During nearly seven months in captivity, former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein never provided any meaningful information about his government, his suspected weapons programs or his alleged links to extremist groups during interrogations by American intelligence officials, U.S. officials in Washington said today.
Eleven other senior Iraqi leaders who, like Hussein, appeared before an Iraqi judge today to face various charges for mass killings and other atrocities also did not crack during intensive interrogations, the officials said.
At the White House, President Bush this morning briefly watched television news coverage of Hussein's appearance in court in Baghdad, but had no reaction to Hussein's comment that the proceedings were all "theater" orchestrated by "Bush the criminal" to aid the president's reelection campaign.
"Saddam Hussein is going to say all sorts of things," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. "What's important is that justice is being served to Saddam Hussein and his band of oppressors by the Iraqi people in an Iraqi court. . . . And this step today begins a process by which the Iraqi people can help bring closure to the dark chapter of their history."
In a speech at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, Vice President Cheney also expressed satisfaction over the court proceedings, and he repeated charges that Hussein's regime supported terrorists and had ties with the al Qaeda terrorist network that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. A bipartisan commission investigating the attacks has found no evidence that Hussein had any "collaborative relationship" with al Qaeda or any involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.
McClellan said Bush "is pleased that Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders are facing justice. . . ." He said Hussein "is facing the justice he denied the Iraqi people, most notably, the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis who were victims of his brutality."
Bush later attended a swearing-in ceremony for John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Danforth replaces John D. Negroponte, who assumed new duties Tuesday at the first U.S. ambassador to Iraq since 1990.
Bush said he was sending Danforth to New York "with a clear mandate: America will work closely with the United Nations to confront terror and to fight the suffering and despair that terrorists exploit." He said Danforth "will be a strong voice for the humane and decent conscience of America."
Danforth said he would work to "build on the momentum" of a U.N. Security Council resolution last month that endorsed the transfer of sovereignty to a new Iraqi interim government. In Iraq and elsewhere, he said, "We face a conflict between civilization and the forces of chaos."
In Iraq, the Bush administration had been particularly interested in getting Hussein and his senior military and political aides to talk about Iraq's programs to build nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the main U.S. justification for launching the 2003 war to oust the Iraq leader.
But a former senior administrator from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority just back from Baghdad said Hussein provided "very little, almost nothing" during interrogations. Hussein also did not provide any information on Baghdad's relationship with al Qaeda or other Middle East extremist groups, U.S. officials said. The senior administrator spoke on condition that he not be identified in accordance with ground rules set by the White House.
Hussein was so uncooperative that senior U.S. officials in Iraq concluded fairly quickly that neither the former Iraqi leader nor his aides were going to be helpful.
"At a certain point, I didn't read them very carefully. I concluded fairly early, after a couple months, that I wasn't going to see much useful out of them," the former senior U.S. official said about the interrogations.
To get Hussein to talk, U.S. interrogators, mainly from the FBI and CIA, attempted to build a relationship with the Iraqi dictator by discussing his past activities, such as the creation of the Baath Party. But the Iraqi leader never would discuss more sensitive issues, said the official.
"The problem is that interrogators like to work in such a way that they gain the confidence" of the person being interrogated, "and the way you do that is to get him to talk about things he's comfortable talking about," the former senior administrator said. "So from an intelligence point of view, this was not very useful stuff."
In his speech in New Orleans, Cheney said that when he and President Bush took office, "Saddam Hussein was providing financial rewards to the families of suicide bombers in Israel, and safe haven and support for terrorists and terror groups such as Abu Nidal, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Abu Abbas, the mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro."
According to a White House transcript, Cheney added: "Saddam's regime also had long established ties with al Qaeda. These ties included senior-level contacts going back a decade. In the early 1990s, Saddam had sent a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service to Sudan to train al Qaeda in bomb-making and document forgery. After the 1993 World Trade Center attack, Iraq gave sanctuary to one of the bombers, Abdul Rahman Yasin. Later, senior al Qaeda associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi took sanctuary in Baghdad after coalition forces drove him out of Afghanistan. From the Iraqi capital in 2002, Zarqawi -- along with some two dozen associates, al Qaeda members, and affiliates -- ran a poisons camp in northern Iraq, which became a safe haven for Ansar al-Islam as well as al Qaeda terrorists fleeing our coalition in Afghanistan. The Iraqi regime refused to turn over Zarqawi even when twice being provided with detailed information on his presence in Baghdad."
Cheney warned that more violence can be expected in Iraq in the coming days and weeks, but he said that "the day the terrorists dreaded has arrived:" the return of political power to Iraqis.
Iraq, he said, "now joins Afghanistan as a nation transformed from a state sponsor of terror to an ally in the war on terror. America is safer, and the world is more secure, because Iraq and Afghanistan are now partners in the struggle against terror, instead of sanctuaries for terrorist networks."