CBS’s Pelley: ‘Tens of Thousands of Innocent Iraqis’ Killed During U.S. Occupation

Scott Pelley, CBS While interviewing Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward on Sunday’s 60 Minutes about his latest book on the Bush Administration’s handling of the Iraq war, The War Within, anchor Scott Pelley described how: "Another part of that story, according to Woodward, is the president's frustration with the attitude of the Iraqi people." Woodward explained: "He has a meeting at the Pentagon with a bunch of experts and he just said, 'I don't understand that the Iraqis are not appreciative of what we've done for them,' namely liberating them." Pelley then asked: "But tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis had been killed in the invasion and through the occupation. He didn't understand why they might be a little ungrateful about what had occurred to them?"

Woodward replied by skeptically explaining President Bush’s perspective: "His beacon is liberation. He thinks we've done this magnificent thing for them. I think he still holds to that position." Earlier in the interview, Pelley seemed to imply that Bush was almost bloodthirsty, wanting know how many enemy had been killed each day: "Mr. Bush told Woodward that he was frustrated with his commanders and asked for enemy body counts so he could keep score." Woodward described: "And this is Bush's concern that we're not going out and killing. In fact, [General George] Casey told one colleague privately that the president's view is almost reflective of ‘kill the bastards, kill the bastards, and that way we'll succeed.’"

Pelley also suggested that the president deceived the American people by not saying that the U.S. was losing the war prior to the troop surge: "Woodward reports that a secret study for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2006 concluded that the US was losing the war. But the president didn't give a hint of that in public." Pelley then asked Woodward: "Why do you think that the president didn't level with the American people in this dark period in this war?" Woodward replied: "Because he wanted it to work, did not want to deflate the morale of the troops. And there was political election coming up, the November 2006 congressional elections. It was a raw political calculation that if you tell the public or let it get out that they are reconsidering what they're doing, that they're acknowledging that it's not going well, all political hell would break loose."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00PM SEGMENT:

SCOTT PELLEY: A year and a half since the surge in Iraq. Violence is about as low as it's been since the invasion. The idea of throwing another 30,000 troops into Iraq was a desperate gamble in a dark time. And only now are we finding out just how much opposition there was to the surge among generals at the Pentagon and in Iraq. That's among the revelations in a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. 'The War Within' is Woodward's fourth insider account from the Bush White House. We sat down with Woodward for his first interview in advance of the book's release and we asked him about the war within the administration after the surge was proposed by civilians in the White House. When this idea of a surge makes its way across the Potomac River over to the Pentagon, what do the top generals think of it?

BOB WOODWARD: They think it won't work, and the president actually at one point goes and meets with them, and the Army chief of staff, General Schoomaker, says, 'You can't add five brigades. It will take many more. What about another crisis? We don't have troops for this. What about the damage you're doing to the force, the young kids, who see nothing but endless rotations?'

PELLEY: What does General Casey, sitting in Baghdad, think of having additional troops?

WOODWARD: He thinks that Baghdad is a troop sump, a place you just -- you can put endless numbers of troops in. And he does not want to add force.

PELLEY: The president, who has said in public endless times that he relies on his generals to tell him what they need, is actually going his own way here.

WOODWARD: That's right. The records of the Joint Chiefs show that the idea of five brigades came from the White House, not from anybody except the White House.

PELLEY: 'The War Within,' published by CBS owned Simon & Schuster, tracks the growing alarm inside the White House in 2006 as US casualties mounted during Iraq's plunge towards civil war. The book is based on more than 150 interviews, including recorded conversations with the president. Mr. Bush told Woodward that he was frustrated with his commanders and asked for enemy body counts so he could keep score.

GEORGE W. BUSH: I asked that on occasion to find out whether or not we're fighting back, because the perception is that our guys are dying and they're not, because we don't put out numbers. We don't have -- we don't have a tally. On the other hand, if I'm sitting here watching the casualties come in, I'd at least like to know whether or not our soldiers are fighting.

WOODWARD: It gets so intense that in one of the secure video conferences between Washington and Baghdad, the president says to Casey, 'George, we're not playing for a tie.' And Casey's knuckles, according to witnesses, literally go white as he's gripping the table, and he says, 'No, Mr. President, we are not playing for a tie.' And this is Bush's concern that we're not going out and killing. In fact, Casey told one colleague privately that the president's view is almost reflective of 'kill the bastards, kill the bastards, and that way we'll succeed.'

PELLEY: You've obtained a number of documents, classified secret, that the president was receiving in this period of time. What was the president hearing about what was going on in Iraq?

WOODWARD: On July 20th, the top secret special compartmented information report that went directly to him quotes from an intelligence report saying violence is so out of hand, so extensive, that it is self-sustaining.

PELLEY: Woodward reports that a secret study for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2006 concluded that the US was losing the war. But the president didn't give a hint of that in public.

BUSH: Absolutely, we're winning. We're winning and we will win unless we leave before the job is done.

PELLEY: Why do you think that the president didn't level with the American people in this dark period in this war?

WOODWARD: Because he wanted it to work, did not want to deflate the morale of the troops. And there was political election coming up, the November 2006 congressional elections. It was a raw political calculation that if you tell the public or let it get out that they are reconsidering what they're doing, that they're acknowledging that it's not going well, all political hell would break loose.

