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's exactly right. Now the other side of that coin, which we have not speculated on is this: Let's say Saddam Hussein was in there. Let's say he was shook up bad, but maybe wasn't killed. Maybe lost some of his key lieutenants. Now we've given him a little breathing window.

We've hit, we've struck, but we have not done the shock and awe. So now he has had time, perhaps, to try to regain command grip on his organization, re-establish alternate channels of communication, figure out who needs to be replaced, and put other loyal people in position.

And if it was not Saddam, if Saddam's gone, maybe somebody else is doing that right now. So there is a trade-off. And we can't see it.

BROWN: That is the calculus, essentially. You have to decide - OK, maybe it's this, maybe it's that. The risks of this, the risks of that.

CLARK: And I believe that people who are making these decisions do have sources of information obviously we don't have. And they have got some indicators to tell them whether that's a good trade-off or not and how long to run this out before it's time to resume the original war plan.

BROWN: Do you have a feel for how long that is?

CLARK: I really don't. I think that it's a -- let's continue this speculation. Let's say there's somebody in there that they are talking to. Let's say that they are working this. They are going to want indicators, they are going to want some proof, they are going to want some bona fides, let's say that he is who he says he is, he's got the authority he claims to have, and so forth. And if that does not play out, they are going to have to move ahead with the plan. It might be tonight, it might be another night.

BROWN: Soon?

CLARK: But it can't be a week.

BROWN: Is that a General Franks' decision, a Donald -- a General Meyers decision, a Rumsfeld decision, President Bush decision?

CLARK: I think it's President Bush decision.

BROWN: So that is a commander in chief level decision.

CLARK: Absolutely. This has huge implications, because right now if this works and you can take over this country and change the regime and get the weapons with virtually no civilian casualties, it's very, very positive in relation to what it would be if you had several thousands Iraqi civilians hurt.

BROWN: And even -- and we saw this earlier -- just point this out again -- as smart as these weapons are, and they are pretty smart, some may have never been used here - said the other day or this afternoon, I don't remember this anymore, when asked, how accurate these cruise missiles are, he said, "which window?" As accurate as they are, they are machines, they can fail, they are simply technology, they are not all perfect, and that happens all the time, and when that happens in wars, civilians often die or innocents often die and no one wants to see that. No one wants to see war, I suppose, but no one certainly wants to see innocents die along the way.

It's a fascinating calculus that these guys have to work through, and I assume military planners at this point have sort of two directions to go and they are waiting for someone to say, A or B.

CLARK: It's probably 15 directions. And this is like the proverbial duck, you know, that's moving smoothly across the surface of the water and underneath the feet are just peddling like mad as they're shuffling through all the combinations here and trying to get orders straight and trying to collect information and trying to keep people on the same sheet of music. This has got to be incredibly complicated behind the scenes.

BROWN: I think so. Yes, sir. On the right side of your screen, you see the 7th Cavalry, and they have stopped down again. We have been watching this, and as wonderful and good and particularly when they stopped down, the picture is pretty clear, the videophone itself has some limitations, obviously. I guess you figured that too, huh? And we are trying to figure out, are they putting on chemical suits and -- or are they not, is this anything other than routine? I don't, General, as you see this, I don't see any indication of that, do you?

CLARK: I see indication of contact, but -- and we don't know why they stopped. But this is the first time we have seen -- this is a recovery vehicle. And it looks like it's got a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hooked up, and it's pulling.

BROWN: Maybe one broke down?

CLARK: It's possible -- this could have happen earlier -- but it shows you kind of the difficulties that units have, because this is self-contained unit. You'd like to be able to take anything that breaks down with you with you. At least until you've got yourself in a different position where you can actually deliver it to a maintenance collection point.

BROWN: Because we leave no Humvee behind.

CLARK: We don't want to leave that, we don't want to leave that armored personnel carrier and three or four guys back there in the middle of nowhere. And even if someone is going to come along in 12 hours or 14 hours, you'd rather not leave them. So you've got some capacity to tow here. And... BROWN: Because if you - if you -- just, I'm sorry. If you left the vehicle there, given the way the -- all these tanks and Bradleys are configured, there would be no room for the crew members?

CLARK: Oh, the crew would be there. And they'd have water and they'd have food and -- you might have to do this.

BROWN: Stay with it?

CLARK: No. I mean -- you might have to do this. But you'd rather not do it. If you can hold everything together and keep control of your organization rather than having it strung out over. If they really are going 100 miles or so, as Walter said, to have it strung out back there and to have to send your first sergeant back there to check on that crew, or coordinate, because there are so many moving pieces on this battlefield. Every unit is at full task saturation level. People with notebooks, or getting 100 tasks an hour to do. Do this, check that, coordinate with him.

BROWN: That's the one piece of vegetation in the desert, by the way. We found it; it was not easy.

In Qatar right now at Central Command, is there somebody, a lieutenant, somebody who knows that in the desert, a vehicle just broke down?

