Saddam Chronicles

Posted: Nov 06, 2007 10:31 AM
Saddam Chronicles

"You've got to talk to George Piro," John Miller, the FBI's assistant director for public affairs, was telling Ronald Kessler over lunch at Brasserie Les Halles in downtown Washington as they discussed plans for Mr. Kessler's book "The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack."

"That'll be your best interview," Mr. Miller opined.

He should know. Before taking the FBI job, he was the popular anchor for ABC's "20/20," and one of the few journalists to have interviewed elusive terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

"Nobody's ever heard of Piro," Mr. Miller explained. "And if you ever mention his name in public, I'll have to have you killed," added the FBI assistant director, who coincidentally, like all G-men, was armed.

Mr. Miller explained that Mr. Piro is the Arabic-speaking FBI agent who was tasked with debriefing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein after his capture.

"For seven months, every single day, he interviewed Saddam," Mr. Miller revealed. "He spent every waking day with Saddam Hussein from the time he was captured to just about a year ago. It's like 'Tuesdays with Morrie.' Every day, you sit down with Saddam Hussein and say, 'Let's pick up where we left off yesterday.' "

Almost a year later, Mr. Kessler interviewed Mr. Piro for his new book, which hits stores next Tuesday.

"From Saddam's strategy during the 2003 invasion to why no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, Piro unraveled mysteries and provided insights about one of the greatest mass murderers of our time," says Mr. Kessler, who reveals that when it was time to say goodbye, Mr. Piro pulled out two Cuban Cohiba cigars, Saddam's favorite brand.

"We sat outside, smoked a couple of Cuban cigars, had some coffee and chatted," Mr. Piro told the author.

Then, the two men said their goodbyes in the traditional Arab manner: a handshake and then a kiss to the right cheek, a kiss to the left, and a kiss to the right again. That, says Mr. Kessler, made Mr. Piro a little uncomfortable.

As for Saddam, he apparently was shaken and became teary-eyed.

Art as answer

Saudi Arabian Ambassador Adel A. Al-Jubeir and Sotheby's CEO William F. Ruprecht will together host a black-tie reception at the royal embassy on Thursday evening to open a monthlong exhibit of 19th-century Middle Eastern art collected by San Francisco-area businessman Terence Garnett.

"I came to this collection over the last several years as I have always been drawn to the romance and historic glory of this geography as it was evolving during the 19th century," Mr. Garnett, of the venture buyout firm Garnett & Helfrich Capital, tells Inside the Beltway.

"Even more so now, part of my interest in this genre and in our exhibit in particular comes from the opportunity to raise public awareness and interest in the impressive cultural offerings born from the Middle East."

The collection includes such works as Ludwig Deutsch's "The Nubian Palace Guard" and "The Answer," and Jean Leon Gerome's "The First Kiss of the Sun" and "Prayer in the Desert."

Still senators

What do Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Barack Obama of Illinois, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut have in common?

Besides the fact that they all want to become the next Democratic president, each senator is about to receive a phone call, if they haven't already, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada saying they had better plan to abandon their almost nonstop campaigning of late and return to Washington to fulfill their Senate obligations.

"I hope we can work everything out. I don't think we can," Mr. Reid commented. "So I say, with all sincerity, I am going to call our presidential candidates and let them know they better look at their schedules, because these are not votes you can miss: defense appropriations; the first appropriations bill, Labor/HHS, with benefits for veterans tied into it, which we need to do before Veterans Day; the CR [continuing resolution], which funds our government; and whatever we decide to do with the bridge funds or the supplemental appropriations bill."

Nonpartisan TV

"C-SPAN is not what you'd call exciting TV, though some of the call-in shows do have their moments."

So President Bush observed yesterday before presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to C-SPAN president and CEO Brian Lamb.

Trying to retire

Happy birthday to former Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, whose 86th birthday in recent days was recognized by Congress.

As House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, noted in his congressional birthday salute, the outspoken and colorful Mr. Schaefer has embarked on his "second retirement," having come out of retirement in 1998 to be elected as the 32nd comptroller of Maryland, a position to which he was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2002.