Saddam Hussein 'May' Be Dead or Severely Injured, Bush Says
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2003 "Some evidence" suggests Saddam Hussein may have died in air strikes that opened Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Bush said April 24.
In an interview with NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, Bush revealed that the same source who told U.S. Central Command leaders Hussein and his sons would likely be at the location believes Hussein was killed or severely injured.
"I say 'may' because we don't have the DNA in hand to prove" Hussein is dead, Bush said. "According to this one eyewitness, he's not going to show up anywhere."
In the wide-ranging interview aboard Air Force One as the president was returning from a trip to Ohio, he described his actions and reactions of March 19, the day of the first air strike in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Earlier that day, Bush had spoken to Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of all forces in the Persian Gulf, to give him his marching orders. He had told Franks and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Franks "had the con," so to speak. The war was to begin when, in Franks' best judgment, the time was right.
"I asked God for blessing on him and the troops," Bush said. "He saluted; I saluted back and left the room."
Bush told Brokaw that was a "heavy moment" because the knowledge that he had committed American troops weighed on his mind. "I then went outside and walked around the grounds," he said, "just to get a little air and collect my thoughts."
And that, the president thought, was that until Rumsfeld called at about 3:40 that afternoon. "He said, 'I would like to change the plans; I need your permission to change the plans. Can I come over?'" Bush recalled.
With the national security team Vice President Richard Cheney, Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice - assembled, CIA and CENTCOM officials laid out intelligence from a source on the ground about Saddam's whereabouts.
As the afternoon wore on and the group considered its options, the intelligence coming in from the undisclosed location became more and more solid. "As the intelligence got richer, I got more confident with the notion that Saddam would be there," Bush said.
At 7:15 p.m. that evening, Bush gave the order for the attack to proceed. The world watched live on television as the bombs began dropping at about 9:30. Bush addressed the nation 45 minutes later.
Bush told Brokaw no declaration on Hussein's fate will be made until officials are absolutely certain. "But the person who helped direct the attacks believes that Saddam, at the very minimum, was severely wounded," Bush said.
The president gave no more details on who that person was or in what capacity he was working, except to answer Brokaw's question, "Is he still with us?"
"Yes, he is. He is with us," Bush replied. "Thank God. A brave soul."
Bush admitted the campaign in southern Iraq didn't quite amount to the "shock and awe" that administration leaders had expected. "It turns out the (Iraqi) fighters were a lot fiercer than we thought," he said. Part of that might be a result of no coalition forces moving into Iraq from the north, enabling the Iraqis to move more of their assets to the south.
"On the other hand, our troops handled it, handled it quite well," he added.
He said the looting and protests are to be expected and don't signal problems in creating a democratic government in Iraq.
Bush attributed the looting to vengeance against Hussein's regime "It's like uncorking a bottle of frustration," and the protests of a people enjoying their first taste of freedom.
"There have been 20-plus years of tyranny," Bush said. "It's hard to believe that in 20 days democracy will emerge."
He dismissed claims that democracy can't flourish in the Persian Gulf. "It may not look like America," Bush said. "You know, Thomas Jefferson may not emerge. But, nevertheless, I do believe there can be a representative government and all factions can be represented."
He also clung to his conviction that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Time and investigation will prove these contentions, Bush said.
As more time passes, more Iraqi prisoners and civilians are cooperating with international investigation teams. Bush said Saddam may have "destroyed" or "dispersed" weapons of mass destruction before American troops came in.
Hundreds of sites in Iraq have yet to be investigated by exploitation teams. Of those, Bush said, only "about 90" have been checked out so far.
"We know he had a weapons of mass destruction program. We now know he's not going to use them," the president said. "So we've accomplished one objective, and that is that Saddam Hussein will not hurt the United States or (our) friends or our allies with weapons of mass destruction."