CLARK: No, that's not their problem. The problem is here in this cavalry troop, they know they've got a vehicle broken down. And what -- they've got it, they've got it with them. Now, at some point, they will report to their next higher headquarters, which is a squadron. Their combat ready strength. But that's not a Bradley and that's not a tank, so that's either an engineer vehicle, an aid vehicle of some type. I can't tell from here. Maybe it's a fire support vehicle. I can't quite see in a picture, but it's not one of the primary combat vehicles. They may go two days before anybody ever realizes that vehicle's broken down, at a higher level. Someone is going to call back, and there is a mechanic. He's going to look at it. He's going to say, it's the U joints on the front drive that are broken, so do we have U joints? Who's got them? Well, they're back somewhere, you know, back 60 miles back, and now it's a matter of somebody has to get that part and deliver it so this vehicle can be fixed.

BROWN: Somebody's cursing out there, though, aren't they?

CLARK: They're not happy. They're not happy about that.

BROWN: They're not happy either. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we had a 45- second tight shot of scrub there, but we've come off it. You know, we've been looking at this for coming up on three hours or so. Actually, we first saw these pictures in the nighttime through the green scope, the night scope, and I remember saying about 8:00 last night, boy, when the sun comes up, this is going to be something to see. And it has been something to see.

For those of you who have been with us a long time, I suppose it would be hard to explain to your friends at work tomorrow that you sat and watched TV for a while of a bunch of tanks going through the sand. It doesn't quite give it the full dimension of what you, in fact, had been watching, and what we had been watching with you. And it's a lot what we've been doing.

Walt Rodgers is -- has got the best seat in the house, as far as this full moment is concerned, because he's with the 7th Cav. Can you explain, General Clark has it pretty much right that one of the vehicles broke down, they are trying to figure out what to do?

WALTER RODGERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, that's not exactly correct. The reason we're stopped here is we're on a ROM, which is a refuel on the move. We just have to refuel at this point. We were moving so fast and so far ahead that our 5,000 gallon tankers are behind us.

Let me add a little more detail to the story that we've been following since we first crossed the border from Kuwait. You'll recall at that time I was saying that while you were calling, I was standing there on camera, and there was this big, loud boom off to the left. And I thought it was artillery. It turns out, according to Army sources, it was a tactical ballistic missile, which was fired in the direction of the 7th Cavalry. Now, it went over the head of the tank commander with whom I was just speaking. He says he thinks it landed about 10 kilometers or six miles off to the left. Again, no one was injured in that, but a tactical ballistic missile was fired earlier in the evening as the 7th Cavalry crossed the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border.

Then the other engagement that I reported, a hostile encounter about two hours into southern Iraq. I saw some what were explosions off to the right, what the Army discovered was they had what they believed was a small anti-aircraft unit that was being turned on in this part of the world, in Arab world. You often see 50 caliber machine guns mounted on the back of pickup trucks. They weren't exactly sure what the target was, but someone was firing in the direction, sort of like a freelance cowboy, in the direction of the 7th Cavalry.

The Main battle tank, the M1A1 Abrams, was dispatched, along with several Bradley Fighting Vehicles to silence that. When I asked the tank commander, well, did you get it, he just grinned, and said, it is not there anymore.

So what we are stopping for at this point is a ROM, a refuel on the move. We've been traveling a long while.

By the way, these tanks can go about eight hours without refueling, the Main battle tanks. The Bradleys can go even further, and longer without refueling. The helicopters have the shortest, or the least stamina, about every three hours the Kiowa helicopters have to refuel, and as I said, this unit has been moving so fast, the 7th Cavalry Apache troops, moving so fast, as has the bone-crusher and the Crazy Horse troops, that they now just have to wait for the tankers to catch up with them.

BROWN: Walt, what did you have for breakfast?

RODGERS: I haven't eaten -- I can't remember the last time I had anything to eat. I haven't had breakfast.

BROWN: Well, grab yourself an MRE and keep the pictures up for a bit. Again, for those of you, this is one of the helicopters, obviously, that Walt was talking about. They do the reconnaissance. They fly ahead of the units, of tanks and Bradleys and the rest, they're small but fly very, very low, sometimes 50 feet up off the deck, and that's tough work too. Particularly as it gets hot out in the desert. It's not terribly hot right now, this early in the morning out there, but as it gets hot out there, that is tough and difficult work as well.

General, just again, explain a bit of the roles of both the cavalry and then what comes in behind the cavalry. The cavalry is there to what?

CLARK: These units going out to find and fix the enemy. It is going to develop the situation. It is going to clear the path for the division, if it can. If it can't, it's going to find the enemy force, and determine what its size, disposition, intent is. It's going to provide a base of fire on which the rest of the division is going to take action. So it is well out in front.

It may have some specific tasks beyond that. Walter may know what those are. He probably can't tell us without giving us information he's not supposed to disclose, but that would be the doctrinal purpose of this force. Behind it would be one or more of the brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division.

BROWN: And just give me another paragraph on -- you see one of the -- I can't help but think that somewhere at Fort Stewart, right?

CLARK: Fort Stewart.


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