CNN LARRY KING LIVE
American POWs Rescued in Iraq
Aired April 13, 2003 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: Tonight, freedom for seven American prisoners of war. After three weeks in Iraqi captivity, five members of the 507th Maintenance Company and two Army Apache chopper pilots are heading home.
We'll hear family reaction to this very happy news.
Plus, released POWs can end up on an emotional roller coaster. We'll get unique perspective from three military men who survived Iraqi captivity during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting tonight from Doha, Qatar, sitting in for Larry King.
Welcome to our special LARRY KING LIVE.
I want to begin with Mary Pickering first of all. She's joining us now from Farmington, New Mexico. Mary is the mother of newly freed POW Private First Class Patrick Miller.
Mary, where were you when you heard about this very, very good news?
MARY PICKERING, FREED POW PATRICK MILLER'S MOTHER: I was sitting in front of the TV, and saw his picture on the TV. And...
BLITZER: Did someone tell you to be watching? Did somebody tell you to watch television, or was this coincidental?
PICKERING: No, my daughter and one of my friends called me earlier this morning, and so I was down here watching to see what came across.
BLITZER: Had somebody tipped them off that maybe there was some good news in the works, or had they just heard the news reports on television?
PICKERING: No, some of the news media in Wichita called them and told them that some Americans had been found.
BLITZER: And that's when you decided to watch television. So you were watching television. And walk us through what happened when you saw the pictures.
PICKERING: Well, when I saw his picture, my husband and I were sitting here, and I -- my heart just kind of, you know, fell down on my chest, and tears of joy just started running down my cheeks. And I told my husband, There he is, there he is! And he was crying as much as I was.
BLITZER: How did he look when you saw your son?
PICKERING: He looked good. He looked a little weary, but -- and...
BLITZER: Were you -- Were you surprised?
PICKERING: Was I surprised it was them?
BLITZER: Were you surprised how good he looked?
PICKERING: Yes, I was, because after Jessica Lynch, I was a little worried that, you know, what they might be going through.
BLITZER: Your son was a member of that 507th Maintenance Company. Talk a little bit about these past three weeks. It must have been a roller coaster ride for you as well. You were hopeful, then not so hopeful. What have you -- what emotions did you go through during these three weeks?
PICKERING: Well, as you said, like, when we first found out, you know, it took a couple of days to really soak in that it was him. And so we just did a lot of praying, had a lot of support from family members and people I work with and friends.
And then last weekend, when we got the news about the other POWs, it was kind of a hard weekend, because, you know, after seeing Jessica, like I aid, it was -- made you wonder, well, is that what they're having to go through?
And -- but I never gave up hope. I knew he'd come home. He's got a strong will, and so that's -- that carried him through, I know.
BLITZER: I know, Mary, one of the low points for many of the families was when the U.S. troops went into that prison where they thought those POWs might be, and instead of finding any POWs, they just found a couple of uniforms with their names on them. They were bloodied, they were dirty.
That was, for many of these families, a low point. I assume you knew about that particularly sad incident.
PICKERING: Actually, I didn't see a lot of that. I was at a facility that I work at, and so I didn't know a lot about that until the next day when I talked to my daughter-in-law. And at that time, I think they'd already decided that it -- you know, that they were OK, that -- but I'm not sure, because I did not see all of that.
BLITZER: Mary Pickering, I know I speak for everyone when I tell you how happy we are, and congratulations to you. Has anyone told you when you'll actually be able to give your son a hug?
PICKERING: Not yet. Jeff has talked with him, but nobody's told us yet when we get to go see him yet for sure.
BLITZER: Did he tell you where he is, where he's heading next?
PICKERING: No, he did not. I'm not sure he knows where (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
BLITZER: Mary Pickering, congratulations to -- Well, I'm sure he's going to be thoroughly debriefed, have a complete physical checkup. They'll make sure that he's ready to go, but they'll probably do that rather quickly, so he could be reunited with you and the other people who love him so much.
Mary Pickering, she's the mother of Private First Class Patrick Miller with the 507th Maintenance Company, a newly released POW.
Anecita Hudson is also a mother of one of those POWs. She's joining us now from New Mexico.
Your son, Specialist Joseph Hudson, also a member of the 507th Maintenance. Anecita, talk a little bit about the emotions you went through beginning this morning.
Anecita, can you hear me?
I think we're having some troubles with Anecita Hudson.
All right, let's fix that little technical problem. We're going to continue our discussion with the relatives, the families of these seven POWs. We're going to take a quick break.
Here's how President Bush responded when he heard the good news earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all those who've been praying for their safety that they are safe. We still have missing in action in Iraq. We will continue to look for them. We pray that they too will be safe and free one of these days. But it's just a good way to start off the morning, to have been notified that seven of our fellow Americans are going to be home here pretty soon in the arms of their loved ones.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer, sitting in for Larry. I'm in Doha, Qatar, tonight. That's the home of the U.S. Central Command, at least during this war in Iraq.
We're talking with family members. Some of those seven POWs who were freed earlier today in Iraq.
Anecita Hudson is joining us now from New Mexico. She's the mother of newly freed POW Specialist Joseph Hudson, another member of the 507th Maintenance Company.
Talk a little bit about your emotions early this morning, very early, Anecita, when you first heard that your son was a free man.
ANECITA HUDSON, FREED POW JOSEPH HUDSON'S MOTHER: Yes, I was really exciting that I hope one of the seven was my Joseph. And I was really get confused first, because I cannot recognize the picture. So and then later on, you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) saying that, you know, seven POWs, and that black girl, so it kind of really (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about that one of them is my Joseph.
BLITZER: So at what time -- I think what you're suggesting is, you saw the pictures on television, but you weren't really sure that your son was there. When did you realize, when did you get that hard confirmation, a phone call from the Army, for example, telling you that, yes, your son is alive and well?
HUDSON: Yes, sir, I had the phone call from the Army in Fort Bliss, and he was saying that, Don't worry, Mrs. Hudson, your son is safe, and he's all right. And that's why I really know that Joseph is one of the seven that got found of the POW.
BLITZER: At what -- and when did you finally get a chance to speak with Joseph?
HUDSON: I didn't get to speak with Joseph yet. I believe he's going to call me somewhere around either tonight or tomorrow. But he already talked to my daughter-in-law, his wife, and it seems like he's all right.
BLITZER: He's all right. Did he have any injuries, as far as you know?
HUDSON: Yes, sir, the wife told me that Joe is wounded.
BLITZER: Anecita Hudson, we want to congratulate you, congratulate your whole family. This is an exciting moment, obviously, for you, indeed, it's an exciting moment for the entire country. We're happy that Specialist Joseph Hudson, your son, a former POW, is no longer a POW. He'll be reunited with you very, very soon.
Let's talk to some individuals who've gone through similar experiences. Lieutenant Colonel Dale Storr was a POW during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, spent 33 days as a POW, and Major Joseph Small also was shot down over central Kuwait 1991, spent some time, nine days, I believe, in Iraqi captivity.
Colonel Storr, first of you. What can these seven newly released POWs, what can they expect in the short term, given what they've gone through over the past three weeks?
LT. COL. DALE STORR (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE, POW 33 in GULF WAR: Well, obviously, they're going to get a great welcome home. They have a lot of adjusting to do.
But thankfully, we have a lot of troops in place, a lot of teams, if you will, a lot of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, lot of people that are specially trained to deal with these individuals. They're very sensitive to what they've gone through, and they are there to help them. They will be with them 24 hours a day if they need to be, and they are there to assist in their recovery back to freedom.
BLITZER: What advice, your immediate advice do you have for these released POWs and their families?
STORR: Boy, take all the time you need, spend as much time as you can with your family and your friends. You don't need to talk about it right away. But if you want to, go ahead. Don't force anything out of these guys. Take your time. Spend time with your family and friends. You know, one day at a time. And welcome home. And enjoy freedom again.
BLITZER: Major Small, you went through the similar kind of experience during the first Gulf War. Should they talk about it, or should they just try to forget about it and move on with their lives?
MAJ. JOSEPH SMALL (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS, POW NINE DAYS IN GULF WAR: Well, Wolf, that's kind of a loaded question. First of all, I want to congratulate the families and share their joy at this end. And also congratulations to those young soldiers. I think they did their duty, and they did it with honor. They returned home with honor.
As far as talking about it or suppressing it in your own mind, that's something you never can do. You're going to have that with you the rest of your life. It's how you place it in its proper perspective as time goes on. Time will heal. Some of the traumatic events will kind of get put in their proper place. But it never really goes away.
BLITZER: Let me bring in Colonel David Eberly, U.S. Air Force, retired, as well. He also is a former POW to the first Gulf War, held 43 days. That's a long time. And each one of those days probably seemed a lot more like a year, Colonel Eberly.
What do you suggest that these POWs, the seven freed today, should be thinking about doing, should be doing, over the next brief period of time?
COL. DAVID EBERLY (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE, MOST SENIOR RANKING U.S. GULF WAR POW: Wolf, good evening. And first let me just briefly echo President Bush's comments about there were a lot of answered prayers across our country today. Certainly this is another great day to be an American. And I want to add my welcome home to those seven who have just arrived, or who are going to be back in free America very soon.
I would echo some of the comments of Joe and Dale, and that is that while the physical scars will be there for a while, the emotional scars will never go away. We have to give these men and this woman plenty of space. There is no sense to rush to try to get five seconds of an interview with them. You have to realize that for the past 21 days, they have lived on the edge of terror. They -- with every approaching footstep has been the prospect for death. And now, having been probably in isolation for some 21 days or so, we don't want to rush. We certainly want to put our arms around them, give them a big hug, and say, Welcome home. But we need to give them some space.
BLITZER: Obviously that's very important. You have a book that you recounted your experiences, Colonel Eberly, called "Faith Beyond Belief," a powerful read by all accounts. But the military, I'm sure, would like to spend some quality time with these seven POWs debriefing them, while it's still fresh in their memory, getting as much information as they possibly can.
That might be good for the military. It might not necessarily be in the short term very good for the POWs. How do you balance that kind of pressure, if you will?
EBERLY: That's a good point, Wolf. And what we have to be concerned about here is, I guess, friendly fire. When Joe and Dale and I and the others returned home, we spent a week in the hospital at the major service hospitals in D.C., and most of that time was undergoing physical examination, some repairs to the bodies that we carried out there.
But also there were intelligence debriefings, maybe two or three hours a day. And that is just as important for those who are continuing the fight and for those who may find themselves in that situation again.
So again, as Dale said, certainly they have to balance their time. But people have to be aware that these men and women have been through something that is -- has changed their lives forever.
BLITZER: Major Small, I assume you agree with Colonel Eberly.
SMALL: I certainly do. The intelligence debriefings are not interrogations, though. It's not something to be dreaded. It's information that is needed, again, to continue the present fight, but more importantly, as in anything else in the military, lessons learned from this conflict could quite possibly help in future conflicts.
That's been the history of the whole American POW experience. So the most important thing is physical and psychological healing. The psychological will take longer. I agree totally with what Colonel Eberly said about giving them some space and some private time to rebond with their families and their comrades and then move on with their lives at their own pace.
But there's one thing, I hate to steal your thunder, Colonel Eberly...
Well, go ahead.
SMALL: I was going to say, I hate to steal Colonel Eberly's thunder, but when we arrived back at Andrews Air Force Base, he said something that stuck with me for 12 years. His words were, "Those who waited also served." And I think the same considerations that we need to give the individual prisoners, we also need to give the families some time and some space to rebond with their loved ones.
BLITZER: Let me bring in Colonel Storr as well. I assume you want to weigh in on this whole issue of the military's requirement, if you will, their pressure to try to debrief these seven POWs. They may have seen something, they may have heard something that could be critical as far as the continuation of this war is concerned, but maybe for future wars down the road.
What advice do you have?
STORR: Well, all's I can say is how I was treated. The guys who debriefed me were very sensitive to what I had been through. I never felt pressured. In giving intelligence information, I didn't have a problem talking about that at all. I don't think any of us did.
There's some personal things that are difficult to talk about, but I never felt pressured by my military debriefers to discuss any of that, really. So I think the guys that are going to be trying to get information out of the -- out of our former prisoners of war are obviously very sensitive to that. And I don't think they're going to pressure them into discussing that in any way.
So I -- they're -- I think they're going to do all right.
BLITZER: When you talk about personal information, you mean some of the humiliation they may have gone through as POWs?
STORR: Sure, some of the torture, the humiliation, some of the failings that you think you may have felt while you're being interrogated, you know, maybe giving more information or not resisting to the max extent possible. We all did that, we all felt that. But you rebound from it, and you recover, and you keep on going.
Those are difficult things to admit, and we all do it, it happens to every single one of us, I think. And they will overcome that. They'll get used to that. They will recover and adjust with that. But that's not something that you want to tell everybody, you know, as soon as you get home.
But the tactical information, I think they'll be -- it's a lot easier to discuss that.
BLITZER: Colonel Eberly, are they just supposed to give their name, rank, and serial number and if asked other questions, they're supposed to keep their mouths shut, even though they know they could be tortured?
EBERLY: Wolf, I think what we -- one of the lessons we learned from the debrief of the Vietnam POWs was that if you may remember, you may have heard some of the stories that when a POW was returned to his cell in Vietnam, the first thing that the other prisoners did was went up and gave him a hug and said, I forgive you. The age of name, rank, and serial number is certainly an important thing to remember. However, there are other ways to continue the fight and take that fight to the enemy. And I think that each of us continued to fight the best we could, whether it be through interrogations, whether it might have been through false information or whatever.
I think one of the things to take away from today, and it was certainly a great way to start a Palm Sunday here in the United States, was the pictures that after these men and women began to show up on TV, the pictures of the families.
And one of the things I think we have to remember here is that while we are welcoming home our warriors, going to war is a team effort. And those moms and dads, certainly those spouses, were there through the median of real live TV, and those of you who are courageously on the battlefield today as embedded newspeople, the families went to war, and going to war is a team effort today.
BLITZER: Speaking about moms and dads, let's bring in two parents right now, Ron Young, Sr., Kaye Young, their daughter Kelly, there are the mother, the father, the sister of the newly freed POW Chief Warrant Officer Ron Young, Jr. He's one of those two Apache helicopter pilots.
Ron Young, Sr., you're hearing this discussion unfold. But let's go back to this morning, when you first heard that your son was OK. What went through your mind?
RON YOUNG, SR., FREED POW RONALD YOUNG'S FATHER: Well, naturally, I was real happy to see that he was OK, and, you know, at first we weren't sure whether it was MIAs or POWs or what or how many they had, you know, whether it was six or seven. And it kind of bounced back and forth.
