Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) – 2008-02-05 00:48:56
(February 1, 2006) — A January 27 report on CBS’s 60 Minutes attempted to answer what CBS reporter Scott Pelley claimed was a key mystery of the Iraq War: Why didn’t Saddam Hussein tell the world he had no weapons of mass destruction, and thus avoid the US-led invasion? But if Pelley had been watching his own network’s exclusive interview with Hussein on the eve of the war, he would have known that Hussein did exactly that.
“For a man who drew America into two wars and countless military engagements, we never really knew what Saddam Hussein was thinking,” Pelley declared at the opening of the segment, which was based largely on the account of George Piro, the FBI agent who interrogated Hussein. Piro’s team, according to Pelley, was “trying to answer some of the great mysteries of recent history. What happened to the weapons of mass destruction? Was Saddam in league with Al-Qaeda? Why did he choose war with the United States?”
The question of Iraq’s missing weapons were answered in this exchange:
PELLEY: And what did he tell you about how his weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed?
PIRO: He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the U.N. inspectors in the ’90s, and those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors unilaterally destroyed by Iraq.
PELLEY: He had ordered them destroyed?
PELLEY: So why keep the secret? Why put your nation at risk? Why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?
Pelley continued in this vein, asking: “As the US marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didn’t he stop it then? How could he have wanted his country to be invaded?”
This bizarre scenario in which Saddam Hussein “wanted his country to be invaded” and decided to “choose war with the United States” was spelled out most clearly in the online version of 60 Minutes’ story, which asserted: “Saddam still wouldn’t admit he had no weapons of mass destruction, even when it was obvious there would be military action against him because of the perception he did.”
In fact, far from not admitting that he had no weapons of mass destruction, Hussein and other Iraqi officials continually stated that they had no such weapons in the months before the invasion. One of the clearest such statements came directly from Hussein on Pelley’s own network, when CBS anchor Dan Rather scored an exclusive interview with Hussein that aired on 60 Minutes II on February 26, 2003. (Watch clip of interview here)
Hussein told Rather that Iraq was permitted to have missiles of a limited range under existing United Nations resolutions. As for weapons of mass destruction, Hussein offered a clear response:
RATHER: Saddam also rejected Bush administration allegations that besides the missile delivery system, he still has weapons of mass destruction.
HUSSEIN: I think America and the world also knows that Iraq no longer has the weapons. And I believe the mobilization that’s been done was, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. That is why, when you talk about such missiles, these missiles have been destroyed. There are no missiles that are contrary to the prescription of the United Nations in Iraq. They are no longer there.
Hussein explained that Iraq “was empty, was void of any such weapons,” but that his government accepted U.N. resolutions “in order to make the case absolutely clear that Iraq was no longer in possession of any such…weapons.” US reporters treated such statements as patently false.
CBS’s Bob Schieffer (12/8/02) remarked of an earlier disavowal of banned weaponry by Hussein, “Saddam Hussein says he has no weapons of mass destruction, but should we believe him?” Schieffer asked a visiting senator on Face the Nation what would happen if US experts “conclude that Saddam Hussein is once again lying, as he has so often in the past.claiming he doesn’t have the weapons, when in fact we know that he has.”
Before the invasion, CBS’s line was that Iraq was hiding prohibited weapons, and Saddam Hussein was lying about it. Now it maintains that Iraq did not have those weapons…and Saddam Hussein was lying about it. Is it really too much to ask that the network look back at their own coverage of five years ago before announcing that it’s solved one of the “great mysteries” of that era?
ACTION: Please ask CBS to correct the network’s inaccurate claims that Saddam Hussein wouldn’t admit he had no weapons of mass destruction” and that he kept the nonexistence of such weapons a “secret” — assertions that are disproved by CBS’s February 2003 interview with Saddam Hussein.
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