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Interview With Military Psychiatrist Paul Ragan

Aired May 2, 2004 - 09:30   ET


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: And now more on our top story this morning. Thomas Hamill is free from his captors in Iraq. The U.S. military says that Hamill appears to be in good health. For more details on this late-breaking news, we go now live to CNN's Ben Wedeman in Baghdad. Ben?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Renay. Mr. Hamill's nearly month-long ordeal is over. It ended sometime this morning when apparently he simply walked out of a building somewhere between Baghdad and Tikrit, found some U.S. soldiers, identified himself, and they took him away. Now we are told that Mr. Hamill is being questioned or was questioned earlier by military intelligence. They're obviously, very eager to find out who was holding him, where they were holding him, and under what conditions.

You'll recall that he was kidnapped on the 9th of April when his convoy was ambushed outside of Baghdad. In addition to him being kidnapped there are several of the members of that convoy, employees of Kellogg, Brown and Root, who are still unaccounted for. One of the soldiers who was with this convoy, however, Private Keith Maupin, remains in the custody of unknown kidnappers. He -- a video has been made of him and was released to some Arabic satellite news channels.

This issue of hostages continues to plague the efforts of the coalition to reconstruct this country and bring it back to its feet. At this point, according to coalition officials, there are six known hostages and that includes Private Maupin, in addition to five who are known to be missing, and nine hostages who in the last month have been killed by their captors. Renay?

SAN MIGUEL: Concerning Mr. Hamill, Ben, I know that it was a very short briefing this morning and General Kimmitt admitted he knew there would be a lot of press organizations wanting to get a hold of Mr. Hamill. Do we know anything about whether it's going to be the coalition that'll bring him out for a news conference of some kind? Any kind of information about when everybody will get a chance to talk to him?

WEDEMAN: Well, it really depend upon what condition he's in. There's one report that he has some sort of gunshot wound in one of his arms that appears to be infected. So obviously the first priority at this point is just to make sure he is in good health. The second priority, for at least the coalition, is to get as much -- get him to provide as much information as possible about his -- the last month and where he was and who was holding him, and obviously get him back in contact with his family. The press is clearly quite eager to speak to him, but no word yet when or if that's going to be possible at this point. Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: All right. Ben Wedeman reporting live from Baghdad. Thank you very much, Ben.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now on the phone is Dr. Paul Ragan. He is a military psychiatrist from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Ragan, this morning.


HILL: Former military psychiatrist with an incredible amount of insight, and we're happy that you're able to share it with us today. Thomas Hamill, as we've just been talking about, as Renay was talking with Ben Wedeman in Baghdad about, his recovery, escape today, found today, give us an idea as a military psychiatrist what could be going through his head right now after nearly a month in captivity, possibly, and what the coalition forces may be asking him?

RAGAN: well, clearly some of your previous analysts have talked about the security information that he can give them, but as a psychiatrist, I think it's going to be very important that Mr. Hamill be properly screened for an acute stress disorder. Clearly, with the civilian contractors, you know that they don't have the same training as many of our military personnel; for example, our pilots undergo special training in escape and evasion.

Obviously he is a very resourceful, adaptable person, but he's really going to need to be, in terms of his -- the conditions he was under, needs to be reviewed with an eye to the effect of how was he sleeping, what was his nutrition. Clearly, he faced death many times, and that kind of experience can really leave a mark on someone. His wound, his infected wound will need to be healed, but we know that oftentimes physical wounds heal more quickly than the possible psychological wounds.

HILL: Those possible psychological wounds, how are they dealt with? Is there a standard process for dealing with them? I understand that each situation is different, especially when it comes to a hostage situation such as this one. But is there a standard operating procedures for this to make sure that he doesn't even go home before perhaps he's ready to because that alone can also be, I imagine, very difficult, very overwhelming emotionally?

RAGAN: Absolutely. He probably was living minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, not knowing if he was going to finish the day dead or alive, and clearly you, for example, you mentioned the press and the media and the world, in fact, not just his family but the whole world, are eager to speak with him, but this can be very, very overwhelming time. He is some kind of psychologically regressed state that is not functioning in his peak, considering all that he has been through.

And there very much is a standard operating procedure in those mental health personnel that are experienced and trained in dealing with the acute stress reaction. For example, there were many in New York that treated the firefighters and emergency personnel and the police after 9/11, so clearly we know how to treat this, combined psychological, talking therapy, and targeted symptoms for medication. So the treatment will be good. He just needs to be properly monitored because we don't know in each individual what the intensity of the response will be.

HILL: Dr. Paul Reagan, we appreciate your insights, especially as a former military psychiatrist. Thanks for joining us this morning.

RAGAN: You're welcome, Erica.


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