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NBC News Meet the Press
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Guests: Jim Miklaszewski - NBC News, Tom Aspell - NBC News, David Gregory - NBC News, Tom Brokaw - NBC News, Richard Engel - NBC News, Con Coughlin - London Sunday Telegraph, Senator Joe Lieberman, (D-Conn.), Senator Pat Roberts, (R-Kan.), Senator Dick Lugar, (R-Ind.), Senator Joe Biden, D-Del.), General Montgomery Meigs, (US Army), Andrea Mitchell - NBC News, Dana Priest - Washington Post, Robin Wright - Los Angeles Times, David Broder - Washington Post, Joe Klein - Time Magazine.
Moderator/Panelist: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with Meet the Press - NBC NEWS (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)
Russert: Good morning. This was the dramatic announcement from U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer in Baghdad this morning:
Amb. Paul Bremer: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him. Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday, December 13 at about 8:30 p.m. local in a cellar in the town of Adwar, which is about 15 kilometers south of Tikrit.
Russert: And these are the first pictures of an exhausted, unkept former dictator now in captivity. His mouth actually being checked for DNA, and then later, his beard being shaven by his captors. General Ricardo Sanchez who leads the U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq offered these details of Saddam Hussein's capture.
Gen. Ricardo Sanchez: There were no injuries, and, in fact, not a single shot was fired. Saddam Hussein, the captive, has been talkative and is being cooperative. The spider holes entrance was camouflaged with bricks and dirt. After uncovering the spider hole, a search was conducted and Saddam Hussein was found hiding at the bottom of the hole. The spider hole is about six to eight feet deep and allows enough space for a person to lie down inside of it. Saddam was captured without resistance.
Russert: And now joining us is Jim Miklaszewski who covers the Pentagon for NBC News. Mic, who captured Saddam Hussein?
JimMiklaszewski: Well, yesterday, the 4th Infantry Division headquartered in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit got the break of all breaks when about 11:00 Baghdad time--they got the information somehow. Perhaps somebody walked in and said, "We think Saddam Hussein is south of Tikrit." Ten hours later, the 4th ID, the first brigade, launched a 600-man combat operation against two separate targets in that region. They didn't find Saddam Hussein initially, but they cordoned off the area, conducted a very intense, diligent search in which they found what General Sanchez called the spider hole. Essentially, Saddam Hussein was hiding underground in an eight-by-10-foot compartment complete with an air ventilation system, a very indignant end to one of the most ruthless dictators of our time.
Russert: Was there any sense that he could have been overseeing resistance operations from that facility?
Miklaszewski: U.S. intelligence officials told us almost from the very beginning that Saddam Hussein was interested in only one thing and that was saving his skin, that he was traveling with a very small entourage so as not to be detected. And that when he was captured, there were only two other individuals with him. And they said, quite frankly, that his influence, although he had a very huge psychological impact on the Iraqi people, was waning because he had to buy his way into everywhere he went.
Russert: They found a means of travel, they thought, and they also found some currency. Talk about that.
Miklaszewski: They did. $750,000, not in dinars, but American dollars. And they also found, talking about indigent ends, where he used to ride around in huge convoys and limousines and SUVs, apparently, he was riding around in' a white-and-orange taxi cab.
Russert: Now, General Sanchez also said that Saddam Hussein was walked, handcuffed in front of other Iraqi prisoners, a perp walk, in effect, and also that he is being cooperative. What does this mean?
Miklaszewski: Well, General Sanchez said he was cooperative from the very beginning, offered no resistance. There was not a single shot fired. It's not clear that he's actually providing them any valuable information, but he said that Saddam is acting, when he was captured, as if somebody who was resigned to their own fate. Now, the perp walk, walking him in handcuffs in front of the other detainees, presumably at the Baghdad international airport, I think, served two purposes. One, it allowed some of those former regime leaders to say, "Yeah, that's Saddam Hussein," but, two, it also sent a very strong message to them, "Saddam Hussein is finished. He's not coming back. So if you're withholding any information, give it up now."
Russert: Jim Miklaszewski, thank you. You'll be at your beat all day long at the Pentagon. Now, let's go live to Baghdad. We're joined by NBC's Tom Aspell. Tom, let me show you some pictures from Baghdad today. Celebration in the streets, the people reacting to Saddam Hussein's capture, waving flags, chanting, jumping up and down, showing newspapers. What can you tell us about the mood in Baghdad right now, Tom Aspell?
Tom Aspell: Well, for the first time in months, Tim, we've seen celebratory gunfire up into the air in the streets of Baghdad, people firing AK-47s and pistols up in the air in celebration. Some two hours before Ambassador Bremer made the official announcement, word was already coming down from the Kurdish areas adjacent to Tikrit that Saddam Hussein had been captured alive and was now in American custody. Then around the time of the announcement when Ambassador Bremer said, "We got him," there was a curious calm all over Baghdad, almost as if everyone was clustered around radios and television sets waiting to hear the official word from the man who effectively rules Iraq. And as soon as Ambassador Bremer said, "We got him," not only cheers over there at the Coalition Provisional Authority, but again, on the streets of Baghdad. And we're expecting more shooting in the streets, up in the air, in celebration tonight. The mood here in Baghdad is very, very upbeat. Tim.
Russert: Tom Aspell, what's the sense psychologically? Will this mean an end to the resistance, or in the short term, will pro-Saddam forces try to go all out to show their displeasure with their leader being taken captive?
