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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Thomas Hamill Escapes Captors

Aired May 2, 2004 - 08:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: We want bring back our CNN military analyst, General Harrison.
General, can you hear me OK?

As I understand, I thought we had our military analyst back to talk a little bit more about the -- General Harrison, are you still there? General Harrison, can you hear me? This is Renay San Miguel...

GEN. GEORGE HARRISON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): I can hear you just fine, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: I wanted to know -- one question that I had while you were talking to Erica earlier, was -- that the nature of the insurgency and the ability to be able to handoff, maybe, hostages from one to the other. There's going to be a lot of focus about him being taken near Baghdad and being found near Tikrit. The idea of being able to get past all of those checkpoints, but also the nature -- the coordination aspects of the insurgency, if they're talking to one another, handing hostages off from one to the other, and the kind of difficulties that may pose for any kind of rescue attempts?

HARRISON: Good question, Renay. And obviously that'll be on of the things that folks will be trying to you figure out as they debrief Mr. Hamill. The ability to handoff might be -- may have been display here, it may simply have been one group that moved him around to avoid detection. So, they'll be working that, trying to figure out how cohesive and coherent the insurgency is, whether there is connection between these various factions.

SAN MIGUEL: And, I know that there are -- the soldiers that were in that convoy with Mr. Hamill are still missing, but to be able to get a civilian back, to be able to say any kind of good news coming out of Iraq, after the month April has been. What can that do for the morale of the soldiers?

HARRISON: Oh, everybody's bound to be ecstatic and absolutely pleased about this. And of course, having him out of there means that hopefully we'll find out a lot more about the other folks and be able to go and -- go in and retrieve them.

SAN MIGUEL: I heard you mention earlier, with Erica, about -- you know, when they debriefed him about his time in captivity, what he was able to see if anything concerning the type of equipment, as you said, the insurgents have. You know, we've heard that Iraq was just one big arsenal at the end of the war, that there were all of these RPGs, the rocket propelled grenades, the mortars and things like this, this has to be very helpful to help the coalition deal with the insurgencies.

HARRISON: Well, I would think so, Of course, we know as the Iraqi army melted away, or was melted away they left huge arms deposits and, of course, the people who had those arms didn't lose their knowledge of where they were stored, so that's one of the sources of problems -- one of the sources difficulty that we all have as this is being dealt with.

SAN MIGUEL: And, do you see even kind of changes regarding the nature of bringing in outside contractors, you know, whether they're for security or truck driving or things like that, as was Thomas Hamill who was a truck driver with Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, if they're going to be taking a second look at security-type issues, whether or not they're going to be allowing people to come in?

I know that the coalition needs help with the resources, being able fuel -- just to carry supplies like fuel an other kinds sorts of resources all over the country there, but considering -- you know, how lucky they were with Mr. Hamill and not so lucky with other contractors and other -- you know, from other countries as well, do you think they'll be giving that a second look?

HARRISON: Well again, good thought. But there's really not much that the Army or the U.S. military, in general, can do structurally in the short-term. By short-term I mean within two or three years, to change that structure, they're almost -- they're almost committed to this kind of an operation. There's really no alternative for the short-term. And that, of course, means there will be a drive to provide greater security for the contractors.

SAN MIGUEL: All right, we will see exactly what happens from that and general -- Major General George Harrison, retired, thank you so much for your time this morning. I know it's been an early morning for you, but we appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us about this very happy news about the rescue, if you will, or the recovery of American contractor, Thomas Hamill. Thanks for your time.

HARRISON: You bet. Good to be with you.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to continue to follow this story for you. We'll take a short break here at CNN SUNDAY MORNING, but please don't go a way, we'll be right back with more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAN MIGUEL: Once again, we -- there is very good news coming out of Iraq on this Sunday morning. Thomas Hamill, who has been missing since April 9 when he was captured by insurgents in Iraq, is now a free man. Troops found Hamill south of Tikrit, he was kidnapped in an April 9 ambush just outside of Baghdad and the U.S. military says Hamill is in good health.

