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CNN LIVE TODAY

Joker's Wild: Al Sahaf Vanished When Baghdad Fell

Aired April 24, 2003 - 11:28   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Like his regime colleagues, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf pulled a vanishing act when Baghdad did fall, but we're learning more a lot more about this joker, if you will, by what he's left behind.
"Inside Edition's" Paul Boyd got a chance to go inside his Al Sahaf's office. He joins us now on the telephone from Amman, Jordan, to talk about just what he found inside.

Hello -- Paul.

PAUL BOYD, "INSIDE EDITION": Hi, Leon. How are you doing?

HARRIS: I'm amazed. Basically now from what I've been able to see in the video that we've got - we're going to roll some of it right now as we talk -- you got a chance to walk through the office of the minister of information. This guy has become quite a worldwide-known character.

Now, I want to know what you found inside that office.

BOYD: You know, Leon, we really didn't know what to expect when we went inside. You'll remember that this building was looted, it was set on fire. But as we started to walk through, you know, we saw all of these government papers littering the floor. And as we went through with our interpreter and started looking at some of them, we just were amazed by what we were finding. Our interpreter's eyes went really wide. He said, "This is the presidential seal." And, indeed, we had found some handwritten messages from Saddam Hussein.

HARRIS: What did they say? So your interpreter read these handwritten notes from Saddam?

BOYD: Yes, he read them. We had them verified and authenticated elsewhere later. But once we sat down and really analyzed them, we found a couple of different messages. The most significant message was written on March 20, 2003. Our interpreter says that the handwriting is rushed and almost scribbled, and it's basically Saddam Hussein saying, instructing his information minister to tell the people, the bombs missed me.

I think one of the quotes was, "The frivolous criminal Bush and his missiles didn't hit my house. God has protected us."

HARRIS: That's interesting, because that was after that first night, I believe March 19 was the date, that Wednesday night that those first missiles were launched when they decided to go ahead and execute that so-called decapitation strike there in Baghdad.

So his handwriting was verified to be that of Saddam Hussein's?

BOYD: It's been verified to be Saddam Hussein's. The signature matches up. The presidential seal matches up.

And some of the other letters that we found there, Leon, were just bizarre. Saddam, you know, in the months leading up to the war actually would write the information minister, Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf, and complain about what he saw on Iraqi TV. He even drew some diagrams, saying this looks like a Christian cross. You know, it should be taken off the air.

HARRIS: Really? Now, see, that would actually -- that would back up some of the statements that we've heard from other people saying that Saddam would not tolerate anybody giving him any bad news. And so, therefore, he didn't want any bad news coming his way. And if he's saying, therefore, that he's trying to shape what people are seeing there on Iraqi television that would sort of bear that out.

Do you get any indication at all -- could you see anything that Saeed Sahaf himself wrote? I really want to know what this guy might have scribbled down as he prepared his notes for briefing with reporters, because some of the things that came out of his mouth were just incredibly unbelievable.

BOYD: You know, it's interesting, Leon, I actually got to walk through CNN's Baghdad office that's been abandoned now in that building. It's actually been taken over by a family in need of shelter now. But we didn't find anything that actually was, you know, conclusively linked to Mohammed Sahaf himself, but plenty of letters, you know, initialed by Saddam in speeches that indicate, as you said, that they were really trying to shape the information that the Iraqi people were hearing, and it was ultimately misinformation.

HARRIS: Hey, Paul, we just saw moments ago in the video here this huge Saddam bust that was in the hallway out there, and there was something spray-painted on that. Do you know what that was?

BOYD: Yes, it actually on the bottom says "Traitor." It's written in Arabic, of course, and it was looted, and it was vandalized, and that's what that said.

HARRIS: Anything in there say anything about where this guy might have gone to, Saeed Sahaf?

BOYD: No indication as to where he went. I mean, we were all thinking that he was going to be the last guy there. He was the distraction that everyone would be hanging on to. But your guess is as good as ours. And, of course, everyone is trying to find him and the rest of the regime.

HARRIS: All right, Paul, is there anything in there indicate that he didn't believe what he was saying? Because, you know, we didn't believe what he was saying. But did you get a sense as you read through some of these notes that he's just writing this, saying there is no way in the world these people are going to believe this but I'm going to say it anyway.

BOYD: You know, it was amazing that he was able to say all that stuff with a straight face, wasn't it? I mean, there was no indication that this person was trying to back away from what he was being told. By all indications from, you know, what we've heard, if he didn't read what Saddam told him to say, he'd be out of a job. He'd be dead in all likelihood.

So, you know, this guy seemed to be able to deliver with a straight face, and I guess we'll see if he ever turns up, what he has to say about it.

HARRIS: Yes, you know, I'm sure mostly everything you ran across in there surprised you. But what I want to know is, your Iraqi interpreter, what did he se in there that may have just set him back the most?

BOYD: I think what really blew him away was that he was actually seeing Saddam Hussein's writing. You know, we all have to remember that these people were so removed from their president, they really were not allowed anywhere near any of his palaces, and certainly his handwriting. I mean, our interpreter's eyes, as I say, just went, you know, wide. And that's what blew his mind.

And, you know, we found some other documents that you may hear more about in the coming weeks, but those are still being analyzed. So you'll have to stay tuned for that, Leon.

HARRIS: You want to give us a tip-off on what some of that might be?

BOYD: No heads-up yet. But keep on watching "Inside Edition." Right there's the plug.

HARRIS: Oh, there you go. There you go. We had to get the savvy to interview this morning.

Paul Boyd -- nice going, Paul.

BOYD: Thank you.

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