Farewell to Scott Pelley, Who Once Asked the Worst Question Possible About the Iraq War

Scott Pelley, who is out at "CBS Evening News," wondered in 2008 why Saddam Hussein didn't just say he had no WMDs.

NEW YORK - MARCH 23: CBS  Evening News with Scott Pelley nears its fifth anniversary on air.  (Photo by John Paul Filo/CBS via Getty Images)
A portrait of Scott Pelley on the set of CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. Photo: John Paul Filo/CBS/Getty Images

Scott Pelley was ejected this week from the anchor chair at the “CBS Evening News,” thanks to the show’s poor ratings. But before we get too sad for him, it’s worth remembering that in 2008, Pelley, as a correspondent for “60 Minutes,” was responsible for one of the the most sadly funny pieces of retrospective journalism on the run-up to the Iraq War.

That January 24, Pelley interviewed George Piro, the FBI agent who had interrogated Saddam Hussein when he was captured after the March 2003 U.S. invasion. According to an article on CBS News’ website, this was one of Pelley’s key questions:

As the U.S. marched toward war and we began massing troops on his border, why didn’t he stop it then and say, “Look, I have no weapons of mass destruction.” I mean, how could he have wanted his country to be invaded?

So according to Pelley’s understanding of the run up to war, Saddam Hussein could have prevented war simply by speaking up and saying Iraq had no banned weapons. But for some inscrutable reason, he kept silent, thereby forcing the U.S. to invade.

Back on earth, anyone with a cursory interest in news and politics — which you might think would include a correspondent for “60 Minutes” — knew that the reality was exactly the opposite. By the time the George W. Bush administration came into office in 2001, Iraq had been screaming for a decade that it had complied with the relevant UN resolutions and surrendered all its so-called weapons of mass destruction. Then, in December 2002, Iraq made a “final and full” declaration about its WMD programs — which was excoriated by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell because it “brazenly … denies the existence of any prohibited weapons programs at all.”

But the real coup de grace was a February 26, 2003, televised statement by Saddam Hussein, less than a month before the U.S. invaded:

I believe that that noise and the fleets that have been brought around and the mobilization that’s been done were, in fact, done partly to cover the huge lie that was being waged against Iraq about chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

And it was on that basis that Iraq actually accepted Resolution [1441], accepted it, even though Iraq was absolutely certain that what it had said, what the Iraqi officials had kept saying, that Iraq was empty, was void of any such weapons, was the case. But Iraq accepted that resolution in order not to allow any misinterpretation of its position.

And, indeed, in order to make the case absolutely clear that Iraq was no longer in possession of any such weapons.

Yet somehow Pelley missed this — despite the fact it was broadcast on U.S. television, on the CBS network, on a show he may be familiar with called “60 Minutes.”

Top photo: A portrait of Scott Pelley on the set of “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.”

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