Aspell: I don't think even the military knows the answer to that one, Tim. General Sanchez said that while the military was not expecting an upsurge in violence suddenly, they were prepared for it, and I think tonight will be a crucial test of that, just how much law and order there will be on the street. But as far as the resistance is concerned, the military's been telling us all along that Saddam Hussein has never had direct command of operations against American and coalition forces, so I don't think that'll make much of a difference there. What is important for the Iraqi people--and Ambassador Bremer said this to the Iraqi people right at the top of the news conference there--he said this is a chance for them to make a new beginning, and I think those followers of Saddam Hussein will be thinking very carefully about whether or not to give themselves up, but certainly, as a figurehead, as a spiritual leader perhaps of the resistance, then Saddam Hussein is no more, and I think it's not going to be long before that word goes among his supporters. As for the other groups, the nationalists, the foreign terrorists, the foreign fighters we've heard so much about, even the Shia groups and discontented Sunni groups, that remains to be seen whether that resistance can be nipped in the bud. And I think we saw today Ambassador Bremer speaking directly to the Iraqi people, saying, "It's over. The tyrant is captured. It's time for a new beginning," and that's been very well-received, particularly here in Baghdad, Tim.
Russert: Finally, Tom, the trial. We heard representatives of the Iraqi Council saying there will be a public trial in Iraq by Iraqis. The U.S. government has said, "Well, we'll talk about that." What do we know about a potential trial?
Aspell: Well, no coincidence perhaps, Tim, that just a few days ago, Ambassador Bremer and presumably General Sanchez gave their agreement far the Iraqi Governing Council to set up an Iraqi War Crimes Tribunal. They're expected to be up and running. Their first trial, they say, could be held as early as three months away. They want to get their hands on Saddam Hussein. They want to put him on trial here in Iraq. International legal experts agree it can be done, and the Iraqis themselves--and we saw this with Dr. Haddan Pajaji---on the stand there at the announcement between General Sanchez and Ambassador Bremer at the beginning there; Dr. Pajaji also saying that the Iraqis want to put him on trial. The Iraqis fully confident with 50 people standing by, 15 of them judges, at least 40 prosecuting attorneys, that they can assemble evidence and are capable of holding a trial for themselves, and I think that's something the Americans are looking very closely at granting that request to the Iraqi Governing Council. Tim.
Russert: Tom Aspell in Baghdad, be safe. Let's go live to the White House. We're joined by NBC's David Gregory. David, what is the reaction from the president and his staff?
David Gregory: A very important day for Iraq, a very important day for this administration, Tim. That has been the reaction up and down in this White House. They are simply overjoyed at this development, one they kept promising would come. But for an operation that is taking a lot of heat from Democrats, from ordinary Americans, this is a significant development. We do expect to hear from the president later today. What form that takes, we're not exactly clear, but this is an important time to send a message, Tim, to the Iraqi people, to those insurgents who keep targeting U.S. and coalition troops. And even more particularly, to Sunni Muslims, who have been in need of getting to be a bigger part of the government, of this Governing Council in Iraq. But at a time when the administration wants to turn over this political authority to the Iraqis, this is an important development.
Russert: David, in terms of a trial, the U.S. has not been willing to say absolutely the trial should be in Iraq, conducted by Iraqis. Is that where it's headed?
Gregory: I think that's probably where it's headed, but you're right. This is still a delicate matter that has to be discussed with Iraqi authorities. Don't forget, the U.S. has a lot of interest with Saddam Hussein right now in terms of interrogating him, principally for weapons of mass destruction and the status of his weapons program a major rationale for going into Iraq in the first place. While the Iraqis will be fighting hard to get a trial up and going, immediately, there will be obvious security concerns, as well as the fact that the United States government has interests with Saddam Hussein, has a lot of information they want to get from him before they turn him over to such a proceeding, Tim.
Russert: David Gregory, the elephant in the room this morning, the political campaign, presidential election of 2004. Is there any body language or words at the White House which suggests, "Well, you know what? This is a very, very good opportunity for us to talk to the American people about our commander in chief"?
Gregory: Absolutely. There's no question that this is--they believe--a defining moment. Osama bin Laden has still not been captured but Saddam Hussein was a very big fish. Democrats have been lining up, Howard Dean and others, critical of this operation, saying, "Look, they can't even find Saddam Hussein." Well, as one top Democratic operative told me this morning, "That line is now gone." However, the line of argument may not be gone. That is to say, what really matters here, say Democrats I've been speaking with, is not just that Saddam Hussein is gone, but what about the security on the ground? Will U.S. lives still be at risk? And will the cost in U.S. dollars still remain so high for this operation in Iraq? But for today, there's no question, Tim, that, politically, this is a major score from this president, and all the Democrats realize that, as well.
Russert: David Gregory at the White House, thank you very much. We'll be back in just a minute to talk to Joe Lieberman, a Democratic candidate for president; Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Dick Lugar and Joe Biden of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But, first, let's go to New York. My colleague Tom Brokaw has been up since the early hours covering this story. Tom.
Tom Brokaw: Thanks very much, Tim. We're going to go now to Richard Engel on the telephone. He is in Iraq. He's en route to Tikrit, which is the hometown of Saddam Hussein, an area that has been very hostile, both militarily and politically, to the American occupation. We could have a kind of patchy hookup here. Richard, what are you seeing there in the late afternoon in the Tikrit area in the streets?
Richard Engel: Tom, hello. We are just actually left Tikrit and we're actually on our way to the rural village where it is understood that Saddam Hussein had been hiding. It is the village of al- Dwar. And this is a village very near to the--another very similar rural village where Saddam Hussein was born. So it's, basically, Saddam Hussein came from this area, and then, in the end, he has returned to the area to hide out. Right now, on the streets of Tikrit, the scene that we saw a few minutes ago was rather subdued, people in Baghdad had been celebrating, firing lots of guns in the air, and celebrating, obviously, the news of Saddam's capture. In Tikrit, which is where a lot of people still consider Saddam Hussein as a hero, the mood was much more quiet, no one was out in the street celebrating this. It was almost like a defeated city, Tom.