But once we saw a picture of him, we knew it was him, and we were elated.
BLITZER: Kaye, I assume you immediately started to cry.
Kaye, can you hear me?
KAYE YOUNG, FREED POW RONALD YOUNG'S MOTHER: Yes.
BLITZER: I guess Kaye's having trouble.
(UNINTELLIGIBLE), let me bring back Ron Young, Sr. Your immediate (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reaction, Ron, was, had you been expecting this? Were you surprised/ Did you let yourself get your hopes overly elevated?
RON YOUNG: Well, I kept myself up for this, for the most part. And both of us did. We kept, you know, feeling uppermost that he was going to be all right, and everything was going to turn out OK. But then you have those dark moments, and you wonder about what could possibly take place and things like that. And so, you know, as we went through this thing, of course, we -- you know, it unfolded to the best possible situation, scenario, that we could possibly hope for. And of course we are just absolutely, absolutely happy as we can possibly be.
KAYE YOUNG: We are. We are so happy...
KAYE YOUNG: ... that...
BLITZER: ... I wonder if you could, if you, you could -- Go ahead, Kaye.
Go ahead, Kaye. Can you hear me?
KAYE YOUNG: Go ahead with what you're saying. Oh, I'm sorry.
When we heard that Ron was OK, that was probably the happiest moment of our lives. We just felt like our prayers had been answered, and half of the nation's. And I just can't tell you how elated we were.
Ron called today, and he talked with us. And that was probably one of the happiest moments of my life. He wanted to know how we were doing, and he said he couldn't wait to see us, he loved us, and that he missed us. And he said that he was well. He lost about 20 pounds. And he just sounded like the same old Ron, he sounded upbeat, he sounded happy and excited.
BLITZER: Kelly, tell us a little bit about your brother.
KELLY LIVELY, FREED POW RON YOUNG'S SISTER: I think that Ron is just an all-American guy. I think that anybody who meets him is just amazed at his humor and his disposition. And I think that he is well liked by everyone.
BLITZER: Were you confident he was going to get through this from the day, the first day?
LIVELY: I'm sorry, I missed that.
BLITZER: Were you confident from day one that your brother would come home OK?
LIVELY: Yes, I think our family has been completely confident the whole time. And just -- the prayers of everybody have lifted us beyond measure.
BLITZER: Have you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Ron, Ron Young, Sr., when you spoke with your son, did he say what his immediate plans were going to be after he spent some time, obviously, with his family? Does he want to go back? Does he want to go fly those Apache helicopters very soon? Or is he ready for a break?
RON YOUNG: Well, you know, he didn't make any mention of the fact of what he wanted to do later on. He did say that he -- right now, he's kind of -- you know, they're taking care of him. He was in good spirits and all like that. But he had no immediate plans for the future. I guess what we'll do is just wait till he comes home and see, you know, whatever it is that he wants to do.
And, of course, we'll support him in what whatever (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
BLITZER: Did you get a sense, did you get a sense when he was coming home? Did you get a sense when he's coming home?
RON YOUNG: No, not really. We know that he's supposed to -- he was -- there's a couple of different stories floating around. I think when he comes back, he's going to be coming back to Walter Reed Army Hospital, and we're supposed to fly up there and meet with him then. And far as him coming home, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
BLITZER: That's an excellent hospital...
RON YOUNG: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) time after that.
BLITZER: ... and -- Did he sustain serious injuries, as far as you know?
RON YOUNG: No, he looked like he didn't sustain any injuries at all. He was smiling coming off of there, and he's walking real good. I don't believe he sustained any kind of injuries. I believe he was taken care of all right.
BLITZER: Kaye, did your son look like he lost 20 pounds?
LIVELY: Did your son look like he lost 20 pounds?
KAYE YOUNG: Well, when we first saw him, he -- his face looked thin. And we thought he had lost weight. I had no idea it was 20 pounds. But, you know, he's pretty much all muscle. So that's a good bit of weight to lose for him.
BLITZER: Kelly, did your brother always want to serve in the military? Did he always want to be a Apache helicopter pilot?
LIVELY: I don't know that he always wanted to serve in the military, but he has always wanted to fly. That's been a childhood dream of his.
BLITZER: All right, Ron Young Sr., Kaye Young, and Kelly, the Young family, very, very happy, and for good reason. Your son and your brother, Ron Young, Jr., chief warrant officer, Apache helicopter pilot, is going to be coming home very soon. Congratulations to all of you as well.
We have much more coming, much more coverage of all of these dramatic developments coming up on this special LARRY KING LIVE. We're going to get to all of that. But first let's check all the late-breaking developments right now.
BLITZER: Welcome back to this special LARRY KING LIVE. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Doha, Qatar.
Joining me now, four reporters with unique insight into the war in Iraq.
In Baghdad, first of all, CNN's Nic Robertson. He's CNN's senior international correspondent. Also in Baghdad, James Bays. He's an ITN correspondent.
Joining us from Abu Dhabi, Jasim Al-Azzawi. He's the anchor and executive producer for Abu Dhabi television. He's joining us from the set of Abu Dhabi TV.
And here in Doha, Qatar, Michael Weisskopf, senior correspondent for "TIME" magazine.
Nic, let me begin with you. And give us the latest -- what's happening at the Palestine Hotel because, earlier, a couple hours ago, there were some serious gunshots, some firefight that was unfolding only meters away from where you are right now. What's the latest?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right now, Wolf, it's quiet. It's been that way for a few hours.
That firefight started when snipers took some potshots at the Marines providing security around here. They returned with -- they returned fire with heavy machine guns. There were two really extended bursts they were firing into some -- close to some buildings, about a hundred meters away, a hundred yards away, from the Palestine Hotel.
A little after that, three people were arrested by the Marines, brought into the Palestine Hotel for questioning. It's not clear if they were the snipers. They may have been security at a neighboring building. But, certainly, they've been called in for questioning.
It is relatively quiet now, but this has been symptomatic of what the Marines and the Army are facing at their posts around Baghdad. That is people will occasionally take potshots at them.
And we saw, as we drove around the capital yesterday, there are people out there with Kalashnikovs, some providing security for their homes, and some perhaps still remnants of the old regime -- Wolf.
BLITZER: James, how dangerous is it to be a reporter at the Palestine Hotel trying to cover this story in Baghdad right now?
JAMES BAYS, ITN FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: I think it is pretty dangerous. You saw the firefight Nic was talking about last night. We've had suicide bombings close to the gates of the hotel as well.
In general terms, as you go south from the Palestine Hotel, that's the area that the Marines probably have the security situation best under control. As you go further north, the situation is much more volatile.
The Marines have been making some progress, I think, in the last 24 hours. We've seen them out on patrol. We've seen them out on foot. And, for the first time in the last 24 hours, we've seen some helicopter patrols in the city as well.
BLITZER: Jasim, you have a few reporters in Baghdad. Elsewhere in Iraq, we've been getting some excellent footage, some excellent information from Abu Dhabi Television, as all international news organizations have been doing, especially television news organizations.
What are you hearing from your reporters on the ground? The looting. The violence in Baghdad, elsewhere. Is it easing up a bit? Is it getting better?
JASIM AL-AZZAWI, ABU DHABI TV ANCHOR: Not really. It's still sporadic. It's all over the capital and certain parts of the country, especially Kirkuk and Mosul. Still there is some fighting. There are some snipings. There is the element of fear, of fragmentation in certain aspects of the country, especially in Najaf.
We heard about four or five days ago, an Iraqi cleric who lived in London for many, many years, as soon as he arrived, he was stabbed to death among -- with other bodyguards. There is the expulsion order by a certain Shiite, I guess. Another cleric -- he -- they're asking him to leave.
We have reporters in Baghdad, about five of them, and they are telling us that, at night, it is extremely, very, very unsafe, and the Marines there are trying to the best of their abilities to cool things down to make everybody aware that this thing, if it gets out of hand, it will be even more dangerous than the bombing itself. But it's not getting any better.
BLITZER: Michael Weisskopf's here with me in Doha, Qatar.
Michael, you've been covering the Central Command, General Franks now for some time here in this important Central Command temporary headquarters.
That assassination of that Shiite cleric in the southern part of Iraq -- that was a significant development. Here was someone who had been in London, encouraged by the U.S. to come back, anti-Saddam Hussein. He comes back, he tries to help the United States deal with the post-Saddam era, and, in the words of the Sopranos, he's whacked.
What happened? Why did the Central Command allow that to happen?
MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, "TIME" SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Of course, the Central Command only has limited affect on the population, does not want to appear as a new oppressor.
What's happened is the effervescence of a society, which has been released from a great deal of depression -- I mean of repression over the years. What's instructive here, Wolf, is Iran, a neighboring country, after Ayatollah Khomeini came in and created more ferment in that society, once the Shah left -- what you had is months and months of communal and religious fighting, very difficult, and a big, strong measure of the difficulty the United States is going to have in consolidating this society and beginning the process of reconstruction.
BLITZER: Let me bring back Nic Robertson, our man in Baghdad.
Nic, is the situation improving? General Franks -- when I spoke with him earlier today, he thought the looting was going down slowly but surely and that, indeed, within a few days, it would be over in Baghdad, just as it's ended in Basra, which is the second-largest city in Iraq.
ROBERTSON: Wolf, I think the pace has perhaps slowed, but it seems to have slowed because there's less and less to loot. We...
ROBERTSON: ... today, and there were still people going into all the buildings that they've been going into before. We were at the police academy, people going in, looting there. We were at the ministry of information, people going in there. We were at the television station. There were people going in there. The ministry of planning.
What they're bringing out perhaps are lower-value items, but they're still there. That -- the anarchy that allows it to happen, the chaos and the free-for-all, and the lack of law and order that allows looting to happen still exists. That hasn't changed yet.
It may have subsided in some neighborhoods where vigilantes, if you will, are putting up their own roadblocks to patrol their neighborhoods, but, broadly speaking, the security structure that needs to be in place to stop people going out and looting -- that just isn't there yet.
So they still have a free hand, although what they're coming away with perhaps just doesn't have so much value.
BLITZER: James, we saw that statue of Saddam Hussein going down a few days ago not far from where you are right now. It seemed like one of those historic moments, the people of Baghdad erupting in joy at the sight of U.S. Marines and Army soldiers.
That image we saw on television may have been premature. Is that your sense?
BAYS: I think that's right, Wolf. Television sometimes works as a sort of magnifying glass. The journalists were all here in the Palestine Hotel looking at that statue, and that was the scene that was seen across the world.
But I know, from traveling around Baghdad on that day, that was probably the most lawless day of all. I watched on the side of the road gangs of people grabbing men and holding guns to their head. We drove away very fast. We didn't see whether the man was shot or not.
But it was a very, very dangerous time. It's still very, very dangerous in the city.
BLITZER: Jasim, even though there's still plenty of problems in Iraq right now, looting and violence and chaos in many parts of the country, would you agree that the people of Iraq, though, are now better off, they at least have some prospect of democracy, a new government there, a new freedom that they didn't -- they would have never had under the ironclad, the totalitarian rule of dictator Saddam Hussein?
AL-AZZAWI: Of course, Wolf. I mean who would disagree with that notion after 35 years of living under the heel of Saddam and suddenly they are liberated, although it's chaotic, it's -- although there is mayhem, there is some rampant looting and perhaps even killing, who would disagree with that? I mean you have to pay the price.
The only thing that is going through the minds of the Iraqi is will the Americans stay the course, will they stay with us, will they keep us, will they help us the way they have -- they helped the Japanese and the Germans, is this temporary, are they coming here just to grab the oil and leave us to our devices.
This is the question everybody is asking our reporters, and time will tell, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Michael Weisskopf to answer that question. You're here. You're speaking to the commanders of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Will they stay here? Do they have the staying power to get the job done?
WEISSKOPF: They believe they do, Wolf, but let's -- and let's remember that these images that we're seeing from Baghdad and elsewhere are extremely heartwarming. It's great to see people feeling a new freedom.
But this was not the primary objective for American forces. The primary objective was to find weapons of mass destruction. After all, President Bush committed American lives and treasure to finding what he considered a threat -- a direct threat to the American people. And that's what the commanders are here for, to discover them. Thus far, they've been frustrated.
BLITZER: Well, when I spoke to General Franks earlier today, he said they're looking -- they've got 2,000 places they want to look and search, suspected sites, but, so far, they haven't found anything.
WEISSKOPF: As we're reporting, they've gotten some help in Baghdad. They've been able to comb through the bombed-out residences of Saddam and found some documents they hope will provide a clue to specific weapons and locations.
Also, scientists are beginning to come forward, now that they don't feel the heel of the regime anymore, and they, of course, are authors of some of these programs. They'll know where the weapons are, if they exist.
BLITZER: All right. Nic Robertson, you remember all those briefings that you covered in Baghdad and that we watched on television with Amir Al-Saadi, the chief science adviser to Saddam Hussein. He's now under U.S. custody, gave himself up to -- effectively to German television yesterday. Does he know those secrets, or was he just sort of a political spokesman for the government?
ROBERTSON: Wolf, there was always a feeling by the U.N. inspectors who were dealing with General Amir Al-Saadi that General Amir Al-Saadi wanted to go further, wanted to do more, understood the necessity better than his political masters of how much needed to be done to -- essentially to stop the possibility of war.
What he knows -- he has said so far that he doesn't know anything about weapons of mass destruction. However, if anyone in the country does, he is one of the people who's most likely to have a clear overall picture of where things might be, what programs might be at what stages, and it would seem that, now that he's handed himself over, that he would very likely, although saying publicly that he doesn't want to talk, being an Iraqi patriot, that behind closed doors, he may very well have an awful lot to say.
But it's not clear exactly what that's going to be at this stage, but, given that the coalition is beginning to have an increasingly freer hand across the country to search different sites, it would seem that ultimately, if there is something here to find -- and the U.N. weapons inspectors privately believe that there were good grounds for them to be here -- that they will come up with it.
Whatever it is, wherever it is, it will be discovered now that the ground is clear for really thorough searches to take place, and General Amir Al-Saadi certainly better than most here would be able to point the fingers -- point fingers in the right direction.
BLITZER: James Bays, ITN -- of ITN, the other -- the other big question mark out there is, of course, Saddam Hussein.
General Franks told me today they do have DNA. The United States has DNA samples of Saddam Hussein. They're looking for his body, if, in fact, it's in that big crater in the Mansour district of Baghdad.
What do you believe? You've been covering this story for quite a while. Did he escape? Is he alive? Is he dead? If he's alive, does he have any opportunity to escape? What -- what do you -- what do you think?
