On the Street: Iraqis’ Reaction to the Capture of Saddam Hussein
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TERENCE SMITH: Brian Bennett, welcome to the broadcast.
BRIAN BENNETT: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.
TERENCE SMITH: We understand — and you have an article in Time magazine about the initial interrogation of Saddam Hussein. Tell us about that. Where did it take place?
BRIAN BENNETT: Well, the initial interrogation, after he was captured from the hole outside of Tikrit, took place at the Baghdad airport. And a U.S. intelligence official who saw the transcript of that first interrogation told me that while Saddam was answering questions, his answers were of little substance to the interrogator.
TERENCE SMITH: What, from what you understand, was his manner in this interrogation? Was he defiant or cooperative? What was he like?
BRIAN BENNETT: Well, he was certainly defiant. He was answering the questions, but using the same rhetoric and political propaganda that he was famous for during his regime. A very simple example that the U.S. intelligence official gave me was that when he was asked for a … if he wanted a glass of water, Saddam replied, “how can I possibly have a glass of water? If I drink a glass of water, I’ll have to go to the bathroom, and how can I possibly go to the bathroom when my people are in bondage?”
TERENCE SMITH: Exactly. Who was doing the interrogation? Were they U.S. intelligence officers?
BRIAN BENNETT: This would be U.S. intelligence officers from a number of different agencies that are coming together to talk to Saddam. They asked him several questions.
Some of the first questions they asked him were about the weapons of mass destruction, where they were and why he was hiding information from the U.N. They also asked him about Capt. Scott Speicher, a U.S. Navy captain who was downed in the 1991 Gulf War and has been declared missing ever since.
TERENCE SMITH: What was his answer on the weapons of mass destruction? He was asked whether he had them, right?
BRIAN BENNETT: He was asked if he had weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam said, no, he did not have weapons of mass destruction and that the U.S. had fabricated the details about the Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction to justify an invasion of the country. When he was pressed further by interrogators about why he would hide information from the U.N. about his weapons systems, he simply said that it was to preserve the privacy of his presidential areas and of the military secrets of the country of Iraq.
TERENCE SMITH: Did he suggest in this interrogation that he was in close touch with the resistance and insurgency that’s going on in Iraq now?
BRIAN BENNETT: He did not suggest that he was in contact with the resistance or insurgency in Iraq inside the interrogation itself. But this U.S. intelligence official told me, when he was captured, there were documents in his possession that could very well connect Saddam to certain resistance cells operating around Baghdad.
TERENCE SMITH: And you mentioned he was asked about this missing airman, still missing from the Gulf War. Did he have any information on it?
BRIAN BENNETT: He had no valuable information. He dodged the question, saying that it is not Iraqi policy to keep prisoners and, therefore, implying that either they had never found the captain or that he was dead.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. Now, these documents in … I gather it was a briefcase that was found with him, they contained some names of resistance leaders, is that correct?
BRIAN BENNETT: Yeah, I was told by the official that they found a briefcase in his possession. Inside the briefcase was a letter that had been sent to him from the leader of a Baghdad resistance cell. And inside that letter were the minutes for a meeting of a number of leaders from cells around the city triangle who had come together and they were relaying the information of that meeting back to Saddam himself.
TERENCE SMITH: So presumably the U.S. forces locked on that information now and will attempt to round some of these people up?
BRIAN BENNETT: It’s possible they already have. The U.S. authorities right now claim to have arrested two members of the former regime acting on intelligence they got from Saddam Hussein. It would not surprise me if it was based on the information contained inside that document.
TERENCE SMITH: All right, well, Brian Bennett of Time magazine, fascinating. Thank you very much for talking with us.
BRIAN BENNETT: Good to be with you.