Here's Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt making the announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. MARK, KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Today at 10:20 hours, Mr. Tommy Hamill, an employee of Kellogg, Brown and Root, was recovered by U.S. forces south of Tikrit, he is in good health. He was reported Mission after his convoy was ambushed on 9 April.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAN MIGUEL: Again, that was Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt.

Earlier, we had had a chance -- CNN had had a chance to get some audio from Kellie Hamill, Mr. Hamill's wife, out of Macon, Mississippi, reacting to the news her husband had been found safe, here's some of that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KELLIE HAMILL, THOMAS HAMILL'S WIFE: I feel great, I can't help it, I've got to go pray, I'm so thankful. I feel wonderful, it's the best feeling I've had, I am so ecstatic and I just want to thank everybody who has prayed and sent their prayers to us. Thank you all so very much. I've talked to the company. That's what I'm trying to do is keep the lines open so I can talk to him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAN MIGUEL: Those prayers being answered for Kellie Hamill -- Erica.

HILL: Indeed, and it is a busy day in Baghdad, with the news of Thomas Hamill being found alive and well and joining us this morning from Baghdad is CNN's Ben Wedeman with more on the story covering this late breaking news -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica. Well, this was made in an announcement by major -- Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, a surprise announcement. The press was summoned to come on an hour's notice, essentially, to the convention center where the coalition normally holds press conferences. And, what he told us was that this morning at 10:20, south of Tikrit, that Mr. Hamill showed up suddenly. He went up to a group of U.S. soldiers who were patrolling an oil pipeline in that area, identified himself and now of course, he is in the custody of U.S. forces, here. The general said that Mr. Hamill is in good health and that he is now providing information to the military about his ordeal.

Now you'll recall he went missing on 9th of April when his convoy was attacked just outside of Baghdad. There were seven employees from KBR, that's Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation, on that convoy, at least four bodies from that attack have been identified. However, there is still one soldier who was escorting that convoy who is still in captivity, and no word on his whereabouts. But, obviously, the coalition very happy to announce this kind of news -- Erica. HILL: It is some incredible news. Obviously wonderful news for the family of Thomas Hamill, and likely good news for the troops, as well, a bit of a morale booster. What has the reaction been in Baghdad? Has the news leaked out at this point to the residents of Baghdad?

WEDEMAN: Well, probably not. I mean those who are watching Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news network, and the other Arabic news networks are probably aware of it, but I must say, most Iraqis are really far more concerned with the situation that they're living in you have to remember that, for instance, in the month of April alone, 1,361 Iraqis were killed. So, they're not that interested in what happens to one U.S. contractor. Their concerns are elsewhere, but we do know that the mood in the coalition here, is much better today as a result of this news. There are still other hostages being held, three Italians, for instance, just to name a few of them. And therefore -- in addition to this one U.S. soldier that's also still being held. So happiness over this news, but still concern there are other hostages out there -- Erica.

HILL: Still much concern, as you mentioned, the three Italian hostages, also, two contractors still missing from that attack on the convoy on April 9, and the one U.S. soldier.

Have we had -- have we had a chance to hear from the coalition forces? Are they telling us anything yet about what Thomas Hamill has told them? Obviously they're interested to know who his captors were, what kind of -- what kind of weaponry they may have had, how they got him from just outside of Baghdad where he was taken, where this ambush happened, a hundred miles a way -- some hundred miles away to Tikrit.

WEDEMAN: Yes, well, we heard Brigadier-General Kimmitt say that he is being debriefed at the moment by the military. Obviously they're very interested to find out, for instance, whether this was part of an organized effort or whether it was simply a group of freelancers taking advantage of the fact they could get their hands on somebody from the United States. We've seen, certainly in the first part of April that there was an all of lot of kidnapping going on of just about anybody who looked like they weren't from Iraq. Many of them were subsequently released and it did appear that many of the kidnapper, as I said, were just freelancer, making a stab at something they thought might turn profitable. But, we do hope that more details of Mr. Hamill's captivity and his captors come to light as the coalition release that information -- Erica.

