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Michael Kirk
Michael Kirk
Frontline Web site
PBS Web site
Live Online Special Coverage: Frontline
Post Special Coverage: America Attacked
Live Online Special Coverage: America Attacked
Kirk discussed "Target America" on Oct. 4. He also talked about "The Clinton Years" and "The Choice 2000" online.
Talk: National news message boards
Live Online Transcripts
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"Gunning For Saddam"
With Michael Kirk
Documentary filmmaker and producer, "Frontline"

Friday, Nov. 9, 2001; 11 a.m. EST

Powerful forces in the nation’s capitol believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is to blame for the acts of bioterrorism that Americans currently face, as well as many other terrorist acts during the last decade. Many are lobbying to mobilize a military operation to oust Hussein when the next phase of the war on terrorism kicks in.

Proponents of the plan, including former Clinton administration CIA director James Woolsey, contend Hussein was involved in the first World Trade Center bombing, the attempted assassination of President George H.W. Bush in 1993 and state sponsorship of terrorist activities. Foes of this plan say attacking Hussein will destabilize other nations in the region, most prominently Saudi Arabia, and destroy the carefully crafted coalition presently hunting for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. "Gunning For Saddam," airing on PBS Thursday, Nov. 8, at 9 p.m. EST, investigates America’s other enemy, Saddam Hussein.

Award-winning producer and documentary filmmaker Michael Kirk produced the program, and was be online to talk about the film and what he learned on Friday, Nov. 9.

Kirk, a former Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard, was Frontline’s senior producer from 1983 to 1987, and has produced more than 100 national television programs. His most recent Frontline production was "LAPD Blues," which examined corruption within the Los Angeles Police Department. Other films include "The Clinton Years," a week-long co-production with ABC News on the presidency of Bill Clinton that aired in January 2001; "The Choice 2000," comparing the lives, beliefs and experiences of Vice President Gore and then-Gov. George W. Bush; "The Killer at Thurston High," the first comprehensive TV profile of high school shooter Kip Kinkel; "The Navy Blues," a 1996 Emmy Award-winning look at the post-Tailhook Navy; and "Waco -- The Inside Story," a behind-the-scenes look at the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian compound that won the Peabody Award in 1995.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Phoenix, Ariz.: Dear Mr. Kirk;

I watched your program "Gunning for Saddam." I never got the answer as to why the U.S. did not remove Saddam from power or if we ever really wanted to. Also, some people interviewed on the program seemed to think Saddam will not or would not team up with radical Islamic terrorists. Do they have sound reasoning for this or are they just stupid? Is there any reason they wouldn't help each other?

Michael Kirk: The best answer we can piece together about what happened on that day that Colin Powell informed President George Bush that we had decisively defeated Saddam's forces in Kuwait is that Powell made a strong argument that no more American or Iraqi youngsters should die, that the U.N. resolution did not authorize the coalition to go any further than removing Saddam's forces from Kuwait.

Brent Scowcroft and James Baker both remember no dissent on their parts to that argument. Subsequently, it has been suggested that our Arab partners discouraged the president from removing Saddam and others remember discussions where the president believed humiliated and wounded Saddam Hussein would quickly be overthrown by his own people.

I don't know that they have sound reasoning. There is still no definitive proof that Saddam has teamed up with Al Qaeda and that is certainly the territory that other journalists and policy makers -- not to mention law enforcement agencies and intelligence organizations are pursuing right this minute.

Hua Hin, Thailand: Is this Saddam Hussein or his son? Independently, I believe his son is the one in contact with Al Qaeda. It's possible, although, there is a training camp south of Baghdad that Saddam knows about.

Michael Kirk: Our program last night revealed through the testimony of a recent Iraqi Intelligence general who defected that he saw Islamic militants being trained at Salman Pak -- a terrorist training camp on the outskirts of Baghdad. A separate defector also interviewed in our program revealed that at Salman Pak he saw small groups of Islamic fundamentalists being trained in hijacking methods on the fuselage of a Boeing 707 that is used for that purpose at the camp.

Both the Lieutenant General and the other defector acknowledged that Saddam and his son know of the existence of the camp.

Washington, D.C.: Great program last night! Can you comment on the theory that Saddam as a secular leader who has survived many threats will not risk further confrontation with the U.S. in order to preserve his own security? In other words, he has yet to be defeated and has gained some measure of comfort to which he has grown accustomed and doesn't want to risk losing it. In that respect, is Saddam manageable?

Michael Kirk: That is one side of the arguments currently being made to the President about whether he should take action against Saddam Hussein. One of the counter-arguments is that Saddam Hussein has said for the last 10 years that he has always been at war America.

Billings, Mont.: Given that Saddam Hussein does provide a certain stability in the Middle East, and given that the U.S. assisted in his rise to power, how then can we maintain that stability if he is removed from power?

Michael Kirk: Yes, this too is one of the powerful counterarguments to removing Saddam Hussein. That is, that a power vacuum would be created and it's better to dance with the devil you know. The other side of this argument made forcefully in our program last night by Richard Perle is that we either take out Saddam or we wait and hope the enemy chooses not to take it out on us. If we wait, it will be his choice and not ours.