Brokaw: All right, Richard. We're going to ask you to stay in touch with us when you get to that village and especially to the farmhouse where he was captured with just a couple of aides and a couple of AK-47s, $750,000 U.S. He was in a hole about six feet by eight feet with a ventilation system. Pretty crude. It was camouflaged, the--what Rick Sanchez, the American general, described as a "spider hole with a few bricks." But the Wolverine combat team number one from the 4th Infantry Division in Operation Red Dawn pulled him out of there with a bushy beard, unkempt appearance, and if you look at him there, that's plainly Saddam Hussein and then they had him shaved so the Iraqi people could see Saddam Hussein on the right as he is in captivity now. And they compare those with historical photographs. But they also took DNA samples, as well. Let's go to London now to Con Coughlin who is a biographer of Saddam Hussein and has an article in today's Sunday Telegraph about Saddam Hussein, his regime, and Mohamed Atta, who was the lead terrorist in the attacks of 9/11. First of all, Coughlin, did you expect that Saddam Hussein would be taken in such a meek and utterly degraded way, that he would be hiding like a rat in a hole with just a few aides around him?
Con Coughlin: Well, I thought that Saddam would be found in this kind of location. That's for sure. And I was in Baghdad fairly recently and was told that basically Saddam was living in a hole somewhere. And that turned out to be entirely accurate. But what I didn't expect was to see Saddam being cooperative and talkative. I thought Saddam would put up more resistance, more of a fight, and, basically, that he would never allow himself to be taken. Because, basically, by appearing like this with the coalition, the whole myth of Saddam Hussein, that he's invested in so heavily, in the last 35 years, has been destroyed in five minutes.
Brokaw: And tell us about the article that you have today in the Sunday Telegraph about Mohamed Atta and any connections that he may have had to the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
Coughlin: Well, this is an intriguing story, Tom. I mean, basically, when I was in Baghdad, I picked up a document that was given to me by a senior member of the Iraqi interim government. It's an intelligence document written by the then-head of Iraqi intelligence, Habush to Saddam. It's dated the 1st of July, 2001, and it's basically a memo saying that Mohamed Atta has successfully completed a training course at the house of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist, who, of course, was killed by Saddam a couple of months later. Now, this is the first really concrete proof that al-Qaeda was working with Saddam. I saw your interview with James Woolsey earlier and he was talking about the article in The Weekly Standard. And there is a lot of detail there. But this is a document, and I've had it authenticated. This is the handwriting of the head of Iraqi intelligence, Habush, is one of the few people still at large who is in the pack of cards. And it basically says that Atta was in Baghdad being trained under Saddam's guidance prior to the 9/11 attack. It's a very explosive development, Tom.
Brokaw: Thank you very much, Con Coughlin in London this morning. His article is in The London Sunday Telegraph. You can access it on the Internet, of course. Now, back to my colleague, the moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert. Tim.
Russert: Thanks, Tom. I'm joined by Senator Joe Lieberman, Democratic candidate for president. Your first reaction when you heard about the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, (D-CT): First reaction this morning when I was informed, "Hallelujah, praise the Lord." I mean, this is something that I have been working on with a lot of other people, advocating and praying for for more than 12 years since the Gulf War of '91. This man was a homicidal maniac, a brutal dictator, wanted to dominate the Arab world and was supporting terrorists. He caused the deaths of more than a million people, including now 460 Americans who went to overthrow him. So this is a day of glory for the American military, American intelligence and it's a day of triumph and joy for anybody in the world who cares about freedom and human rights and peace.
Russert: Now, Senator, your opponent for the Democratic nomination, Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, said last week that he wasn't certain where a trial of Saddam should take place; perhaps even the international court in the Netherlands. What's your thinking about a trial?
Lieberman: This man, Saddam Hussein, this evil man, has to face the death penalty. The International Tribunal in The Hague cannot order the death penalty. So my first question about where he's going to be tried will be answered by whether that tribunal can execute him, which is what he surely deserves, and if it can be done by the Iraqi military tribunal, fine. But if it cannot, he should be brought before an American military tribunal and face the death that he's brought to hundreds of thousands of his own people and 460-plus Americans.
Russert: As you know, Governor Dean has surged to the front of the pack in the Democratic race, now called the front-runner. He was endorsed by Al Gore, the man who said three years ago that you should be the person one heartbeat away from the presidency. Why did Al Gore endorse Howard Dean and not you?
Lieberman: Well, you'd have to ask Al Gore that question. From my point of view, the last week has clarified the choice that Democrats and Independents who vote in our primaries have between Howard Dean and me. He will take this country backward to where we were before Bill Clinton transformed our party. I'm going to continue more determined than ever to fight for what's right for my party and my country. That means supporting middle-class tax cuts which he's opposed to, supporting fiscal responsibility, supporting a strong defense. And let's be real specific. On the question that we're celebrating today, Howard Dean throughout this campaign has said he wasn't sure that Saddam really represented a threat to us. At one point he said, "I suppose the Iraqis are better off with Saddam Hussein gone." I would say this, and this is a choice the voters have to make in the primaries. If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would be power today, not in prison.
Russert: When Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean last week, he said that in terms of Iraq, "Only Howard Dean has had the good judgment, experience, and good sense to see and articulate the right choice towards Iraq." What do you say about Al Gore's judgment and those comments this morning?