PELLEY: At the time, top military advisers were urging the president to reduce US forces so Iraqis would do more of the fighting. But the president asked his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, to work on a different strategy, and three weeks after the '06 election, Mr. Bush was moving toward a fateful decision. The president traveled to Amman, Jordan, to meet with Prime Minister Maliki, and behind closed doors, he said what to him?

WOODWARD: He said, 'I am prepared to send tens of thousands of more troops here, and I need your cooperation, I need your endorsement of this idea.' Al-Maliki's a little resistant but eventually they hammer home and get Maliki to go on board with this.

PELLEY: So the president has told Maliki there's going to be a surge of thousands of troops. Has the president told General Casey, his top man in Baghdad, that?

WOODWARD: No. No. The military is kind of on the outside of this because they are adhering to the strategy of drawing down.

PELLEY: The president decided the new strategy needed a new team. He replaced many in the military leadership. Woodward reports that even the influence of Vice President Cheney diminished sharply.

WOODWARD: When the president decides to replace or fire Rumsfeld, he doesn't consult Cheney.

PELLEY: He doesn't ask him at all?

WOODWARD: He calls him in privately after meeting a day or two before the announcement that Rumsfeld is going to be replaced, and he says, 'I'm replacing Rumsfeld.' Cheney's surprised, and says, 'With whom?' He says, 'With Bob Gates.' And Cheney's pretty open and says, 'Well, I disagree, but it's obviously your call.'

PELLEY: The president also replaced General Casey. The new general in charge of Iraq was David Petraeus, an early advocate of the surge. Woodward says that in a private meeting in the Oval Office, the president told Petraeus he was sending in nearly 30,000 additional troops.

WOODWARD: He says, 'You know, we're committing these five brigades. It's double-down,' using a gambler's term.

PELLEY: The president says that to Petraeus?

WOODWARD: And Petraeus says, 'No, Mr. President, it's not double-down, it's all in.'

PELLEY: Playing the new hand, Petraeus created small bases throughout Baghdad, put troops on patrol in neighborhoods and largely calmed the streets. In western Iraq in Anbar province, the heart of the insurgency, Sunni tribal leaders tired of al-Qaeda started coming over to the American side. But beyond all of that, Woodward reports for the first time that there is a secret behind the success of the surge, a sophisticated and lethal special operations program.

WOODWARD: This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target and kill leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs.

PELLEY: What are we talking about here? It's some kind of surveillance, some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you're looking for, the leadership of the enemy?

WOODWARD: I'd love to go through the details but I'm not going to.

PELLEY: The details, Woodward says, would compromise the program. For a reporter, you don't allow much.

WOODWARD: Well, no, it's not -- I -- it's with reluctance. From what I know about it, it's one of those things that go back to any war, World War I, World War II, the role of the tank and the airplane, and it is the stuff of which military novels are written.

PELLEY: Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?

WOODWARD: Yeah. If you were an al-Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in Iraq or one of these renegade militias and you knew about what they were able to do, you'd get your ass out of town.

PELLEY: There's another revelation in your book about US intelligence, and that is just how closely we are watching the Iraqi prime minister, supposedly our ally, Nouri al-Maliki.

WOODWARD: There is significant surveillance of Maliki. And as one source told me, `We know everything he says.' And others I've talked to about that say, 'You can't literally know everything, but we know a great deal.'

PELLEY: Is there any indication that Maliki knows that we're watching him that closely?

WOODWARD: Some people think that he should know and that he might know. Others think he's going to be shocked.

PELLEY: Well, he knows now.

WOODWARD: It's part of the hidden story here.

PELLEY: Another part of that story, according to Woodward, is the president's frustration with the attitude of the Iraqi people.

WOODWARD: He has a meeting at the Pentagon with a bunch of experts and he just said, 'I don't understand that the Iraqis are not appreciative of what we've done for them,' namely liberating them.

PELLEY: But tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis had been killed in the invasion and through the occupation. He didn't understand why they might be a little ungrateful about what had occurred to them?

WOODWARD: His beacon is liberation. He thinks we've done this magnificent thing for them. I think he still holds to that position.

PELLEY: The president suggests to you in your interview that he believes he's already outmaneuvered whoever the next president is, foreclosed their options on what to do about Iraq.

WOODWARD: He and the Secretary of Defense Gates both, by appointing Petraeus as central commander, other words, the boss of the whole Middle East, and no matter who becomes president, they're not going to be able to replace him. Petraeus is what my old boss at The Post used to call 'fireproof.' He's done so well that he can't be fired. There is some satisfaction people in the Bush administration take with that.

PELLEY: Satisfaction because they believe General Petraeus will resist a quick withdrawal from Iraq.

WOODWARD: General Petraeus is sitting with 140,000 troops in Iraq now when conditions are definitely better. But Petraeus says it's still reversible and fragile because so many bad things have happened.

PELLEY: You know, I'm curious, did you ask the president what advice he would give to the next president about the war?

WOODWARD: Yes, and pressed on what is the essence of what you would say, he said, 'Don't let it fail.'

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC