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Retired Air Force Col. Reveals How The U.S. Orchestrated A Media and PSYOPS Campaign Following Saddam’s Capture

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Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner discusses how the Bush administration used the press to conduct psychological operations aimed at Iraqi resistance fighters in the days following Saddam Hussein’s capture. [includes transcript]

  • Col. Sam Gardiner, retired Air Force Colonel. He has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, AirWar College and Naval War College. He was recently a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College.

Read article by Sam Gardiner: “Revealed–Saddam’s Network or PSYOPS Campaign?”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to “Democracy Now!–The War and Peace Report.” I’m Amy Goodman. On the line with us from Doha, Qatar is Yvonne Ridley, freelance journalist and author, veteran journalist for a number of British publications, including The Observer, and The Independent. She wrote a piece in this past Sunday’s Sunday Express about a different version of how Saddam Hussein was captured. We are also joined by retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner. I want to ask you, Yvonne Ridley, about the other point you make, talking about intense, behind-the-scenes negotiations, brokered by Britain, seeing the former dictator, Saddam Hussein, jailed in Qatar, where you are, for the rest of his life. On what is this based?

YVONNE RIDLEY: Well, it’s no secret that the state of Qatar actually offered Saddam Hussein exile before the start of the war in the hopes of finding a peaceful solution. Iraq at the moment doesn’t have a government and it doesn’t have a legal system. So, you know, we’re talking about a trial that is some months away, possibly years, and unless it’s held in an international court. The problem being that if he isn’t executed, he will — you know, he will be imprisoned. And if he is imprisoned in Iraq, his continued presence there will be seen as a rallying point for his supporters. And it will — he will also be a constant target for those who want him dead, and there are many thousands who want him dead. The safest place, and the most diplomatic place to put him, would be in a Muslim country in the Middle East. And from a security point of view, Qatar provides the obvious option; and this is a deal that is being brokered–the British initiative being brokered at the highest level–to see, to explore the possibility of keeping him imprisoned in Qatar.

AMY GOODMAN: You also cite British intelligence sources for your story of how it was the Kurds, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (P.U.K.), who first found Saddam Hussein and handed him over to the U.S. forces. Who were you speaking to?

YVONNE RIDLEY: Well, I wasn’t just who I was speaking to, as to say, you just have to look at the first two wire reports, which came out from IRNA and Reuters and they both quoted the leader, Talibani, and the official spokesman of the P.U.K., as well. And when the news was broken to the President, it was broken by a Reuters journalist and he quoted P.U.K. sources. Now then, they were convinced — and there have been many false starts in the hunt for Saddam and, you know, the Kurds were 100% confident without DNA testing, without anything, and we know that Saddam had many doubles. But they knew that Saddam was in the hands of the Americans and, as I say, they still stand by announcing it to the world first.

AMY GOODMAN: We are speaking with Yvonne Ridley in Qatar, and we are also joined by Sam Gardiner, retired Air Force Colonel who has done a very interesting piece for that begins “We’re seeing an orchestrated media campaign by the administration and a psychological operation aimed at the insurgents in Iraq. The success of this campaign can be measured by recent articles in the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor. Colonel Sam Gardiner has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College at the Air War College and Naval War College, was recently a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College. Can you talk about just what you mean by these psychological operations? We welcome you back to “Democracy Now!” Colonel Sam Gardiner.

COLONEL GARDINER: Sure. What I’m talking about is what we have heard since the capture. And it is the threat that, (a) we found him with a lot of documents and, (b) that has resulted in breaking his network and revealing major portion of the leadership behind the insurgency. Essentially what I did is the same as I did during the prewar stuff and the war stuff. If you look at the way the statements were made, who made them, how they were made, it becomes clear -and, in fact, I even have gotten some sort of nods from people inside that this is a psychological operations. That they may have found a couple of people associated with the capture, or that came from the capture. But essentially they found Saddam Hussein. And this other stuff is part of the build-up to convince people that this is a change, and more importantly, to frighten the people in the insurgency that we have broken in on the inside and have lots of names. Probably not true. We may have names from other sources, but probably not from the capture of Saddam Hussein.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to March 22. It was right at the beginning of the U.S. invasion. We’ve just pulled up from the CBS news website: “8,000 Men, Iraqi Division Surrenders.” It says, “An entire division of the Iraqi army, numbering 8,000 soldiers, surrendered to coalition forces in southern Iraq Friday, Pentagon officials said. The move marked the largest single unit to surrender en masse. Iraq’s 51th Infantry Division surrendered as coalition forces advanced toward Basra, Iraq’s second largest city. The mechanized division had about 200 tanks before the war, according to independent analysts and U.S. officials.” And it goes on to say, “The surrender of the 51st removed a major obstacle to the U.S. and British goal of securing all of southern Iraq so forces could focus on the push to Baghdad.” The problem with the story is that it was not true.