Lieberman: Well, I respectfully disagree. I think that's absolutely, absolutely wrong. I mean, Al Gore and I stood together in 1991 as two of 10 Democrats who supported the Gulf War which was aimed at overthrowing Saddam and rolling him back from his invasion of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein went 12 years not keeping the promises he made at the end of that war, continuing to suppress and murder his own people and threaten the region, and support terrorism. After September 11, I said to myself even more deeply I don't want to wake up one day after Saddam Hussein, who I always felt was a ticking time bomb, take some action to kill Americans and say why didn't we knock him over when we could have? Now, we've got some challenges ahead of us. This is not over. I've criticized the Bush administration for not having had a plan for what to do the day after Saddam was overthrown. Now, we've got to seize this moment, now that he's been captured, bring in the international community to help us rebuild Iraq, ask NATO to join us in the peacekeeping so we can complete our victory over the insurgents and terrorists that are fighting us and the international community there and let the Iraqis govern themselves. That's what this was all about.
Russert: Finally, Senator, but if the economy remains strong and the capture of Saddam Hussein helps secure Iraq, how difficult will it be to beat George Bush with those two factors going his way?
Lieberman: First, Tim, this is a day for every American, including those of us who are politicians, to drop the labels. We're not Republicans. We're not Democrats. We're Americans. This is a day of triumph and joy, and it's a day of honoring those who we now can say, those Americans, who didn't die in vain in fighting Saddam Hussein and overthrowing him. But Lord knows, there's a lot of things I disagree with George Bush about, that says America needs a fresh start. The economy is in trouble, health-care crisis, education costs rising out of control, Social Security being ransacked. The fact is we need somebody who will not only be strong in the world but reconnect with our allies and create genuine security and get America going here at home. I'm that candidate, strong on defense, strong on growth, socially progressive. We need a fresh start.
Russert: You did find a way to talk about politics at the end there.
Lieberman: Only policy. You know, it was statesmanlike.
Russert: We're now joined by the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, Republican senator from Kansas. Senator Roberts, you have been briefed. What can you tell us about what happened yesterday in Baghdad?
Sen. Pat Roberts, (R-KS): Well, number one, I'm not running for president, but at any rate...
Lieberman: That's good news.
Roberts: ...while we learned somewhat earlier than the event has been on the news on what happened, it was certainly good news and I agree with Joe in his rather exuberant and then right-on-the- money response on behalf of the American people. I'd like to give the intelligence community some real kudos here. We've taken a lot of brick bats on the intelligence community, and for once, we have a comprehensive, analytical product that resulted in the 4th Infantry Division and our special forces and that team that was after Saddam to strike quickly and they did. On the first go-around, they missed him, but on the second go-around, they found something suspicious and went after him and we found the spider in the hole.
Russert: Was it human intelligence, technological? What was it?
Roberts: I can't tell you and be specific in terms of the briefing, but just let me say it was a better comprehensive, analytical effort which speaks well I think to our efforts to restore stability in Iraq. They deserve a lot of credit. And as Joe indicated, a million people murdered, buried alive in graves and we're discovering the mass graves right now, not to mention the fact that he came to grips with his destiny without any firefight in regards to his two sons, and he is being extremely cooperative. I hope that that bears well on some of the questions we have and the inquiry that the intelligence community is now conducting, but it is a great day for America and it's a better day for the Iraqis.
Russert: Let me show you the disguises that our intelligence community suggested that Saddam Hussein may be using, and sure enough, they suggested he would grow a beard. It was actually fuller than the one you're seeing, and also this wanted poster. Remember, there was a $25 million ransom on this wanted man, no longer wanted, put an X through his face as well. Senator Roberts, do we have any information that someone may be claiming this $25 million?
Roberts: I don't have any information on that, but you're exactly right in regards to the characterization that you've just shown on the TV set there. Here is a man who looked like a homeless person. Here's a man driving around in an orange-and-white taxi day to day to day to day to farm to farm to farm, not even the city of Tikrit where he was from. He had two people with him and they just simply went into the darkness as the attack started. There was something suspicious about this area. You find an eight-foot spider hole, and in there, there's this spider and he comes out with no real defiance, and he had two AK-47s, a pistol and $750,000 and an orange-and-white taxi.
Russert: Let's go to Indianapolis, Indiana. We're joined by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar. Senator Lugar, what does this event mean for American foreign policy vis-a-vis Iraq?
Sen. Dick Lugar, (R-IN): It's a great victory to the American people. It vindicates the confidence Americans have had in George Bush as our president and Jerry Bremer and General Sanchez and the troops there. It gives us confidence to continue, and that was very important. The whole purpose, at least of the Iraqi insurgency, was through killing Americans, to discourage this country to try to get us literally to leave and to let the old regime come back or at least the elements that are still alive. Now, in addition to that, it gives us momentum for Jim Baker to visit with other countries and say, "Listen, if Iraq is going to be a whole government, we've got to begin to forgive the debt, most of it, if not all of it. We have got to begin to think about how this country stays together," because it's not a foregone conclusion that Shiites, Sunnis, Arab tribes, Kurds are, in fact, going to come together; although they have a much better chance in this context. For all of these reasons, this is really a signal moment, and we ought to celebrate it, but we ought to take advantage of the momentum in our foreign policy to visit with every other country in the world.
Russert: Senator Lugar, the trial--do you believe the trial should be conducted by Iraqis in Baghdad?
