Monday, February 04, 2008

60 Minutes Buries the Lead on Saddam's WMD Programs

The following Wall Street Journal article examines a 60 Minutes interview with FBI agent Scott Pelley that aired two Sundays ago. Pelley debriefed Saddam Hussein after his capture, and, as WSJ points out, 60 Minutes "buried the lead" regarding Saddam's blunt admissions that as long as he remained in power he intended to reconstitute his WMD program. Leadslike this get buried because they flatly contradict nearly 5 years of false media accusations that the Bush administration "lied us into war."

Buried WMD Scoop

February 1, 2008

Journalists are taught never to "bury the lead." Yet it looks as if that's precisely what CBS's "60 Minutes" did in reporter Scott Pelley's fascinating interview Sunday with George Piro, the FBI agent who debriefed Saddam Hussein following his capture in December 2003.

The Lebanese-born Mr. Piro, one of only a handful of agents at the bureau who speaks Arabic, was able to wheedle information from Saddam over a matter of months through a combination of flattery and ego-deflation that worked wonders with the former despot. But as Bruce Chapman of the Discovery Institute first noticed, the most important news in the segment comes when Mr. Piro describes his conversations with Saddam about weapons of mass destruction. The FBI interrogator says that, while Saddam said he no longer had active WMD programs in 2003, the dictator admitted that he intended to resume those programs as soon as he possibly could.

Here's the relevant segment, which appears well down in the interview:

Mr. Piro: "The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there."

Mr. Pelley: "And that was his intention?"

Mr. Piro: "Yes."

Mr. Pelley: "What weapons of mass destruction did he intend to pursue again once he had the opportunity?"

Mr. Piro: "He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program."

Mr. Pelley: "Chemical, biological, even nuclear."

Mr. Piro: "Yes."

Iraq's active WMD program had been destroyed, mostly by U.N. weapons inspectors, sometime in the 1990s, but Saddam told Mr. Piro that he maintained a pretense of having those weapons mainly to keep Iran at bay. This isn't exactly news. The key point is Saddam's admission that an Iraqi WMD program remained a threat so long as Saddam remained in power.

Opponents of the war argue that none of this matters because Saddam and his ambitions were being "contained" by U.N. sanctions. Hardly. As the Los Angeles Times reported in December 2000, "sanctions are crumbling among U.S. allies, who have begun challenging them with dozens of unauthorized flights into [Iraq]."

Bowing to this reality, the Bush Administration came to office the following month promising to ease the sanctions regime, even as it spent billions patrolling the so-called "No-Fly Zones." And as we learned after the invasion, Saddam was well on his way to breaking free of the sanctions by bribing everyone from a British member of parliament to a former French cabinet minister, all through a U.N. convenience known as Oil for Food.

In another telling moment in the "60 Minutes" interview, Mr. Piro relates that when he asked Saddam about his use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians, the dictator acknowledged that he had given the orders personally and explained himself in a word: "Necessary." The same still goes for getting rid of Saddam.

No comments: