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Saddam denies regime had banned weapons
( 2003-12-16 09:11) (Agencies)

Saddam Hussein has denied to his interrogators that his regime had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda, U.S. officials said Monday.

He has greeted his initial interrogation with a mix of sarcasm and defiance, the officials said, discussing the questioning only on the condition of anonymity. Some of his responses are regarded as an attempt to rationalize and justify his actions, the officials said.

Saddam has complied with simple commands to stand up and sit down, but officials said he has not provided much useful information on the guerrilla war or other matters.

He has also denied knowledge of the fate of Scott Speicher, the Navy fighter pilot who disappeared over Iraq during the first Gulf War. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Saddam denied taking any prisoners when asked about Speicher.

Saddam's denials match those of his regime before the most recent war. U.S. officials say the denials are expected, particularly in the early stages of an interrogation, before his interrogators establish a rapport with him.

His interrogation is taking place at an undisclosed location in Iraq.

U.S. intelligence and military officials say their first priority is to focus on the resistance and the whereabouts of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and other remaining senior regime officials and insurgent leaders.

But it is unclear how much knowledge he has of those matters. Intelligence officials say they believe he has been too concerned with survival to serve than much more than an inspiration to the resistance.

The initial questioning is a race against the clock, because his information grows more outdated by the hour, and other regime leaders and cells change locations or take other security precautions to avoid capture.

It is unclear what evidence, if any, troops uncovered of Saddam's possible operational control over the resistance. Officials announced they found no communications equipment, maps or other evidence of a guerrilla command center at Saddam's hiding place.

"I don't think Saddam had much to do with any kind of command and control," Roberts said. Attacks now are coming mostly from foreign jihadists and young terrorists who attack in name of nationalism, he said.

However, on Monday, a U.S. general said Saddam's capture is already providing intelligence that allowed U.S. soldiers to capture several key regime figures and uncover rebel cells in the capital.

The intelligence that led the military to the men came from interrogations stemming from Saddam's capture, and a briefcase of documents Saddam carried with him at the time of his arrest, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling.

Down the road, once Saddam is cooperative or broken, interrogators will try to answer the many unresolved questions about Iraq's efforts to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and ties to terrorists, officials said.

Thus far, the hunt has not come up with much that would validate the prewar assertions by Bush and the U.S. intelligence community that Saddam had such weapons ready to unleash on short notice.

Perhaps Saddam could point to a hidden stockpile of weapons, if any exist although none of his followers have done so.

His knowledge of Iraq's weapons programs may even be inaccurate. Some Iraqi scientists have said Saddam was misled by fearful minions into believing that Iraq's weapons programs were more advanced than they actually were.

The success of the interrogation depends on the skills and methods of the interrogators, who must divine aspects of Saddam's psychology and figure out the best way to keep him talking.

"They're going to use every interrogation method in the book, short of torture," said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief. "What are they going to get from him? He's not going to admit he has done all these horrible things. He's going to say he was firm and fair."

Interrogators might initially appeal to him simply by making him comfortable, Cannistraro said.

"The guy's been hiding out for eight months. He must be completely depressed. Look at the way the guy's living. He was in palaces. Now he's living in a hole."

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