Lugar: Yes, I think that's a good idea, but I would add this thought. We had better make sure we have cleaned up the insurgency first. We better make sure that we are on the trail of a constitution- building process or an Iraqi council that has confidence of Iraqis. In essence, we had best make certain that the underpinnings of this situation are very clear and that progress toward a sound Iraqi government with international support. By this time, if we get the insurgency gone, the U.N. will come back in, the Red Cross will come back in. All sorts of countries will come back in. But until the insurgents are found (audio loss) not to have a public debate in their country about the loss of troops, and ditto for the international organizations.
Russert: Finally, Senator Lugar, do you believe the capture of Saddam Hussein will lessen the insurgency or add fuel to it in the short term?
Lugar: My guess is it will lessen the insurgency, but it will take a while for everybody to get the word. Other words, if you were a Sunni, who had been enjoying political power, enjoying beating up on Shiites and your neighbors, you may not have got over that idea yet. And clearly, the idea was that if we weaken the Americans and we weaken the friends of America who are there and they leave, then we've got a chance. But now they must understand they don't have a chance, but it may take a little while for that word to filter out.
Russert: Senator Lugar, thanks very much. July 22, 2003, Senator Roberts, Uday and Qusay were captured and killed. I believe we have pictures of them. And we were told that perhaps their capture and killing would lessen the resistance. It seemed to only have increased it. What are you being told by the intelligence community will happen now in light of the arrest, capture of Saddam Hussein?
Russert: Will resistance increase or decrease?
Roberts: I will tell you one thing, that our forces in the field are ready for any instant retaliation, but I agree with Senator Lugar, over the long term, I think it will help. When I was in Iraq-- and I've been there twice--even if you mentioned Saddam's name, there was palpable fear in the eyes of the person that you would be discussing. You know, the whole issue--it wouldn't make any difference if it was somebody in charge of the infrastructure or military or the local police. Now, that's gone. Now, I think you've got two categories of people. You have the Ba'athists and the Sunnis, who have to realize they're not going to come back in power. They're going to have to share power and they're going to have to be part of stability, and you have the foreign jihadists who have been encouraged to come. What they do is another question, but I agree with Senator Lugar, and I think probably Joe would agree with me, is that you have to establish the security before you can go ahead and try Saddam. I do think that the Iraqis should try him under the War Crimes Tribunal. That hasn't been agreed to. I think that's only fair and only right.
Russert: There could be a real security risk with a trial of Saddam Hussein, that the resistance would try to disrupt it or kill people or to sabotage it.
Roberts: Yes, he could become a martyr in the eyes of those people, but he is being somewhat cooperative. It's going to be very interesting to me what he says in regards to what my committee is taking a look at, and that's the issue of the WMD and the ties to terrorists in that country prior to the war.
Russert: Let's go to David Gregory at the White House. I understand he has an announcement to share with us. David.
Gregory: Tim, the president will speak to the nation at 12 noon Eastern time from the Cabinet Room here at the White House. That's according to his spokesman, Scott McClellan, who says the president has been following events all morning long. Was particularly moved, he said, by the outburst of applause during the press conference earlier today when the announcement was made that Saddam Hussein was captured. McClellan saying that the president believes this is a very good day for the Iraqi people. It's also a good day, Tim, for this administration, which has been getting a lot of criticism for the Iraq operation. This is a major milestone, and a turning point, they believe, and something that the president will talk about. Again, 12 noon, Eastern time, from the Cabinet Room. Tim.
Russert: Thank you, David. Senator Lieberman, I know you don't want to talk about politics, but here's the president of the United States at noon addressing this country and this world, center stage, basically saying, "I told you I was going to get him and I got him." What does this do to the Democratic primary race in terms of Howard Dean, who is vociferously anti-war, and someone like you, who has been supportive of the president?
Lieberman: Well, I hope it says to my fellow Democrats, and I'm confident it will say, that if we expect to have a chance to take this country forward and gain the confidence of the American people to lead and change things for the better here at home, restore jobs, deal with the health-care crisis, improve education, and retirement security, we've got to have a candidate running who will convince the American people that as president he will be strong. He will have a program to win the war on terrorism and to protect our security from tyranny. With all respect, this is narrowed down to a choice between Howard Dean and me. And Howard Dean hardly talks about the war on terrorism. He hasn't put forward a plan for it. I put forward a full plan for investing what's necessary to stay strong, to capture and kill al-Qaeda and the terrorists. And then, more broadly, to win the larger battle of the hearts and minds of the Islamic world. The same is true for homeland security. I wrote the bill that created the Homeland Security Department.
Russert: So you think today's events hurt the candidacy of Howard Dean?
Lieberman: Well, in my opinion, they should. Because, let me say it again, if Howard Dean had his way, today, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, not in prison, and the world would be a much more dangerous place for the American people, and a terrible place for the people of Iraq.
Russert: But the war has still a long way to go. And just as we ebb and flow with very good news, the situation in Iraq could turn bad in the days and months ahead.
Lieberman: This is true. This is what I said before, Tim. First off, the war against terrorism is a war against people who hate us more than they love life. So that war is going to go on. Those terrorists are there now fighting us, blowing up the United Nations, Red Cross, Shia Muslim mosques. They have to be stopped. And the world--the president has to regain some of the moral authority he's lost. I hope he can do it to get the rest of the world to come in and join us. This battle is not over. We need much more of a plan than this administration had the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. And we have to remember, the war on terrorism is going to go on for a while. The American people are not going to vote for somebody who they don't believe is going to be tough as nails against the terrorists. And that's my record. I may speak softly but I carry a big stick, and I use it.
Russert: Well, let's go to Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Biden, your reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein and what this will mean for the war in Iraq.