COLONEL GARDINER: That’s exactly right. Not only did — it was announced by the British, too, who ended up fighting that same division for two weeks at Basra. Amy, it was a psychological operation, and it was meant to demoralize the rest of the military in Iraq. Now the problem with that is — in military operations, it’s always had the objective of military information, of demoralizing bad guys. What’s happened, however, is that public affairs and psychological operations emerged, so that democratic people, we as listeners to news, can’t tell whether or not we’re being given truth or whether we are part of a psychological operation aimed at the bad guys. The case of the 51st division, and there were numbers of others during the same kind during Gulf II, and in case of much of what we’ve heard in the post-Saddam capture, has been psychological operations, aimed at the bad guy, but giving us bad information.

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Gardiner, in your piece, “Revealed, Saddam’s Networks Were Psy-Ops Campaign.” you turn to the comments of President Bush on ABC News, of Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, as you lay out your case for why you believe this is a psychological operation against the resistances to demoralize them in Iraq. Can you specifically say what they each said?

COLONEL GARDINER: Well, let me do it in general and give you an indication of what makes me suspicious. First of all, after having done this and you watch their method of speech, when they are doing something of non-truth, they’re really very careful not to tell a non-truth directly. Their objective is to influence. All of the speakers, from the military, talked about what they got from the psychological operations, use the “I” word. As a result of this, I’m convinced we will have… As a result of the information, I am concluding that they were all very vague “I” words. In additions to that, probably the behavior and the words of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the biggest indication. When he was first asked about it, he sort of almost said: I have — you know, we probably will get some information, but not much. At the time that press conference was being given, he was interrupted by Lieutenant General Sanchez, who — I mean, it is bizarre in itself that his junior would interrupt him and say “no, we expect this to be” — I can’t remember the exact words — something like “a major intelligence insight.” But the first words out of the Chairman were not a big deal. Now on the Sunday news, he announced that we have captured hundreds of Iraqi insurgents as a result of this information we got when we captured Saddam Hussein. And the story just doesn’t follow from (a) the context, and (b), I mean, given Yvonne’s point and if you look at the capture instance, what I did was what I call both context and content analysis. The content suggests that it’s not true, also the context. This was not a command center for somebody who was running an insurgency. You know, there was no communications information for communication assets. It was just hard to imagine that this man was running an insurgency from that spider hole.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of Yvonne Ridley’s piece in the Sunday Express?

COLONEL GARDINER: Well, I think two things. One of them is that her intuition of not being told the whole truth is probably true. Secondly, some of the things she said I think I can confirm from what has been said and also from some military logic. First of all, going to that second point, we have seen and heard from individuals from the 4th Infantry Division. Now the 4th Infantry Division is there, was there, in the in a secondary role, compared to the unit that had the mission of going after high-value targets. Now we’ve heard about this sort of clouded unit, which is called Task Force 121. Task Force 121 is a special operations group that had the mission of finding Saddam Hussein. We’ve heard from the U.S. military, actually, that a special operations troop who opened the hole was on the verge of putting hand grenades in there. Special Operations. Wait, not 4th Infantry Division. We’ve not heard interviews with the people from the 121st who were the ones who probably did the mission. Why were the P.U.K. there, which Yvonne had eluded to? They were probably working with the 121st. So they very well could have been involved in that mission. They could have been advisers because certainly they would have had the language skills and intelligence capability that would have been helpful to the 121st. My guess is it was Task Force 121 that made the capture. They have subsequently faded into the background. Associated with them were people from P.U.K. Special Operation Forces and that’s the way the story got out. But I’m not sure I would go as far as she would to say that it was agreed that the P.U.K. were the ones that executed the operation.

AMY GOODMAN: Yvonne Ridley, your response?

YVONNE RIDLEY: Well, I didn’t say that the P.U.K. had led the operation. I said that they were there and took part in the operation. And, as I say, from Talibani’s own mouth, he named the person at the head of the operation. And I’m quite satisfied that the story that we were fed by Paul Bremer was not the true story and more details will emerge. And you just have to look back at the way the information started leaking out about the capture of Saddam and his disoriented state. I mean, those who know him best, one in particular his daughter, Raghad, she had given an interview with CNN, and she said that she was 100% convinced, her own words, that her father was drugged. She said “Anyone with insight could tell from the first instance that my father was not fully conscious.” And this is coming from someone who knows him, who’s lived with him, who’s had a close-up of what Saddam is like in private as well as in public. And she, herself, said that she is convinced that one of the people he relies on must have put something in his food because she knew that her father would never surrender. And when you look at the hole that he was held in, there were no mobile phone, no communications, as Sam said, this was hardly a center of a big nerve operation, organizing the insurgents.

AMY GOODMAN: What would the Kurds have to gain by capturing Saddam Hussein, and handing him over to the U.S. forces to get the glory for that capture? What would they negotiate?

YVONNE RIDLEY: Well, they didn’t seek the glory. They just couldn’t resist telling the world that Saddam had been captured. But my understanding is that they held on to him for awhile until they negotiated some political advantage to their situation in Iraq, which would be feasible because the Kurds have been betrayed horribly over the years, and they are skilled negotiators and I think that there was more than $25 million reward at stake here. I think that they wanted to secure their position, and I’m sure that they have put an advantageous political view, and obviously that will probably emerge over the coming months.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Jalal Talibani right now is in Moscow, and he has been talking to the leadership there about Russia getting oil contracts, other business contracts with Iraq. Sam Gardiner, before you go, you mentioned Task Force 121. It is not something that’s talked about very much. We recently had on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hirsch, talking about how a new special forces group, assembled to neutralize Iraqi resistance, is working with Israeli commandos to train in assassination and other tactics, comparable to the Phoenix Program in Vietnam. A key planner, Lieutenant General William Boykin, who declared Bush was not elected, but appointed by God. Can you comment further on Task Force 121, the unit that has been assembled from Army Delta Force members?

COLONEL GARDINER: Sure. And it may be other Special Operations forces, too. And it may include portions of the Kurdish Special Operations. It may have in it British Special Operations, too.

AMY GOODMAN: Also Navy Seals and CIA Paramilitary.

COLONEL GARDINER: Yes. And they were supported by Air Force assets. In fact, there is a lot of discussion I hear from news people in Washington that there is a major effort underway by this Task Force 121 that will be focused on–actually, let me use the words that are in the Special Operations manual–inflicting damage on designated individuals. The Seymour Hirsch article may be only a part of it. I’m hearing from press sources that the United States may be introducing a major campaign to do assassinations of mid-level people in the Baathist party who may be supporting operations and this assassination program may extend beyond Iraq. I think it is a very important thing that has gotten not enough press by what Seymour Hirsch revealed to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hirsch of the New Yorker. What do you mean “beyond Iraq?”

COLONEL GARDINER: Other countries.


COLONEL GARDINER: Like Afghanistan. Maybe — you know, we hear lots of places where we suspect that there are other individuals from the Al-Qaeda being held or being trained. Might include going into Iran. I’d include going into places like Somalia and Sudan, where we haven’t got total cooperation. May include going into the Becca valley. I’m told that big things are being planned.

COLONEL GARDINER: You’re a military man. What is your response to those who say, “Extreme times demand extreme measures?”

COLONEL GARDINER: I guess I would answer that two ways, Amy. First of all, you have to say that this is not a war. That’s one of the things that upsets me every time I hear it. The President can’t define a war. The war is declared by the Congress. So, in historical terms or in constitutional terms, we are not in a war. We are in a fight against criminal elements. A lot of which we have given to describing in political terms to incite things. There is also the part that when we begin to do things like this, like an assassination, if that’s what, in fact, we’re about to begin, we’re inflicting damage on designated individuals, we have become something that I don’t think we are. We have allowed this exaggeration to make us into something that I don’t think we want to be. So this is — let me quote Eisenhower who I think was right on that. If there’s one thing that we have to be about is the rule of law in international relations. What we are doing in many cases is clearly a violation of the rule of law, clearly a violation of the United States charter. And certainly it has some moral dimensions to it that we need to discuss publicly.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Colonel Sam Gardiner, thank you for being with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Retired Air Force Colonel has taught at the National War College, Air War College, and Naval War College. You are listening to “Democracy Now!”

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