SAN MIGUEL: Ben, Renay San Miguel, here. With a quick question from me, if you don't mind, and I know that a lot of information still coming in, but we want to remind our viewers that there are -- I believe that there are some other contractor -- some other private citizens, who were working to help with the reconstruction effort, that are still being held captive. The Italians for one thing, that are still being held by the insurgents, and the demand there was that Italy had -- the people of Italy had to stage some kind of demonstration against the coalition presence in Iraq. Can you give us just the latest on some of these other hostages and what's the latest we've heard about their status and any kind of rescue or any kind of recovery efforts for them?

WEDEMAN: Well, we do know, for instance, in the case of the three Italians who are being held hostage that the Italian government is working intensely behind the scenes in close contact with the Iraqi religious and tribal leaders to try to ensure that those three are released. You'll remember that one of them was very brutally killed by his captors, shot in the back of the head and that was captured on video partially with which was partially run on the Jazeera network. But as I said, the Italians, for instance, are working very hard, but in a low profile manner, they don't want to endanger the lives of those hostages by going public. So, there are a lot of behind the scenes efforts going on, the details of which nobody seems particularly willing to divulge.

SAN MIGUEL: All right, Ben Wedeman, stay on the line, we'll get back to you in just a second. We're going to take a break in our continuing coverage of the good news coming out of Iraq. That American contractor Thomas Hamill has been found, he has been recovered and said to be in good health.

Stay with CNN SUNDAY MORNING, we're right back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. MARK, KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: Today at 10:20 hours, Mr. Tommy Hamill, an employee of Kellogg, Brown and Root, was recovered by U.S. forces south of Tikrit, he is in good health. He was reported Mission after his convoy was ambushed on 9 April.

(END VIDEO CLIP).

HILL: Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt there, giving out the good news just about two hours ago from Baghdad. Thomas Hamill, the 43- year-old contractor with Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown, and Root, was found alive and in good health, as we are told by General Kimmitt, this morning. He apparently escaped from a building, saw some American troops, identified himself to them. He is now meeting with coalition forces to tell them about what happened. He was able, we were told, to speak with his family and that his wife actually spoke on the radio not long ago. Here's what she had to say in reaction.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HAMILL: I feel great, I can't help it, I've got to go pray, I'm so thankful. I feel wonderful, it's the best feeling I've had, I am so ecstatic and I just want to thank everybody who has prayed and sent their prayers to us. Thank you all so very much. I've talked to the company. That's what I'm trying to do is keep the lines open so I can talk to him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SAN MIGUEL: And we are joined on the phone once again by CNN military analyst General George Harrison. Are you there?

HARRISON: I'm with you, Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: I want to get back to what we were talking about earlier, regarding -- you know, the level of the contractors as they -- as they continue to help with the reconstruction effort. And he was one of those, he was driving a truck for the Halliburton subsidiary.

I was wondering -- I don't know if you've had a chance to talk with any of the military officials with coalition who were out there in Iraq, but if there is a sense that maybe some of the military folks felt that some parts of Iraq weren't ready for civilian contractors to come in and help out yet? If there may be some areas need a just a little bit more security, needed some more patrolling by the forces, even though there was a patrol with this particular convoy that had been attacked from which Mr. Hamill had escaped. Wondering if you had heard any kind of grumbling at all from the military regarding this particular situation?

HARRISON: Well, not so much grumbling, but I do think there's the sense that they have to -- that they have to look at the security situation periodically and shift around the areas where unarmed contractors are locate and where they're doing these kinds of work. The security situation, of course, has been very fluid in particularly the southern portion of Iraq. it's been very secure in the northern portion of Iraq, in the former Kurdish areas. So, my sense is there is consider review and as the security situation changes, the contractor and military blend changes to accommodate the situation.