Sen. Joe Biden, D-DE: Well, I think it's going to be very useful, obviously. The biggest thing, Tim, I think, is, that we're going to end up with a circumstance--we're going to get a lot more cooperation in Iraq. And so the idea that these insurgents who are left and/or the terrorists from out of the country are not going to have that pool to swim in as much because it's a little like the drug dealers taken off the corner. And everyone was quiet. They weren't sure that he was going to come back. Now, it's clear he's captured, now, I think they're going to be ready to help. And so I think that's going to be the biggest thing that's going to happen in the near term in Iraq on the ground.
Russert: Senator Biden, you have taken a position in the minority of the Democratic Party urging the president to send more American troops into Iraq. One, do you still hold to that position? And, two, how do you think this capture is going to affect the debate within the Democratic primary amongst the candidates running for president?
Biden: Well, I'd leave that to President Lieberman to make that decision. I don't know. I'm not in that primary.
Lieberman: I think he...
Biden: But in terms of my view, I really think that--I call for more troops in Iraq because we weren't willing to try to get international forces in there, NATO in there. I've been calling for NATO, as you know, as well, Tim. I just got back from Brussels last week, bracketed by the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, at ministerials, where they both called for NATO to get involved. I had a long discussion, an hour and a half, with President Chirac, who indicated to me he's willing to let NATO go in there. I think this may, in fact, speed up the process, whereby we actually really internationalize this, bring NATO in, bring the big dogs in, so to speak, and not have any need to add more American troops but free up American troops by NATO troops in the north and on the borders, allowing American troops into the triangle.
Russert: A trial conducted by Iraqis in Iraq?
Biden: Well, good idea, but I hope they do it the right way, Tim. This is a phenomenal opportunity for us to show not only the Arab world but the entire Muslim world why we felt the way we did about Saddam, if, in fact, in a very, very precise and thorough way, the evidence of the tens of thousands of people murdered by him and gassed by him were, in fact, brought to the fore. Let the Iraqis do it, but I pray they have the patience to put together the overwhelming forensic case, if you will, because that will have a phenomenal impact, in my view, on the rest of the Arab world, as well as the Muslim world, that this is not just us on a fiat going in seeking oil. This was a very bad guy killing tens of thousands of Muslims, and I think that will be a very good thing for us indirectly, as well as for the region.
Russert: Senator Joe Biden, Senator Richard Lugar, Senator Pat Roberts, Senator Joe Lieberman, thank you all. Saddam Hussein is captured. We'll be back in just a moment with more coverage of this extraordinary morning.
Russert: And we are back on this special edition of Meet the Press: The Capture of Saddam Hussein. Let's go to New York. We're joined again by my colleague, Tom Brokaw.
Brokaw: That when President Bush was at Camp David yesterday and informed by telephone by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that they believe that they'd captured Saddam Hussein he said, "That is good news," the understatement of this mid-December weekend. And it was very welcome news as well in London for British Prime Minister Tony Blair who has been the president's staunchest ally in this operation. Here is some of what the prime minister had to say to the British people earlier this morning:
(Videotape, earlier this morning):
Prime Minister Tony Blair: To those formerly in Saddam's party, there by force and not by conviction, I say we can put the past behind us. Where his rule meant terror and division and brutality, let his capture bring about unity, reconciliation, and peace between all the people in Iraq.
Brokaw: That's British Prime Minister Tony Blair this morning, who went on to say that we have not been conducting a war against the Islamic world. In fact, he said the capture of Saddam Hussein, now in U.S. custody, the Muslims are the principal beneficiaries of that. We're joined now by former United States Army General Monte Meigs, who ran the American forces in Bosnia, now a consultant to NBC News. If you're a commander on the ground in Iraq today, how do you exploit the capture of Saddam Hussein in dealing with those people, who, if they're not against you, still have grave reservations about the presence of the American Forces, Monte?
General Montgomery Meigs: Well, Tom, the first thing you do is you make sure you get the information out as widely as possible. Secondly, you have people in contact with all these tribal leaders who have contact with other people all over the place and so you very quickly get them out there to make sure that they understand, the people on the ground, on the other side understand now is the time to come forward. This is a--no sense being a dead-ender now. There's no return on that, and that the door is open just a crack. And then you very aggressively continue your patrolling and your focused raids.
Brokaw: And what about the insurgents who are out there this morning? What's your judgment? Are they confused? Are they under the command of someone else? Given the conditions in which Saddam Hussein was captured with just a couple of aides, buried in a hole in the ground, could he have had command and control in those circumstances?
Meigs: Well, Tom, it doesn't surprise me that he's traveling around in a very small team 'cause, remember, the coalition is running about 1,700 patrols a day and a large proportion of those are in the Sunni Triangle. So Saddam, moving from place to place from command and control to command-and- control mode, wants to have a minimum signature to slip under the radar. Secondly, it doesn't surprise me that he went back into the areas where his tribe is most dominant and he has the most loyal supporters. And it doesn't surprise me that this effort is really sort of distributed. So now what you do is you try to break down that command-and-control structure to get back to al-Dwar and to get back to the other leaders of the coalition that are spread around that Sunni Triangle area.
Brokaw: You've been talking with some division commanders who've been on the ground in Iraq. They're back here now. They're colleagues of yours. And they're feeling pretty good about the progress that they've been making before the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Meigs: That's right. They think we're winning, granted at a slow pace. And, remember, it's hard to find people in this coalition that haven't had experience in peacekeeping in Bosnia, Kosovo and other places. They really know the game. They know how to engage these people. They know how to work this whole issue of unconventional warfare, and we've improved our intelligence ability over the years so that the analytical effort that's going on and the people on the ground poking around for information has been finally honed over the last five or 10 years. Now, granted, this is a much more difficult environment than Bosnia and Kosovo, but when you go around and talk to these battalion commanders and talk to these sergeants, you're going to find there's an awful lot of experience in this particular type of warfare out there in our Army.