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Khidhir Hamza appears to be living the Horatio Alger life. He spends his early years in the dubious profession of making weapons of mass destruction for Satan's ambassador on earth. Decides it's time to cash in on his knowledge and moves to the west. He then writes an important book and has a day job being feted and listened to by our nation's catch-up political types. Is this the current U.S. policy of containing Saddam by offering the life of Britney Spears to any of his weapons makers? If I were president, Hamza wouldn't be on the lecture circuit, he'd be in a federal cell block. Thanks much.

Michael Kirk: While all that you say may be true and is clearly heartfelt, Mr. Hamza on programs like ours provides important and informative testimony that furthers our intent to help inform the American people about complicated and critical policy choices. So regardless of who he is or where he's from -- or even perhaps what he's done -- there is, in my mind, some measure of value to his being able to speak freely in a free country.

Wellington, New Zealand: How do you think the U.S.'s bombing of Afghanistan and ongoing persecution of Iraq will help answer the question, "Why is there such anger directed against the U.S. in many parts of the world?"

Michael Kirk: It's a very complicated question. Way outside of my producer/reporter scope. But, Frontline two weeks ago made a program called "Looking for Answers" which at least partially addressed the question of why some people in the middle east find us such a worthy target for their anger and hatred. So, I'd refer you to the Frontline Web site, where you can explore writings and the material from that program. There's a partial answer to that question there.

washingtonpost.com: We also had a discussion about "Looking for Answers" two weeks ago. Click under the photo for more information.

Philadelphia, Pa.: Great film -- Frontline is the best news program on television, in my opinion. Were there anecdotes or pieces of information that you really wanted to include in "Gunning for Saddam" but couldn't, due to time constraints or other restrictions? While the Web site at PBS affords plenty of space for the full text of interviews, perhaps you'd like to submit your own opinion about Iraq's possible involvement in the anthrax attack? Thank you.

Michael Kirk: My personal opinion is unimportant. The section of the film I'm most sorry we didn't include is a number of interviews about Iraq after Saddam. Could democracy work? Who would lead? Would it be a partitioned country? Would there be three Iraqs -- Kurds in the north, someone in Baghdad and the Shia in the south? Or any combination thereof. It's the most secular society in that part of the Arab world and therefore the most problematic to some other nations there. I really wish we could have provided that information, but television -- even serious documentary television -- suffers from the tyranny of time.

Annandale, Va.: Assuming Saddam Hussein dies a natural death, do you think his son would become the new Iraqi dictator? Does he have the backing of the army? Is it true Hussein Jr. is an even worse bully than his father?

Michael Kirk: It is my impression that if Saddam Hussein were to die, Iraq would be a country very much in political turmoil. If Saddam's son were to seize power he would need to be at least as brutal as everyone says he is.

Pittsburgh, Pa.: I watched the program last evening and have the following comments:

The program contains a number of errors. Firstly, you say Mohammed Atta met with two Iraqi diplomats in Prague. Do you not know that the Czech authorities now deny that they have knowledge of such a meeting? You take it as gospel that Saddam Hussein planned an assassination attempt against former President George H. Bush in 1993 on a visit to Kuwait. Do you not know that there is no evidence to substantiate such allegations? In the program, Richard Butler seemed totally incredible. He talked of Saddam Hussein being "addicted" to biological weapons of mass destruction. He says he chooses the word with great care, etc., but waffles on in totally incomprehensible garbage showing he didn't even understand what addiction means.

Overall I do not think the program was balanced. It might have been named "Get Gunning for Saddam Hussein" since it was doing the legwork for Pearle, Woolsey and Butler. Maybe you were just flying a kite but no doubt the global war crowd will be happy. And the Commander in Chief will be able to point to Frontline when he wades in and say, "Look even Frontline proved Saddam is implicated." The CIA, etc., didn't have the evidence but Frontline got it. You will have a lot of blood on your hands if and as the war is globalized by the hawks. Not a word in the program about where Saddam got his biological weapons of mass destruction and for what purpose. Am I not correct is saying that they were supplied by U.S. for use against the Iranians in that conflict?

Michael Kirk: Part one -- you're wrong about Mohammed Atta not having met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in the spring of 2001. He did. The Czechs confirmed it two weeks ago today in a press conference. Check the New York Times, THe Post, any newspaper. Also, we reported he met with one. One meeting with one official.

The proof that's available about the assassination attempt is confirmed by both the CIA and the FBI forensics teams that the bomb placed in the Toyota Landcruiser in Kuwait was Al Mukahabaret design -- the Iraqi intelligence agency. Also, as we showed in our program last night, the President of the U.S., Bill Clinton, believed the Iraqis were responsible and bombed the Mukahabaret headquarters with cruise missiles.

The goal of the program was to state for the audience the bill of particulars against Saddam Hussein as argued by members of the United States government -- current and former. It was also our intention to indicate those elements of the bill of particulars that are not conclusive all as part of an effort to underscore the current debate in Washington about whether the President would need conclusive evidence or just an accretion of evidence to declare war on Saddam Hussein.

