Is Saddam alive?

Rumsfeld won't say, but some early reports suggest that the puffy-faced man in glasses on Iraqi TV was one of Hussein's many impostors -- and that the real one may be dead.

Published March 20, 2003 4:53PM (EST)

"The criminal junior Bush has committed the crime he has threatened Iraq and humanity with," Saddam Hussein said after American cruise missiles began hitting his country.

Or did he?

The individual who spoke in a videotaped appearance on Iraqi state television looked like Saddam Hussein. But he also looked a tad different -- with a puffier face, more gray in his hair. Using bulky reading glasses the actual Iraqi dictator does not sport very often, the man on the tape could have been Saddam Hussein after a long, sleepless night -- or someone else entirely.

Since Saddam is a man known to have several look-alikes, the videotape posed more questions than it answered, especially after the U.S. military launched its attack in Baghdad precisely because CIA director George Tenet had told President Bush that his agency thought it knew what the location of several senior Iraqi leaders, including Saddam Hussein, would be early Thursday morning.

"There's debate about that," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday morning when asked if it was indeed Saddam on the videotape. "I have no insight."

"We've reached no conclusions," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said earlier in the morning when asked the same question.

CBS News reported that several senior officials insisted that they had "reliable" intelligence placing Saddam in the bunker targeted Thursday morning, "and they are confident that the cruise missiles and bunker-busting bombs that were fired at that bunker last night hit the target." CBS News correspondent David Martin reported that "there is considerable belief in this government that they may, in fact, have gotten Saddam."

Using voice-recognition technology and "triangulating" face-matching computer technology that matches the distance between facial features, intelligence authorities are trying to make a final decision as to whether the man on the tape is indeed Saddam Hussein.

After an incriminating videotape of Osama bin Laden emerged in December 2001, many in the Arab and Muslim worlds alleged that the man on the tape was not actually bin Laden. "I think there is an Osama bin Laden look-alike," said the former head of Pakistani intelligence, Gen. Hamid Gul, to the BBC. "It is a sort of high-tech gimmick."

The administration vigorously denied that charge. "It is preposterous for anybody to think that this tape is doctored," Bush said around that time as he met with the prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, in the Oval Office. "That's just a feeble excuse to provide weak support for an incredibly evil man."

"Those who contend it's a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man," Bush said. "I mean, this is bin Laden unedited."

This tape is also likely authentic; it shows a man chanting "Allahu Akbar, God is great" and "long live Iraq and Palestine." Whether Saddam will live long -- or is even still doing so -- is as of Thursday morning unresolved.

By Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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