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Profile: Scott Pelley

Scott Pelley was a participant or observer in the following events:

Saddam Hussein in US custody.Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Iraq under US Occupation

Interviewed by Scott Pelley on CBS’s “60 Minutes” shortly after the release of his new book At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet vigorously denies that the US has tortured detainees. During the following exchange, Tenet gets upset and points his finger at Pelley:
Tenet - The image that’s been portrayed is, we sat around the campfire and said, ‘Oh, boy, now we go get to torture people.’ Well, we don’t torture people. Let me say that again to you. We don’t torture people. Okay?”
Pelley - “Come on, George.”
Tenet - “We don’t torture people.”
Pelley - “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed?”
Tenet - “We don’t torture people.”
Pelley - “Water boarding?”
Tenet - “We do not—I don’t talk about techniques.”
Pelley - “It’s torture.”
Tenet - “And we don’t torture people. Now, listen to me. Now, listen to me. I want you to listen to me. The context is it’s post-9/11. I’ve got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are gonna be blown up, planes that are gonna fly into airports all over again.… Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through. The palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know. I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots.”
Pelley - “But what you’re essentially saying is some people need to be tortured.”
Tenet - “No, I did not say that. I did not say that.”
Pelley - “You’re telling me that… the enhanced interrogation…”
Tenet - “I did not say that. I did not say that. We do not tor… Listen to me. You’re, you’re making an assumption.”
Pelley - “You call it in the book, ‘enhanced interrogation.’”
Tenet - “Well, that’s what we call it.”
Pelley - “And that’s a euphemism.”
Tenet - “I’m not having a semantic debate with you. I’m telling you what I believe.”
Tenet also denies that anyone ever dies in the CIA’s interrogation program. He says he never personally witnessed any interrogations, but adds, “I understand what I was signing off on.” Asked if he’s lost sleep over the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Tenet replies, “Yeah, of course you do! Of course you lose sleep over it. You’re on new territory.” He says such techniques are necessary because “these are people that will never, ever, ever tell you a thing. These are people who know who’s responsible for the next terrorist attack. These are hardened people that would kill you and me 30 seconds after they got out of wherever they were being held and wouldn’t blink an eyelash.” [CBS News, 4/29/2007]

Entity Tags: Scott Pelley, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

President Obama tells CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley that he cannot guarantee Social Security recipients will get paid on August 3 if Congressional Republicans block the government from raising its debt ceiling by August 2. If the debt ceiling is not raised by that date, the US will go into default on the debt it owes to other nations. “I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue,” he says, “because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.” The Obama administration and a large number of economists and financial leaders have warned of economic catastrophe if America defaults on its debt (see May 20, 2011); many Congressional Republicans, led by the House Tea Party Caucus, have refused to consider the idea of raising the debt ceiling (see April 30, 2011 and June 26, 2011), and some even welcome the idea of a debt default. Many Republicans and Democrats are attempting to use the debt ceiling issue to work out a larger economic approach to long-term deficit reduction. Republicans want huge federal spending cuts, mostly from social safety-net programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, while Democrats want smaller spending cuts balanced by increased revenue through tax increases on the wealthy and the closing of corporate tax loopholes. Obama warns: “[T]his is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) states flatly that Congressional Republicans have no intention of attempting to work with Democrats or the Obama administration to balance the budget or reduce the deficit, saying, “After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is probably unattainable.” However, McConnell says Congressional Republicans would work to avoid default. “The president has presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors, tax hikes, or default,” McConnell says in remarks on the Senate floor. “Republicans choose none of the above. I had hoped to do good, but I refuse to do harm. So Republicans will choose a path that actually reflects the will of the people, which is to do the responsible thing and ensure that the government doesn’t default on its obligations.” Obama says he would refuse to sign a short-term debt ceiling increase, a tactic advocated by Republican strategists who want to bring the issue up again, and perhaps force another economic crisis, in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign. “This is the United States of America and, you know, we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments,” Obama tells reporters. “You know, we don’t risk US default on our obligations because we can’t put politics aside.” [CBS News, 7/12/2011; Daily Mail, 7/13/2011] The next day, McConnell offers an “alternative” debt ceiling plan which many see as fraught with political costs for Obama and Congressional Democrats (see July 13, 2011).

