In Iraq, tonight, Saddam Hussein is alone, locked up, claiming he's on a hunger strike and in fact, on trial for his life. But ABC News has obtained secret audiotapes of Saddam while he was in power, as Iraq's ruthless dictator, talking freely with his closest aids. And he's talking, among other things, about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Without question these tapes will shed new light on the debate over the war and on Saddam's future. ABC's Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross is here with this exclusive report.
BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS
Officials tell us these tapes were recovered by the CIA in Baghdad and turned over to the FBI for translation. The freelance translator hired for the job happened to be a former member of a UN weapons inspection team in Iraq and says when he realized what was on the tape, he decided they were too important to keep secret. That's how we got them. And here they are, with English translation added.
The most dramatic moment on the 12 hours of tapes comes when Saddam, meeting in his palace with close aides in the mid-1990s, predicts a terrorist attack on the United States.
SADDAM HUSSEIN, FORMER IRAQI LEADER
Terrorism is coming.
He says he warned the Americans and the British.
That in the future, there will be terrorism with weapons of mass destruction. I told them, in the future, what would prevent a booby-trapped car causing a nuclear explosion in Washington or a germ one or a chemical one?
But then, he says, Iraq would never do such a thing.
This is coming. This story is coming. But not from Iraq.
Also at the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, who says Iraq was being wrongly accused of terrorism.
TARIQ AZIZ, FORMER DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ
It's so simple that any biologists can make a bottle of germs and drop it into a water tower and kill 100,000. This is not done by a state. No need to accuse a state. An individual can do it. Even an American in a house close to the White House.
BILL TIERNEY, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR
It was fascinating being a fly on the wall in these meetings where Saddam is letting his hair down, so to speak.
Our source for the tapes is Bill Tierney, who was part of a UN weapons inspection team in Iraq during the 1990s. He says the US government is wrong to keep these tapes and others secret from the public.
Because of my experience being in the inspections and being in the military, I knew the significance of these tapes when I heard them.
Most revealing on the tapes are the ongoing discussions about hiding details of Iraq's missiles and weapons of mass destruction programs from UN inspectors during the 1990s. Saddam expresses regret that he wasn't able to fire more Iraqi Russian-made Scud missiles at Israel before the war ended.
The situation is a pity. Had I known that the war would end, we would have found them on Israel's head.
On another tape, Saddam's son-in-law briefs Saddam on the Iraqi campaign of deceit aimed at fooling UN inspectors.
HUSSEIN KAMEL, SON-IN-LAW
We did not reveal all that we have. Not the type of weapons. Not the volume of the materials we imported. Not the volume of the production we told them about. Not the volume of news. None of this was correct.
And then, there's talk about how much to reveal about Iraq's nuclear weapons program.
As for the nuclear, sir, we say we have disclosed everything. But no. We have not declared problems in nuclear, as well.
Saddam and his aides debate whether to come clean.
Sir, I go back to the question of whether we should reveal everything or continue to be silent. Sir, since the meeting has taken this direction, I would say it is in our interest not to reveal.
CHARLES DUELFER, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR
The inspectors persisted. And this became a pattern of, you know, cheat and retreat, reveal a little, get a little.
Charles Duelfer was in charge of the US search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction after the war. Duelfer says the tapes show Saddam's fascination with such weapons and his extensive deceit but offer no new proof of whether such weapons are still hidden in Iraq.
No, they do not. What they do is support the conclusion in the report which we made in the last couple years, that the regime had the intention of building and rebuilding weapons of mass destruction when circumstances permitted.
In fact, Saddam's aides can be heard on the tape, telling him they stand ready to resume work.
No matter how much time passes, the factories are in our minds. The factories are there. As for time, it's not on their side. They cannot break our will, which gets stronger day after day. We are ready, sir, at your disposal. If you say resume activity in any specific area, we're here and prepared.
Saddam praises the efforts, saying it's important to keep the intellectual know-how alive.
With God's help, they will lose. They will lose the most-important thing. They lost the spiritual and human aspects. And God willing, you will win everything.
REPRESENTATIVE PETE HOEKSTRA, R-MI, CHAIRMAN OF THE HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE
It appears they are authentic. From reading some of the transcripts and those types of things, you would think that it's pretty likely there were WMD's that were hidden or moved out of the country.
Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
REPRESENTATIVE PETE HOEKSTRA
There are 35,000 more boxes of documents and tapes maybe very similar to what we've been looking at, that have never been translated, that have never been gone through.
Many of Saddam's recent public appearances in court show him ranting and raving. And before he was deposed, he cultivated a reputation as a feared tyrant. Yet, in these tapes, he's deferential to some of his aides and often seems to be the one seeking a calm and measured approach.
We have become more aware and more capable in our vision and in our faith.
Bill Tierney says he plans to make public all 12 hours of the Saddam tapes at a non-governmental meeting called the Intelligence Summit this weekend in Washington. It's run by a former federal prosecutor, John Loftus.
JOHN LOFTUS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR
This is a tape that is unclassified and available to the public. We just want to have it translated and let the tape speak for itself.
And these tapes will only serve to fuel the continuing debate about Saddam's true intentions and whether he, in fact, did hide weapons of mass destruction. There's enough in these tapes to help both sides bolster their arguments.