Interrogating Saddam: Former Iraqi leader not talking, seems to be enjoying the dialogue

Miner Photo/ MITCHELL BATSON Kingman High School South students, currently all ninth-graders, are seen here heading back to class after lunch break.

There is discussion in the school district about KHS South becoming another four-year high school in Kingman.

Principal Gary Blanton sought and got board approval to form a master committee to explore what must be done to add sophomore, junior and senior grades to the south campus, which presently houses only freshmen.

"We've done some cursory looking (at the idea of a four-year high school)," Blanton said.

"If the board feels it's not ready for this, we understand.

But we need room to grow."

The master committee will spend up to a year examining numerous issues, such as attendance boundaries, school mascots and names, and sharing of programs with the KHS North, which currently holds students in grades 10-12.

Both campuses would then be four-year schools with grades 9-12.

In response to a question from board member Jeri Short, Blanton said the south campus can hold up to 1,035 students as it now is configured and offer a variety of programs.

Current enrollment at south campus is about 660 students.

Blanton said he has received commitments from KHS North Principal Pat Mickelson and Mohave County School Superintendent Mike File to serve on the committee.

However, board member Mike Cobb said that it's important to also get the KHS North site council to go along with the idea.

Blanton said getting the site council's approval is part of the work that needs to be done along with a parental survey of the idea.

But, he added, school alumni and community members he has spoken with say a four-year school is a good idea.

Blanton said he would like to see the plan implemented for the 2005-2006 school year with the addition of a sophomore class.

One new class would be added every year.

Also Tuesday, Terry White, director of finance for the district, gave the board a budget-planning report for 2004-2005.

It indicates the district can expect $1.1 million less from the state next year, with a large part of the decline being the end of unification assistance money the district received for three years.

"We'd anticipated about 5 percent growth, but we're nothing near that," White said.

"On the 100th day this year, our student count was 6,870, and last year at the same time, it was 6,845, so we increased by only 25 students.

"We've had excessive absenteeism and will ask the state (Department of Education) for attendance exceptions to the point that we'll reach our projected growth figures," he said.

The tentative budget figure for 2004-2005 looks to be $29,825,056, White said, adding that the current amount is $30,941,010.

Because of the projected funding shortfall, principals at each building in the district have been told to eliminate one teaching assistant and one office staff member.

That will result in a savings of roughly $405,000, White said.

Other cuts being scrutinized include assistant principals, music, physical education, computer teachers, technology, certified library positions and counselors at elementary schools.

KUSD Superintendent Mike Ford also said that Jill Fuss, the principal at Hualapai Elementary School, will become director of speech services and K-6 curriculum for the district beginning in July.

"She'll be responsible for training speech aids and supervision of programs to ensure we offer services in a consistent and effective manner."

The next principal at Hualapai is expected to be someone already employed within the district, Ford said, but he did not say when that person will be named.WASHINGTON – He doesn't have a lawyer in the room, but Saddam Hussein apparently is practicing what most attorneys would advise: Don't talk.

Diplomatic and military officials say the former Iraqi leader has provided little useful information in interrogations so far – and may even be having fun.

The questioning of Saddam – initially handled by the CIA – is now a joint CIA-FBI operation, a sign that the aim is changing from finding intelligence to gathering evidence for any eventual trials.

The people who are asking the questions at the moment are from the FBI, said a U.S.

intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has indicated in interviews that interrogators aren't learning much from the former president of Iraq.

In a recent interview, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said he occasionally sees the interrogation briefing reports.

"(Saddam's a pretty wily guy, and he's not giving much information that I've seen.

But he seems to be enjoying the debate," Armitage told WPHT-AM radio in Philadelphia.

When Saddam was captured, haggard in an underground room in December, officials hoped the interrogation would yield details about the Iraqi insurgency, Saddam's weapons programs, human rights violations and corruption in the U.N.

oil-for-food program.

Instead, House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., now calls the questioning a "patience project.

He is very good at denial and deception.

I am not sure he even knows what the truth is anymore," Goss said.

"I think he's been surrounded by yes-men and sycophants."

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the FBI is assisting with "certain interrogations" in Iraq, as well as helping with investigations into killings there.

Mueller said the bureau is also working with documents obtained in Iraq.

Those most likely include Saddam's papers.

Vince Cannistraro, a former counterterrorism director for the CIA, said papers found with Saddam when he was captured have proved much more useful than anything he has said.

"Every thing that they have found and taken action on has come from documentation found on him," Cannistraro said.

A defense official would say only that Saddam was in good health at an undisclosed location.

Details of the interrogations could come out in any eventual trial of Saddam.

But the logistics – including the date – of any trial have yet to be settled.

On Sunday, Jacques Verges, a French lawyer who claims to be representing Saddam at his family's request, said he expects that a trial is still some time away.

Verges has not met with Saddam and is trying to act as his lawyer from afar, a U.S.

intelligence official said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross visited Saddam in jail for the first time in February.

The group does not release details of such visits or of a prisoner's confinement.

However, Saddam did write a letter to his family that was to be delivered once the United States confirmed it did not contain any hidden messages to his followers.

Verges did not discuss that letter.

A team of 50 Justice Department prosecutors, investigators and support staff has traveled to Iraq to help assemble a war-crimes case against Saddam and others in his former government.

But Justice officials take pains to say that the United States is there only to assist the Iraqis with advice on what their options for a trial might be.

The officials say they are helping the Iraqis to organize evidence and lay out possible charges, and aiding them in finding cooperating witnesses and key documents.

Verges said he believes the United States has violated the Geneva Conventions in its detention of Saddam, and said the world must wait for a trial to determine whether Saddam was guilty of wrongdoing.

"We know that Mr.

Bush has said he's guilty," Verges told Associated Press Television News.

"But what does that mean? Mr.

Bush is not a judge.

We cannot accept him as a judge.

He is an enemy of Saddam Hussein."

Associated Press Writer Curt Anderson contributed to this report.