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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Michael Weisskopf

Aired August 6, 2003 - 19:17   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So why is it so hard for coalition forces to find Saddam Hussein? Well, many Iraqis believe that the deposed dictator is actually getting help from black magic, or so says today's edition of the "Christian Science Monitor". "TIME" magazine senior correspondent, Michael Weisskopf, knows something about Saddam's cult leadings. Weisskopf returned from Iraq in May. He joins us tonight from our Washington bureau.
Michael, thanks for being with us. Good to see you. So I'd actually never heard any of this until I read this article in "Christian Science Monitor". I guess a lot of Iraqis believe that Saddam Hussein wore basically a magic stone around his neck that would actually ward off bullets. I mean, did you hear this kind of stuff when you were in Baghdad?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Not exactly. What I heard was that he consulted clairvoyants, and that this lent a great deal of power to his supernatural controls. The "Monitor" report was quite interesting. It talked about a stone he wears around his neck which would ward off incoming bullets and something he supposedly tested on the necks of a chicken and of a cow with great success.

All this, of course, lent a great deal of weight to the mythology around Saddam, and this is kind of typical of totalitarian regimes. It contributes to the tight control they're able to maintain over population, which runs on fear mostly.

COOPER: And, I mean, I've read some comments you made before that it's sort of interesting that there was such a sense of hopelessness in Iraq, that in a way, people were willing to buy into this notion of black magic or supernatural or cult powers in a way to justify it. Is that right?

WEISSKOPF: Well, it certainly helped justify their acquiesce that there was no way to go up against a man with voodoo-like strength. And of course, it also -- this kind of black magic appeared in some of his more bizarre forms of violence and terror -- helped to terrorize the community even more, tightening his control over it.

COOPER: I read in this "Christian Science Monitor" that Uday reportedly advertised for people with supernatural powers to come forward and work for the ruling family. It's fascinating. I mean, when you there were, how widespread is this sort of belief, or I mean, had a lots of people heard about this sort of alleged cult leanings?

WEISSKOPF: More outside of Baghdad, which itself is quite urbane and people dismiss a lot of superstition, but certainly the Bedouin culture, operating outside of the major cities, is much more open to this kind of witch craft. You'd see it mostly in the supernatural powers people attributed to Saddam, the idea the superman American would never be able to find him. He had the ability to evade, and essentially disappear and jump out of a hat if he needed to.

COOPER: Well, and as you point out, this is not the first time we've heard a story of a dictator, a totalitarian leader, being linked to the occult in some way. I mean, I remember stories about Manuel Noriega sort of, you know, talking to shamans and, you know, black magic experts, I guess they would call themselves. Also...

(CROSSTALK)

WEISSKOPF: The Duvaliers of Haiti.

COOPER: Right. Of course. And also Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire.

WEISSKOPF: Right. Yes. It lends the -- it underlines the sense of all consuming power. Omnipotence over people's lives and the fact that there's almost no hope in trying to buck it.

COOPER: Yes. We were looking at a picture there of Baby Doc Duvalier from Haiti. Michael Weisskopf, interesting. Thanks very much for being with us. From "TIME" magazine.

WEISSKOPF: Thank you.

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