Entity Tags: Scott Pelley, Barack Obama, CBS News, Mitch McConnell, US Congress, US House of Representatives Tea Party Caucus

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

In an interview with CBS News’s Scott Pelley, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says that he got “98 percent” of what he wanted in a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House in the just-concluded debt ceiling extension legislation. Boehner says he and his House Republicans successfully blocked a comprehensive “grand bargain” with the Obama administration because, as he says, the “president was insisting on more taxes [and] never got serious about the kind of spending cuts that were necessary in order to get America back on a sound fiscal footing.” He tells Pelley that he “walked away” from Obama’s final proposal. “We had a lot of productive conversations, a lot of tense conversations,” Boehner says. “But it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be for higher taxes, and the president wasn’t going to cut spending as he should.… I told the president: ‘I’m not going there. I can’t do that.’” Boehner says that he has no intention at this time of ever supporting revenue increases of any sort, whether it be tax increases, closing of corporate tax loopholes, or other ways to bring more revenue into federal government; instead, he hopes that the future focus of Congressional debate “will be on reducing expenditures coming out of Washington.” Asked if Republicans would ever support tax increases, Boehner says: “I think that would be a stretch. It doesn’t seem likely to me that that would be recommended, much less supported, but I’ve been surprised before.” He concludes: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Sixty-six House Republicans voted against Boehner’s final plan, though it passed both chambers and was signed into law by Obama hours before the US would have defaulted on its debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deal cuts federal deficits by $2.1 trillion over 10 years while also raising the debt limit by an equal amount. The deal also creates a joint, bicameral committee of legislators charged with finding additional cuts. [CBS News, 8/1/2011; The Hill, 8/1/2011] Days later, Standard & Poor’s cuts the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). Republicans, including Boehner, will blame Obama for the legislation and the resulting credit reduction (see August 6-9, 2011).