BAYS: It's very, very hard to tell. We saw those TV images broadcast on Iraqi TV throughout the war of Saddam Hussein, but were they really recorded here, were they really recorded at the time?
What I can tell you for sure is that many of his close advisers were here during the war. We didn't see them in the last days of the war, apart from the information minister, and I can tell you he was here some 24 hours before the tanks rolled into the square by the Palestine Hotel. I can tell you that because I interviewed him.
BLITZER: So how did all these guys escape? Where are they?
BAYS: Well, I mean the suspicion, when you talk to Iraqis, is that they're either hiding in the city -- because of the lawless nature of the city at the moment, the U.S. forces haven't been able to go out and look properly.
Other people you speak to suggest they've gone across the border to Syria. Some Iraqis believe that Russia may have helped, and there's a number of people you speak to here, Iraqis, who -- they believe Saddam Hussein may have fled to Russia, but I think that's less likely.
BLITZER: Jasim, what do you think? And we only have a little time left. You've been covering this story, obviously, for a long time. You know the mentality. You know the players. What about Saddam Hussein?
AL-AZZAWI: We heard the darnedest thing, Wolf, tonight. Our reporter from Baghdad was saying that eyewitnesses -- they swore that they saw Saddam in a car in Lavamiya (ph) district. And not only that, other people are sighting him -- that he was part of the Mujahadeen, part of the Arab fighters. They were fighting in Lavamiya (ph). Now we don't put much credence into these reporters, but they are coming extremely repetitive, and that makes you wonder whether this is true or not.
I -- on a personal level, I think the man is not in Baghdad. I don't think he's even in Iraq. Maybe he's just outside the country. How he managed to escape is anybody's guess. Those -- that restaurant you alluded to in that Mansour district -- once they dig it out -- and now they are in the process of digging out -- if it proves that he among -- in addition to Qusay and Uday and senior military and political leadership were under, then that would be their tomb, and that would be the story of Saddam.
BLITZER: All right. We'll have to wait and see.
Jasim Al-Azzawi of Abu Dhabi Television, Nic Robertson of CNN, James Bays, ITN, Michael Weisskopf of "TIME" magazine, four excellent journalists helping us better understand what's happening in the war in Iraq.
When we come back, we'll speak to the family of another just released American prison of war. We'll speak to the family of Edgar Hernandez, and we'll do that immediately as soon as we come back. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Army Specialist Edgar Hernandez is today a free man. He's one of those POWs from the 507th Maintenance Company based in Fort Bill, Texas, released today. Five of them. Two Apache helicopter pilots released as well.
Joining us now, Joel, Edgar's brother, as well as their parents, Jose and Maria. They're joining us from Mission, Texas.
Joel, tell us how you and your parents reacted when you heard the good news about Edgar?
JOEL HERNANDEZ, BROTHER OF FORMER POW EDGAR HERNANDEZ: It was really early in the morning, and we're still asleep, and my mom heard it in the news, and she screamed really loud that she woke us up, and she was just saying, oh, they found the prisoners, they found the prisoners.
And we didn't know for sure that my brother was among them, but we knew that there was hope, and we knew -- and we had a feeling that he was one of them. And then later on that night -- that day, today, they came from the Army, and they told us that for sure we knew that my brother was one of them.
And we just started crying of joy. We were just so happy to hear that, the good news that he's coming home safe, and all the prisoners of war that were out there -- they're coming to their families.
BLITZER: Did -- did you have a chance to speak to your brother, Joel?
HERNANDEZ: No, not today. My parents did, and my brother, but I didn't have a chance to talk to him.
BLITZER: I know your parents don't speak a lot of English, but they spoke to you. What did they say to you after they spoke with Edgar?
HERNANDEZ: They told me what he said, and what he told them, and he told me that -- the first thing he said, how are you all doing, instead of, you know, we asking him how have you been, you know, and my brother...
He's always been like that. He's always cared for us more than he does himself, but -- yes, my parents talked to him, and they were really, really happy to hear about him and hear his voice, and now we're just looking forward to seeing his face.
BLITZER: Do you have any idea when you might be seeing him? Have they -- has the Army told you?
HERNANDEZ: In the meanwhile, they -- they just told us that they're trying to get him out of there and take him to the hospital somewhere in Germany or something, and, as soon as they do that, we're -- we have a chance to go see him personally.
BLITZER: All right. Well, good luck to you. Good luck to the whole family. I'm sure your mom and dad are thrilled, as well they should be. Joel, Jose, and Maria, thanks for joining us. Congratulations on the freedom now for your brother and your son, Edgar Hernandez, U.S. Army, 507th Maintenance Company. Let's bring in now four of our embedded correspondents. They've been working really hard over the past month. They've all risked their lives to bring the news to all of us.
Joining us from Baghdad, Jason Bellini, Walter Rodgers, Lisa Rose Weaver, and Marty Savidge.
Jason, let me speak with you. You're getting ready to wrap things up. How exhausted are you, given the enormous challenge that you faced over the past month?
JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT? How exhausted? Well, CNN's been good to us. They've allowed us to catch up on some sleep over the last few days here in Baghdad, to sleep in a real bed. It's certainly not luxury conditions. There's no beautiful buffet to come -- that we've arrived at, but been able to rest up a bit.
It was a -- it was a -- definitely a difficult assignment, but a gratifying one the entire time, as we got to know well the people who we were embedded with. They seemed a little sad. We were a little sad as well, I think, when we departed.
Even though it had been so difficult, even though we'd been sleeping in the dirt for three weeks, it was still one of those moments where you thought -- where -- that was a bit bittersweet -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Walter Rodgers, you've been a reporter like me for a long time. You probably don't even realize this, but you got an enormous amount of attention over the past month or so while you were traveling with the 3-7 Cavalry. A lot of pickup in the news media. People loved the way you did your reporting from the wall of steel, as you called it, those tanks, those armored personnel carriers moving through Iraq. What are you going to do now?
WALTER RODGERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to go home, grab my wife.
I'd like to say something about the embedding process, Wolf. I talked with an Army three-star general, William Wallace. He said it was one of the great innovations of the war, and I agree.
There is one thing I'd like to add, however. I think most people who hadn't been in combat before greatly underestimated the dangers and the risks. I think the German and Spanish journalists who were killed at that rocket attack at the 2nd Brigade Tactical Operations Center never thought they would be killed when they were with a batch of colonels. I think most journalists had no idea of how dangerous war at the front is.
I was with a Russian general in Afghanistan in '86, and I was shot at there. I was almost blown up by a Claymore mine in South Lebanon with an Israeli general. I had no illusions, but I think anybody who goes to war in these embed processes had better realize war is extraordinarily dangerous, and if you're a journalist embedded with front-line soldiers, you stand a pretty good chance of getting whacked -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, what about you? How scared were you? Did you have any idea how dangerous this mission would be for you?
LISA ROSE WEAVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, I didn't. I was with an air-defense unit, not on the fighting front line per se, but very close to it because they...
In this war, the Patriot missile batteries were used in a really innovative way. They were used as maneuver forces to cover military assets, in other words infantry and other what they call high-value core assets.
We moved usually several kilometers behind the front line, but -- but doing so included taking us through ambushed territory on more than one occasion. At one point, before dawn, we drove through an Iraqi garrison before it had broken up. An hour later, the Marines came behind us. They were engaged in a firefight. There were other instances of moving very slowly through potentially very dangerous territory.
You know, we were in soft-shell vehicles, moving with 80,000- pound launchers that would stuck in the sand repeatedly, leaving us sort of like sitting ducks.
So, no, of course, I had no way of knowing that those would be the dangers, and neither, I should add, did some of the troops because air-defense soldiers usually sit -- in this instance, it would have been Kuwait.
They usually sit far behind the front lines and defend from afar. Many of them thought they would do that in this war only to find out days before deployment that, in fact, they would be in Iraq. So they also, in many cases, had quite a mental adjustment to make -- Wolf.
BLITZER: As those of us who were in Kuwait during this war could testify, those Patriot air-defense missiles seem to work pretty well at those incoming Iraqi ground-to-ground missiles.
Jason, did you have any close calls?
BELLINI: Close calls? It's always hard to tell. When you hear the bullets, it's tough to tell. It's sometimes tough to tell how far away they are from you, and we certainly heard a large number of explosions.
One of the closest calls we had was actually when a Marine stepped on a bomblet from a cluster bomb. He was only several yards away from me, and then I looked down after that and discovered that there was a bomb lit that was very close to myself, and we were told later that those bomblets -- those can rip through armor, and they can tear off a foot very easily.
We were also in a number of instances where the Marines came under fire, and they returned fire. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in any of those instances, and it seemed like a matter of luck when these potshots came in your direction, and, hopefully, you were well...
Hopefully, you were dug into some kind of barrier, dug into a trench or behind a wall of some sort, and we -- I think the Marines we were with and our -- perhaps ourselves as well were very lucky in that regard because there were at least three...
BLITZER: All right.
BELLINI: ... instances I can recall -- three or four instances where the -- where they became under attack from who knows how many machine guns, who knows how many Iraqis were attacking at that point -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jason Bellini, I want to thank you on behalf of all of us here at CNN.
Walter Rodgers, you did a spectacular job. You made us all proud to be journalists.
Lisa Rose Weaver, as well.
You're really courageous, all of you, but you're beyond that. You're good journalists, and you're decent people. I want to thank all of you.
Marty Savidge, unfortunately, another one of our great journalists, couldn't join us, but he was one of our embedded correspondents with the 7th -- 1st Battalion, 7th Marines as well.
Thanks to all of you. Get some rest. We'll be calling on you very, very soon for more world-class reporting.
That's all the time we have today. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Doha, Qatar, filling in for Larry King. Larry will be back tomorrow night. His special guest Dan Rather of CBS News.
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