SAN MIGUEL: And we have talked a lot about any kind of information -- you know, he could be a possible gold mine of information here, for the coalition regarding how the insurgents are doing their job and how they're operating and the kind of equipment and weapons that they have. But, let's be realistic about this, exactly what kind of access would Thomas Hamill, in all likelihood, have to that. You know, there's a possibility he may blind -- he may have been blindfolded during this entire time, shuffled from place to place, not being able to know exactly where he was within the country -- you know, the --you know, we're showing a map right now that show where is Baghdad is, where he was taken prisoner and where Tikrit is more than 100 miles away to the north. I mean -- you know, the likelihood that they would try to keep him -- you know, as secluded as possible obviously, but also just -- you know, try to -- you know, just try to keep him blindfolded an not where he's at.

HARRISON: Well, all that's true, however, I think the interrogators or his debriefers, the people who are talking to him now are very skilled, they really understand the kinds of things he needs to fill in and he'll be able to provide them, not quite like a hostage movie, but will be able to provide them with a fair amount of information in terms of the things that he heard, the things he saw, the cohesiveness of his captors, whether or not they operated as an organized force or if they operated as individuals. All those things will help -- help to understand the sort of thing that -- that he was -- he was facing. SAN MIGUEL: I would think any kind of information, right now, would be -- would be seen as positive news.

General Harrison, thanks for your time. Stay with us, we're going to go to some other information, now.

HILL: And joining us now is Ken Robinson, CNN security -- Ken Robinson, rather -- CNN security analyst.

Good to have you with us this morning. What an incredible day. Talk to us a little bit about -- Renay and General Harrison were just talking about security in Iraq for the civilian contractors and troops. How has this potentially changed the way security is dealt with for both civilian contractors and for coalition forces?

KEN ROBINSON, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: It's slowed everything down and that was the objective of the resistance movement, the foreign fighters and the Sunni Ba'athists who've been disenfranchised. What they've done is they've forced coalition forces to expend more time providing enormous amounts of security just to move average logistics from point A to point B, preventing the coalition from being able to change the lives of real Iraqis and get infrastructure up and going and get governance going again. And so, it's cost an enormous (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the strategy, on their part, to try to defeat the strategy of the coalition.

HILL: And has it in any way defeated the strategy of the coalition when it comes to civilian contractors and when it comes to getting services and goods to the Iraqi civilians?

ROBINSON: It has not defeated the strategy, but it has certainly encumbered it. It has caused an enormous amount of problems for them. The high amount of casual that you see everyday for the last month, this has all been part of convoy operation and cordoned search operations. And the challenge that it faces is that there's only so many folks there that can drive trucks. There's only so many folks there that are nongovernmental organization that are willing to come and risk their lives to try to make the lives of Iraqis different. And the insurgency knows that and so once they realized that attacking Americans, wasn't going to be that effective they started killing members of Iraqi governing council, assassinating some of them, they started attacking these soft targets which don't have the same amount of security, which caused them, the coalition, to have to allocate soldiers to try to protect those locations, as well. So it's a vicious cycle right now.

HILL: It is a vicious cycle. We do appreciate you taking the time to join us this morning. Ken Robinson, we will turn to you again thought the day, so please don't be too far.

SAN MIGUEL: And if you expected tune in to Sanjay Gupta and "CNN House Call," we apologize for the breaking news out of Iraq, it was obviously a necessity that we preempted that.

We are going to have more, as you know, we have been trying to get all kinds of reactions to the good news that America contractor Thomas Hamill has been recovered in good health, in Iraq after he has been -- after his capture on April 9.

Stay with us, CNN SUNDAY MORNING continues after this break and we'll have more on the recovery of Thomas Hamill. Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HAMILL: I feel great, I can't help it, I've got to go pray, I'm so thankful. I feel wonderful, it's the best feeling I've had, I am so ecstatic and I just want to thank everybody who has prayed and sent their prayers to us. Thank you all so very much. I've talked to the company. That's what I'm trying to do is keep the lines open so I can talk to him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

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