BLITZER: Despite that and the lack of decisive evidence tying Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, polls have shown that a large number of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was, in some way, connected to 9/11.
As the countdown continues to the June 30 handover in Iraq, the violence continuing as well. The Bush administration finding itself grappling with a growing terror threat also now in Saudi Arabia. Joining us now with his take on all these developments, the retired NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark. He is a former Democratic presidential candidate. He’s joining us from Little Rock. General Clark, thanks very much for joining us.
First of all, if you were president of the United States right now, what would you do if a videotape shows up showing this American being held, Paul Johnson, in Saudi Arabia and this demand from these terrorists saying you have 72 hours to start releasing prisoners in Saudi Arabia, otherwise, he’s dead. What do you do?
WESLEY CLARK (D), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We’ve been working for the last three years for Saudi Arabia to get a better grip on its own internal security. And I’m sure that there are people over there now from the FBI and from the Central Intelligence Agency trying to help the Saudis find the group. That’s the key. Find the group. No negotiations.
BLITZER: But you got 72 hours now. And clearly, finding that group in the next 72 hours or start to comply with the demands. That’s a very, very difficult conundrum.
CLARK: Well, I can’t imagine any American administration releasing terrorists in response to this kind of hostage taking.
BLITZER: So your policy would be you don’t negotiate with terrorists?
CLARK: Absolutely not.
BLITZER: That’s been the consistent U.S. policy. You would stick by it. What do you make of this other issue now before the president, handing over Saddam Hussein to the Iraqis after the June 30 of sovereignty?
CLARK: Well, frankly, I’m not sure I understand that issue. Saddam Hussein is going to be tried. He’s not going to be released. The government there has said they expect to bring him under trial. I’m not quite sure what we have here is a problem of physical security. In other words, how to keep Saddam Hussein from being assisted to escape, or whether it’s a problem that we don’t trust the interim Iraqi government to have the legal knowledge or the will to actually bring Saddam Hussein to trial. It’s not clear. This is a problem that suddenly has appeared that one would have thought it would have been discussed and covered long ago.
BLITZER: I think one of the problems is that, if you hand him over to the Iraqis, can you guarantee, let’s say, his safety? Maybe somebody will simply want to kill him before there is any trial.
CLARK: Well, you know, we’re handing the country back to the Iraqis. They’re supposed to have complete sovereignty. The securing of Saddam Hussein is far less difficult than trying to secure the country. Surely, in this vast country with all the people we’ve trained they can put together a team and find a location for Saddam Hussein, even if it involves asking a neighboring country to help secure Saddam Hussein.
BLITZER: The president and the vice president continue to insist there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. You heard that in the piece we just had on the air. What do you say?
CLARK: Well, we know from the evidence that’s been released that there were communications back 10, 12 years ago. We know, as far as we can tell, those communications never went anywhere. They never established a linkage to 9/11. And they never established a linkage in which Saddam Hussein was giving orders or taking orders or providing material support to al Qaeda. It wouldn’t surprise me if lots of intelligence agencies from lots of countries around the Middle East have talked to people especially in the early ’90s who were associated with al Qaeda.
That’s what intelligence agencies do. They locate people sometimes on the other side of the issue and figure out who they are and what they stand for and they maintain relationships with them as a way of protecting themselves. So I don’t think that I could make too much and I could not agree with the position that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have taken.
And I particularly couldn’t use it as a pretext to justify the invasion of Iraq. I think the record shows that the invasion of Iraq was a distraction from the war on terror.