Brokaw: Do you alter the military profile at all as a result of the capture of Saddam Hussein either psychologically or physically?
Meigs: I don't think so. I think now is the time to be very exploitive, very aggressive and make sure that with this emotional backlash that you're going to get from this, to try to push people off the edge, get them off the fence, get them over on our side because that will work for us in the short term, and you want to make great advantage of this thing as fast as you can. And I suspect General Sanchez and his subordinates are doing exactly that.
Brokaw: All right. Thank you very much, General Monte Meigs. Tim Russert, at 5:14 this morning, Condoleezza Rice called the president and said, "We've got Saddam Hussein," and then he began his own series of phone calls: Prime Minister Blair, Senate Majority Leader Frist, CIA Director Tenet, Secretary Rumsfeld, General Abizaid who is the commander of American forces in that part of the world, Secretary Powell and the Spanish prime minister. So it's been an active and joyous morning for the president and his father and mother have weighed in as well, saying this is very good news, and they're very proud of their son, not unexpectedly. Tim.
Russert: Thank you very much, Tom. We'll be back to you in just a bit. And before we take a break, we're going to come back and talk about what does this mean for the Bush presidency and the war in Iraq. This special edition, the capture of Saddam Hussein, will be back right after this. (Announcements)
Russert: The capture of Saddam Hussein. More of this special edition of Meet the Press right after this brief station break. (Announcements)
Russert: And we are back on this special edition of Meet the Press, the capture of Saddam Hussein. Andrea Mitchell, the chief foreign policy correspondent for NBC News, is with me. Andrea, I asked Senator Roberts, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, what he could tell us about the kind of intelligence that led to the capture of Saddam Hussein. He is bound by the pledge he took...
Andrea Mitchell: Exactly.
Russert: ...to keep everything confidential. You have been reporting, talking to your sources. What can you tell us?
Mitchell: This was primarily a military operation, but as Senator Roberts says, there was very good intelligence, military and CIA intelligence, that went into it. In the last week, they began really zeroing in on what they thought were the enablers, the people who had helped facilitate Saddam's ability to hide out for all of these months. And what they did was began to pick people up. They were getting good intelligence on the ground, which, as Senator Roberts says, says a lot for their ability now to try to establish some kind of order against this counterinsurgency. So one by one, through these interrogations, they got closer and closer to the inner circle. They described it to me as like peeling back the layers of an onion, and finally, they got to the person who was willing and able to finger Saddam Hussein and finger that location, and that was the person who spilled it, who gave it up, and now, of course, there's a big question as to whether that person was--in the course of this interrogation, would ever be potentially able to get the $25 million or whether this was given up under duress.
Russert: Dana Priest, you have been covering the intelligence community for The Washington Post very aggressively. There has been a lot of frustration in that community from some of the criticisms they received. What can you tell us this morning?
Dana Priest: Well, they're ecstatic. They also participated in this raid. I think we'll find out more about that. There was a task force 121 that was involved, which is a primarily military special operations task force but involved some CIA people on the ground as well. The commander in charge, Ray Ordiano, when I was in Iraq several weeks ago, he thought that they were hot on Saddam Hussein's trail. In fact, he told reporters traveling with Rumsfeld at the time that they would go to houses and they would see the remnants of Saddam's clothing and other sorts of tips. So he was very much convinced that he was in that area. The CIA now has the largest station and outpost, many of them in the country, than anywhere in the world. They are throwing many more analysts, not just on the Saddam Hussein problem, but on the larger problem of who are the insurgents, and I had one senior intelligence official told me earlier this week that unlike Vietnam, where the French had given them an order of battle for the insurgents, they are right now just building that order of battle. So even though they got Saddam, that might do something to the Ba'ath Party loyalists they think are really the bulk of the insurgents, they know that they don't know a whole lot about them still.
Russert: Robin Wright, many times on this program, we've talked about Iraqi, the situation there, what would happen if Saddam was captured, what would it mean to the resistance? What was the level of resistance post the capture and killing of Saddam's sons? What's the best thinking in terms of game planning in the administration as to what this will mean to the level of resistance?
Robin Wright: Well, you can't overestimate the impact, the psychological impact of that picture of Saddam Hussein bedraggled, hiding out, unable to fire a single shot in his own defense. So that certainly will play out on the ground, but the fact is that of the 22 Arab nations, Iraqis have always been the most nationalist, and their issue is not just among the Sunni insurgents, not just Saddam Hussein. It is the occupation of the United States. And so that is likely to continue to be a problem. Besides the issue of the Sunni, you also have playing out the very important political process that's really at stake at the moment in which there are some profound differences in the ideas the United States has put forth to hand over political power. And so you have not just the past to deal with, you have the future to outline and get agreement on, and there are profound differences. And so the United States has an enormous task against it. This does not, you know, transform the situation at all.
Russert: David Broder, you've covered politics for a long time. You become accustomed to unpredictable, unforeseen events that suddenly enter the American consciousness. What does an event like today do to the country and to the politics that flow from it?
David Broder: Well, it's a riveting event because of those pictures and because Saddam Hussein has loomed so large in our lives for such a long time. And this is a big moment for this country as well as for Iraq. It's clearly a big moment for this president, and it will echo in this Democratic race. The challenge that Senator Lieberman laid down on this program to Governor Dean is one that is probably the toughest policy political test that Governor Dean has faced yet. How does he respond to the statement from a credible opponent what if your way had been chosen by this country, Saddam would be in power and not in prison. That is a tough challenge now for Governor Dean.