Entity Tags: Standard & Poor’s, Congressional Budget Office, CBS News, John Boehner, Scott Pelley, US House of Representatives, US Senate, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Rick Santorum, campaigning in January 2012.Rick Santorum, campaigning in January 2012. [Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune]Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA), enjoying a surge of popularity among Iowa caucus voters, makes what many perceive as a racially biased attack on poor black Americans. At a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, Santorum points to African-Americans as being the major recipients of federal economic assistance, and tells a largely white audience that he does not want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” The federal social welfare system is being used to exploit its beneficiaries, Santorum says, according to a CBS News transcript, and adds: “It just keeps expanding—I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the Department of Public Welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program. They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.… I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Santorum’s original question was about reducing foreign influence on American culture. Asked about his statement by CBS reporter Scott Pelley, Santorum says he is not aware of the context of his remark, but says he recently watched the documentary Waiting for Superman, which examines American public schools. Apparently referring to his own statement, he says: “I’ve seen that quote, I haven’t seen the context in which that was made. Yesterday I talked for example about a movie called, um, what was it? ‘Waiting for Superman,’ which was about black children and so I don’t know whether it was in response and I was talking about that.” (The film depicts students from a variety of races, and does not focus on a particular racial group.) He adds: “Let me just say that no matter what, I want to make every lives [sic] better—I don’t want anybody—and if you look at what I’ve been saying, I’ve been pretty clear about my concern for dependency in this country and concern for people not being more dependent on our government, whatever their race or ethnicity is.” (Think Progress reporter Marie Diamond calls Santorum’s response “bizarre.”) CBS finds that 84 percent of Iowa’s welfare recipients are white; only 9 percent of Iowans on welfare are black. Nationally, 39 percent of welfare recipients are white, 37 percent black, and 17 percent Hispanic. The poverty statistics between the three races are heavily skewed, with 27.4 percent of blacks living in poverty, 26.6 percent of Hispanics, and 9.9 percent of whites. Diamond writes, “Santorum’s decision to single out black welfare recipients plays right into insulting—and inaccurate—stereotypes of the kind of people some voters might expect to want a ‘handout.’” [CBS News, 1/2/2012; Raw Story, 1/2/2012; Think Progress, 1/3/2012]
Appeal to Conservative Iowa Voters? - Raw Story’s Stephen C. Webster writes that Santorum may be trying to appeal to conservative Iowan voters with his thinly veiled racial attack. Ninety-one percent of Iowans are white. [Raw Story, 1/2/2012]
Santorum Claims He Said 'Blah,' Not 'Black' - Two days after making the remark, and one day after acknowledging to Pelley that he had intended to single out blacks in his statement, Santorum denies using the word “black” in his statement, and denies making any racial allusion. He tells CNN’s John King: “I’ve looked at that quote, in fact I looked at the video. In fact, I’m pretty confident I didn’t say black. I started to say is a word and then sort of changed and it sort of—blah—mumbled it and sort of changed my thought.” On Fox News, Santorum says: “I don’t single out on any group of people, that’s one thing I don’t do. I don’t divide people by group and race and class. I believe that in no people in this country. And I condemn all forms of racism. There’s no one that’s been out here working, as you know, in the inner city, and with people of all different races.” He says that the criticism over the remark is from “someone trying to cause trouble.” [Raw Story, 1/3/2012; Think Progress, 1/5/2012] Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey pins the blame on CBS for using the word “black” in its transcript of Santorum’s remarks. According to Morrissey’s interpretation of the video, Santorum said, stumbling over the key word, “I don’t want to make [pause] lives, people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” CBS “put words in [Santorum’s] mouth,” Morrissey accuses. [Ed Morrissey, 1/3/2012] Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher says there is room for doubt that Santorum used the word, and writes that Santorum said, “I don’t want to make… mmbligh… people’s lives better.” Christopher believes that Santorum may have intended to say the word “black,” but choked it off in mid-word. Christopher embeds a video clip from CBS in his article, and concludes, “The viewer can judge, but even as an LGBT-friendly liberal, I’m inclined to give Santorum the benefit of the doubt here.” [Mediaite, 1/3/2012] NPR also reported Santorum as using the word “black” in his comment. [National Public Radio, 1/3/2012] The National Urban League takes the stance that Santorum indeed singled out blacks for his criticism. NUL president Marc Morial accuses Santorum of pandering to racists in the GOP, and says: “Senator Santorum is perpetuating a thoroughly false and destructive racial stereotype in a desperate attempt to score political points. He is appealing to the lowest common denominator within the electorate and quite frankly should be ashamed of himself.… Social safety net programs serve families in dire circumstances from all walks of life. Many of those who now find themselves in need, whatever their ethnic background, are the very people who have contributed into these programs throughout their entire working lives. By falsely suggesting that people of color are a disproportionate drain on resources provided mainly by whites, Santorum deliberately fans the flames of racial divisiveness.” Morial notes that in 2005, Santorum admitted that he earned over $162,000 a year as a US senator and lived in a $643,361 home, but depended on his parents, retired federal employees, for financial assistance. Morial notes, “Most people receiving assistance are not earning six-figure salaries and living in a lavish suburban mansion.” [National Urban League, 1/3/2012] The NAACP’s Benjamin Jealous, appearing on a show hosted by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, later says that it is obvious Santorum did say “black people” and Santorum’s denials “defy logic.” Jealous says Santorum’s comments were “divisive, wrong, and based on stereotypes.” The vast majority of SNAP recipients are non-blacks, Jealous says, “and yet, when [Santorum] thinks public assistance, he thinks black, and that’s just unfortunate.” [MSNBC, 1/5/2012] Think Progress’s Alex Seitz-Wald will later write, “There’s ample video evidence suggesting that Santorum did, in fact, say ‘black,’ but Santorum’s denial is especially surprising considering that he seemed to acknowledge making the comments earlier yesterday.” [Think Progress, 1/5/2012] NewsOne’s Terrell Jermaine Starr later writes that it is obvious Santorum said “black,” and observes: “Rick Santorum must think we’re stuck on stupid.… [E]ven if he was referring to ‘blah people,’ from which demographic do they come? Is this racial category (if ‘blah people’ are a race at all) on the US Census?” [NewsOne, 1/5/2012] Santorum will later claim that he actually said the word “plives,” and not “black.” He will explain that he was briefly tongue-tied while trying to say “people’s lives,” and had no intention of saying “black people’s lives.” He will also claim that he has done more in black communities “than any Republican in recent memory.” [Think Progress, 1/10/2012]

Entity Tags: Marc H. Morial, CBS News, Ed Morrissey, Edward Andrew (“Ed”) Schultz, John King, Alex Seitz-Wald, Marie Diamond, Benjamin Jealous, Terrell Jermaine Starr, Tommy Christopher, National Public Radio, National Urban League, Stephen C. Webster, Scott Pelley, Rick Santorum

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

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