As to Richard Butler and his definition of addiction, Mr. Butler is a considerable authority on these matters. That's his position. It's unassailable. It's his definition, not mine.

Reston, Va.: The Sept. 11 attacks on America are but a symptom of what I perceive to be the real problem in the Middle East -- an ideology that separates many Arab countries from the rest of the world. Are we, western world nations, overlooking something central to Islam that would help provide an answer and possible solution, if only partial, to this discord? We MUST find ways to live in peace -- one nation with another. Any other alternative is unthinkable.

Michael Kirk: I agree. Wouldn't that be nice. What happened Sept. 11 kind of takes reason off the table.

San Antonio, Tex.: Your piece last night referred to opposing schools of thought regarding whether and when to remove Saddam. I recall that Rumsfeld is a key figure in advocating prompt action against Iraq, but who else in the present administration?

Can you name the individuals who oppose action, those who favor it but want it postponed (until what occasion, and for what reason)?

And where does the president stand between these two groups? Do you think he is merely influenced by them, or does he have a known strong conviction of his own?

Michael Kirk: I can't get in the president's head. I don't know what he thinks. I know that while the debate exists between some at the Defense Department including Paul Wolfowitz and members of the defense policy review board -- like Perl and Kissinger and former secretaries Brown and Schlesinger -- there are forces equally potent led by Sec. of State Powell and his deputy Richard Haas. Consensus seems to have emerged that this is a phased war on terror and phase one is exclusively aimed at bin Laden and the Taliban.

Honolulu, Hawaii: Isn't all this talk about getting Saddam Hussein just a hold-over from the first Bush administration -- settling of old scores?

Michael Kirk: It might be.

Except this new and disturbing evidence of Iraq's overtures to bin Laden. Mr. Hijazi's -- former head of Iraqi intelligence -- meeting with bin Laden in 1998. Mr. Atta's meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in the spring of 2001. and the new statements by defectors that Islamic militants were being trained to take over airplanes on a 707 fuselage in a training camp just south of Baghdad as recently as last year and the apparent ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein make this a very real and very current subject to some members of the government.

Sparta, N.J.: Excellent show last night!

Why hasn't the Israeli Mossad assassinated Saddam? Is he that hard to track down? It seems he does come out for public appearances from time to time.

I thought they would have done it by now as they probably would like to retaliate for Saddam shooting scud missiles at them during the Persian Gulf War.

Michael Kirk: Saddam is very hard to kill. He almost never stays in the same place two nights in a row. He has a food taster. He wears kevlar inside his hats -- a bullet proof vest and no one is sure how many Saddam Husseins there really are. The most public event that Saddam engaged in recently was a reenactment of his famous swim to safety across the Tigres river (after his ill-fated attempt to assassinate the President of Iraq 40 years ago). The reenacted swim against the strong current of the river was successful. The crowd applauded. There was one hitch. The man swimming the river was Saddam's double.

We have information that in the last 10 years Saddam has continued to construct an elaborate tunnel system under Baghdad. Finding him much less killing him will be very hard indeed.

Erie, Pa.: Does his "former procurer" of nuclear weapons not fear for his life? He did speak rather openly.

How long before Saddam has his neguses -- 2005 was mentioned? What are we doing? Sitting and waiting?? Comments please. Your program was, as always, very insightful.

Michael Kirk: There seems to be with every defector I've come across... it's like a ratio of how much of them they will reveal on television in relation to how long they've been out and how high up they were. And I suppose that one can add the dash of personal courage or recklessness to the equation. The LTG we interviewed (a recent defector) would only allow us to photograph him from behind. He would not even wear a microphone. Would not allow us to use his name or even say where in the Middle East we interviewed him. Mr. Hamza, by now, seems more comfortable with appearing in public.

On our program, Mr. Hamza figured somewhere in the neighborhood of three to five years from now Saddam's scientists will have solved the nuclear core problems they're having. Making a device that would be stable enough -- he calls it hardened enough -- to move and therefore use. The CIA and every intelligence and law enforcement agency in the world are no doubt doing what they can -- whatever that may be to prevent Saddam being successful in this regard. Mr. Hamza says in the area of nuclear and biological weapons Saddam's problems are not material problems any longer. They are only expertise issues.

Somewhere, USA: There have been so many flip-flops concerning bombing Iraq or not that the only question worth asking is: Is there bonafide, certifiable proof that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the World Trade Center tragedy or the anthrax scare? Notwithstanding the Republican right's fixation with Saddam, we seem to be proceeding on pure speculation with regard to Iraqi involvement. Can you really pin down the proof for Iraq's guilt or are you just going to pile on the circumstantial evidence?

Michael Kirk: That's the very heart of the question that sits before the President of the U.S. about Saddam Hussein right now. The nature of the proof, conclusive evidence versus strong indications, it will inform whether we hold our allies in place. Will England, France and Russia stay with us if we act only on indications? What do the Arab partners need? Conclusive proof or indications? Can we go it alone based on indications?

That's why the presidency of the U.S. is the hardest job in the world.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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