Russert: Joe Klein.
Joe Klein: Yeah, I agree with David about that. Up until now, Howard Dean's had a--this is a major challenge to Dean. Up until now, he has had a pretty free ride on this. He could say, "I'm against it. What did it accomplish?" Well, now people like Joe Lieberman can say it accomplished the removal of Saddam Hussein. He is not coming back. And the simplicity of Dean's position to this point has enabled him to camouflage the fact that he doesn't have all that much to say about Iraq. He doesn't have all--he doesn't have a very nuanced foreign policy position at all. And tomorrow he is to give a major foreign policy speech, and I imagine the members of his staff are going to be up all night tonight trying to figure out just what he is going to say.
Russert: Get me rewrite.
Mitchell: And, in fact, I was told that he did not have very much about Iraq in the speech. Deliberately he wanted to say that foreign policy should be beyond Iraq. Not only are they going to rewrite but Hillary Clinton has a speech on foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations tomorrow.
Klein: Tomorrow morning, right.
Mitchell: And she had focused much more on Iraq. So she is better positioned just philosophically on this as being more hawkish and more intuned with the administration.
Russert: But she's not a candidate, Andrea. She has said so.
Mitchell: I know, here on Meet the Press last week.
Klein: Sort of.
Russert: David Broder, when Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean, he said the only major candidate for the nomination of my party that had the good judgment, experience, and good sense to feel and see and articulate the right choice on Iraq was Howard Dean.
Broder: And that has been the majority sentiment that we can discern among those Democrats who are likely to vote in Iowa and New Hampshire. I don't know whether those folks who are really strongly anti-this war will revise or how many of them will revise their views. But it's going to be an interesting now debate in the Democratic side, where up to this moment, I think, all the sentiment predictably has been with the anti-war candidate.
Russert: The concern amongst the political operatives on the Republican side I've talked to is body bag fatigue, Americans turning up the TV every morning and seeing another American was lost. They're hoping that this event will neutralize the resistance. Dana, do you believe, based on what you're reporting with your sources, that the resistance in the short term will increase or decrease?
Priest: You know, I hate to say it is very hard to tell. That's what U.S. officials say. They say this is a significant event, but it's insufficient to dampen the resistance. This is from people who are trying to figure out who the resistance is. Moreover, remember, this is Iraq. This is not the global war on terrorism that caused September 11, and I think that Howard Dean will point that out, and rightly so, because capturing Saddam Hussein is not necessarily going to do anything to wipe out the al-Qaeda and other networks around the world that are still bent on attacking the United States and some troops in Iraq.
Russert: Robin Wright, Senator Biden said if the Iraqis do this trial and do it right there has to be major concern about the kind of procedures that will be used in such a trial and also the security because there is nothing more the resisters would like to do than martyr Saddam Hussein in front of the world.
Wright: I'm not sure that, you know, the security is really an issue. I think that's something the United States can provide whether it's in the green zone, that's the U.S.-protected area around Baghdad airport. The venue is not as critical as the way it is conducted. And clearly the Iraqis have to be the ones to be seen both by Iraqis in the Arab world but the international community to be carrying out this act of justice and deciding on Saddam Hussein's future.
Mitchell: What they had decided, they announced last Wednesday, was that this was going to be a trial with five judges, Iraqi judges, the first time a war crimes tribunal in modern history would not involve the United Nations, deliberately so, and that this would be done in Iraq territory. And this has all been worked out and negotiated with the State Department.
Russert: Joe Klein, Howard Dean had said a year ago that he was convinced the economy would not be in good shape in 2004 because if it was in good shape then why even bother running for president? With the apparent growth in the economy, at least temporary, and the capture of Saddam Hussein, the two key issues that Dean had been talking about, the economy and Iraq, both not going well, what happens now to his candidacy and the tenor of the debate?
Klein: Well, look, Tim, this election more than any other that I've covered is out of the hands of the politicians and in the events that take place in the world, and the person who gets the nomination, I still believe, is going to be the one who reacts the most creatively to events that happen. I mean, when I talked to people in the intelligence community and asked them "Why haven't we had a terrorist event here in the United States since September 11?" they don't know, and they're afraid that we might. All it would take, God forbid, would be one thing like that, not even on the level of the World Trade Center, you know. Say they take out an elementary school or a movie theater or a shopping mall. That could change everything.
Wright: And the one thing to remember is that even though we've gotten Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden is still out there, and in many ways, he's far more dangerous than Saddam Hussein was.
Russert: Final thoughts, David.
Broder: Events still are important. I'm starting on the ground in Iraq and what Joe has been talking about and Robin, here in this country.
Russert: And if there was, God forbid, an event like Joe's talking about, or a downturn in Iraq, you frankly don't know how it's going to play.
Klein: Absolutely not.
Russert: And people can say, "Well, we weren't prepared; we should have been better prepared." These are the kinds of debates that politicians think they want to have but when the day actually comes it's very, very difficult, David Broder.
Priest: But I think also this capture does give them impetus to get more troops out. You know we talked about maybe they'll be out by the spring, Definitely they were not going to start drawing down with him not in captivity, and that is a reality now that is more real than when they were talking about it before.
Russert: We have to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more of our special edition of Meet the Press: The Capture of Saddam Hussein.
Russert: NBC News will be covering the capture of Saddam Hussein all day long. The president will be addressing the nation at noon. Watch a special edition of "Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw tonight; "Dateline" at 7 p.m. That's all for today. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.
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