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The Face of Death

Aired July 24, 2003 - 20:01   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says it was his decision to release the grisly photos of Saddam Hussein's dead sons. Today, people all over the world saw what the U.S. says are pictures of the battered, bloodied faces of Uday and Qusay Hussein.
Rumsfeld says that he hopes releasing the photos might help save U.S. lives by undercutting Iraqi resistance.

But, as senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports, for now, resistance seems to be running strong. We must warn you, a lot of what you're going to see here is graphic.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says it was not a snap decision to release these pictures of Saddam Hussein's dead sons. But after weighing their gruesome nature against the possible good they might do, Rumsfeld says it wasn't a close call.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I honestly believe that these two are particularly bad characters and that it's important for the Iraqi people to see them, to know they're gone, to know they're dead, and to know they're not coming back.

MCINTYRE: The photos show both brothers grew beards, apparently to alter their appearance. While some Iraqis question whether the bloated and scarred faces are really Uday and Qusay, the U.S. also released X-rays which it says shows injuries that match those Uday suffered in a 1996 assassination attempt.

The U.S. hopes the grisly images will dishearten the insurgents, dampen their recruiting efforts, and shake loose more leads in the hunt for Saddam Hussein. And while the U.S. has protested angrily when its enemies have displayed dead soldiers, such as in Somalia in 1993, Pentagon officials draws a distinction between dead soldiers and dead dictators.

RUMSFELD: I think that will save American lives and coalition lives and be a great benefit to the Iraqi people to be free of that. And I feel it was the right decision. And I'm glad I made it.

MCINTYRE: Meanwhile, the military's grim prediction that ambushes against U.S. troops might rise in the short term appears to have come true. Three soldiers were killed Thursday, two Wednesday.


MCINTYRE: In order to overcome the skepticism of the average Iraqi, the U.S. also granted the request of the new governing council to inspect the bodies firsthand. The hope is that Iraqis will believe what they hear from other Iraqis, even if they don't trust the United States -- Paula.

ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much.

Two days after the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the people of Tikrit are still taking a wait-and-see approach to the news. Perhaps that isn't so surprising, considering Tikrit is Saddam's hometown and still a Baathist stronghold.

Harris Whitbeck reports.


HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Deserted streets and shuttered businesses in what was once Tikrit's most prosperous suburbs. Ouja is the home of the Bejat tribe, the clan of Saddam Hussein.

On the day after Saddam's two older sons were killed, few people venture far from their homes. The residents of Ouja are, after all, related to them. "They are a part of us," said this woman. "They are a part of our lives. It is a life that we have lived together." The eerie silence is at times interrupted by young men who cruise the streets, eying outsiders with suspicion.

Questioned about the deaths of Uday and Qusay, this man says few will ever believe it. But, he adds, if they did die, they did so in an honorable way. "We would be proud of them," he says, "proud of the fact that they didn't surrender like cowards. They are martyrs and we are proud."

The men wait on empty streets or in shuttered houses to see how things will develop, wondering about the future of their once powerful tribe.

(on camera): Meanwhile, the U.S. military seems to have increased its activity in the area, using as its base one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces. While that has done nothing to improve relations with the tribe, it has brought along a series of successes for the coalition effort.

(voice-over): Colonel James Hickey (ph) is in charge of military operations in the area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've hauled in quite a bit of buried weaponry, buried out in the countryside against targets that have been given to us by locals, key individuals in a separate raid.

WHITBECK: The raids go on at all hours, helicopters floating above providing cover to troops on the ground. On this day, at least four men were taken from a house in Ouja, some of them bodyguards to high-ranking Baath Party members. The streets and houses of Ouja continue to interest U.S. forces, who wonder what else might be hidden within.

Harris Whitbeck, CNN, Ouja, Iraq.


ZAHN: And today, a man identified as a Saddam loyalist told Al- Arabia viewers that Saddam's sons were -- quote -- "martyrs."

Is revenge on the minds of many in that region?

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins us from Baghdad. And he will attempt to answer that question for us tonight.

How much is revenge is on the minds of some Iraqis, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, it seems to be on the minds of those at least who support the Baath Party, who support Saddam Hussein, who were opposed to the killing of Uday and Qusay.

Perhaps the vast majority of people, though, revenge is not on their minds. The sort of revenge they have had on their minds probably was the killing of Uday and Qusay. For most people here, they were two of the most feared people in Iraq. And while some people would have hoped perhaps they could have been brought to justice in a court, there are many people here that feel justice has already been meted out -- Paula.

ZAHN: You probably heard Jamie McIntyre report earlier this evening, when he talked about the deaths of yet three more American soldiers. And I'm just curious of what kind of change you've seen in the streets of Baghdad in terms of attitudes now that Saddam's two sons are dead.

ROBERTSON: It really has put a smile on some people's faces here. But is it going to make a substantial change to what most people here think?

Probably a slight difference. Most people are still incredibly disappointed on those issues we've heard about for so long: security. They still don't have security. For that reason, the United States, for many people here, needs to do a lot more than catch Uday and Qusay to make a substantial change in their lives. So perhaps, from that perspective, the atmosphere hasn't changed, but it does encourage people. They do see it as a step in the right direction.

Perhaps one of the things that's changing more around the country, if we look at all the different raids -- more raids in Mosul last night -- Harris reports on more raids in Tikrit -- what seems to be happening is, the places where Saddam Hussein could run and hide are slowly being gathered up by the coalition, as they track down people who would have been loyal to him. It seems that, slowly, the coalition perhaps is closing the net, giving the likes of Uday and Qusay and Saddam Hussein fewer and fewer places to go and hide, Paula. ZAHN: Nic Robertson, appreciate that update. Thanks so much.

We're going to look forward now. What if Saddam Hussein himself is located? Would a U.S. raid be any different now than it might have been just this past Monday?

I'm joined now by former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb.



ZAHN: Our pleasure to have you.

Also joining us tonight: retired Colonel Kristen Drach, who took part in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

Welcome to you as well.


ZAHN: Good evening

Larry, I'm going to start with you.

Obviously, a short-term victory for the coalition. What do you think will be the long-term impact of having killed the two sons, instead of having captured them?

KORB: Well, you certainly deny yourself some intelligence that you might have gotten. If you had been able to show them being captured, this would do away with any doubts that people have had about these photos, whether they've been doctored, for example.

It would have given the world and the Iraqi people a chance to see how horrible these people were. It would prevent them from becoming martyrs. And I think it would also have established the beginning of a rule of law in Iraq, because you could have brought them to trial and showed the Iraqi people, this is the way that you deal with criminals. You bring them to trial. You give them a chance to present their own case.

So I think, in the long term, had we been able to capture then alive, it would have been better for us and better for the Iraqi people.

ZAHN: Kristen, why don't you to respond to two of the major points Larry just made, the first one being that the coalition robbed itself of its ability to get intelligence from these two men. Do you buy that?

DRACH: Well, I think that there is probably going to be a lot of armchair kind of quarterbacking on that issue. But that commander on the ground, he's got a set of situation awareness. He's in a fog of war. He's got soldiers in harm's way. Just the fact that it took several hours to resolve this particular conflict on the ground means that they did try to do that. Is there a loss of intelligence? Perhaps. That's speculation.

I think the important thing is that there is no now heir apparent for a horrific regime and we saved American lives in the process. So it's a great day for Iraq. It's a great day for the United States.

ZAHN: And what about the second point Larry was making about that it might have enhanced a quicker restoration of the rule of law?

DRACH: I don't know. I think, where's Manuel Noriega right now? No one even thinks about that. So I'm not sure.

I think this is just speculation. I think that the military is doing a fabulous job. Even a surgical military operation like this one is still a blunt instrument. I think, when the dust settles, there will be so much relief. Yes, there may be a spike in retaliation, but I think, ultimately, when the dust settles and everyone realizes there is no heir apparent for this horrific regime, we may get back to a more stable environment even faster.

ZAHN: Larry, let's talk about the aftermath of this operation and if the coalition is successful in tracking down Saddam and he's alive, what impact this might have on strategy down the road, on how you take him out or how you capture him.

KORB: Well, again, if you can capture him alive without endangering your troops -- obviously, no one is second-guessing the commanders there. But you have to ask what your objective is.

If you can capture him alive, again, I think this will show the world how horrible he is, will bolster the case for the United States going in. And he may be even able to tell you what happened to those weapons of mass destruction, which was the whole basis for the war. So I think, if you have a choice, you should try and take them -- try and take them alive. I mean, what we did, according to "The Washington Post" account of this story, it lasted about three hours and we were firing TOW anti-tank missiles into the building.

If the rules of engagement might had been different, we might have been able to send tear gas in there or waited a little while longer. The colonel referred to Noriega. We waited several days until we got him, then put him on trial in the United States. And now I would say the situation in Panama is excellent.

ZAHN: Colonel, finally, tonight, how many American soldiers would you be willing to risk in a high-stakes operation like that?

DRACH: Well, again, I think you don't -- soldiers are willing to put themselves in harm's way and die for their country.

But the commander on the ground has a responsibility to preserve human life. It's like President Bush said. Whenever a human being dies, a whole universe disappears also. It would be great to take Saddam alive. And I hope he comes in alive. But if he has to come in dead, I think that the world will be in just as good a place.

ZAHN: Colonel Drach -- by the way, did we get your last name correctly?

DRACH: Yes. It's Drach.

ZAHN: All right, very good.

Lawrence Korb, yours is much easier to pronounce.

Thank you both for joining us tonight. Appreciate both of your perspectives.


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