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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

After Being Held in a Colombian Jungle, Three Americans are now Free

Aired July 2, 2008 - 21:00   ET

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


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, breaking news. Three Americans are on their way home at this hour after a daring rescue. They were among 15 hostages held deep in a Colombian jungle for years, freed in a surprise raid, described as a scene from a movie. Their captors tricked into liberating them.
Survival stories in what's been called a miracle, right now on LARRY KING LIVE.

KING: Good evening.

Breaking news out of Colombia tonight where Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans all held hostage for years by the leftist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as FARC, have been rescued.

Betancourt was seized six years ago while campaigning for president. The Americans, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, have been held for over five years and they're expected back in Texas later tonight.

Eleven Colombian police and soldiers were also freed in the group of 15. Their captures were tricked into releasing them. It's an incredible story. The former hostages themselves can't quite believe.

We'll have many guests throughout the hour. We begin in Washington with Juan Carlos Lopez, senior correspondent for CNN Espanol, Ed Henry, our CNN White House correspondent, and in Miami, Tim Padgett, "TIME" magazine's Latin American bureau chief.

Juan, how did they pull this off?

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, CNN ESPANOL: It was according to the Colombian military a very detailed operation that started at least five months ago.

Colombian authorities have been working on it for five years with the help of U.S. intelligence. And there was a breakthrough, it seems, a couple of weeks ago. The United States was able to confirm a position. It was then relayed to the Colombians and ruse happened. They convinced the rebels that they were part of a group that was going to mobilize these 15 hostages to another area.

They arrived dressed as rebels. And they put the hostages in the helicopter. They tied them up. They -- according to Ingrid Betancourt, they spoke like rebels, they dressed like rebels, they behaved like rebels.

And then once in the air they subdued the commanders that were on the helicopter and told them, we're the Colombian Army, you're free.

KING: Jim Padgett, this, as we mentioned, sounds like a movie, and you know the area. How did they pull this off?

TIM PADGETT, LATIN AMERICA BUREAU CHIEF, TIME: Well, I think one of the most important things they had to is make sure that this wasn't any sort of a conventional, violent military operation.

The FARC had long promised that if the Colombian military tried any sort of commando-style rescue of these hostages, that they would kill the hostages. So it was imperative really for the Colombian government to come up with a way to do this without any bloodshed.

And the way they did it was to infiltrate the highest levels of the FARC command structure with a government mole. And that mole convinced the bosses of the FARC to move the hostages from the camp they were at to another camp, which was occupied, ironically, by the number one leader of the FARC, and on the way they stopped at the smaller camp and that's where the ruse happened and they pulled it off.

KING: Boy, Ed Henry, what's the White House saying about all this?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, what's interesting, if you put what Tim was just reporting together with what I'm hearing from a senior U.S. official, that you had the intelligence the Colombian government was getting, but a big breakthrough came recently, I'm told, when U.S. intelligence picked up specific information pinpointing where these hostages were.

They then -- the U.S. officials passed that on to the Colombian government and that helped them launch this rescue operation with some U.S. help.

I'm told there were some U.S. support -- unlikely that it was actual U.S. troops, more likely equipment, maybe helicopters that were helped. More of a supportive role.

President Bush calling the Colombian president, President Uribe, this afternoon to congratulate him.

What I'm told is that behind the scenes very quietly U.S. officials have been involved in some of the planning here of this rescue operation about what they would eventually do when they got the intelligence that would pinpoint the location. The U.S. has quietly been working on this for up to five years.

KING: With us on the phone is George Gonsalves. He's the father of the -- one of the rescued hostage, Marc Gonsalves.

Had you -- George, has you pretty much given up hope? GEORGE GONSALVES, FATHER OF FREED HOSTAGE MARC GONSALVES: No, I've actually never given up hope. You know, we were kind of given a lot of setbacks, but we never really gave up hope.

KING: Were you ever able to get in touch with your son at all?

GONSALVES: No, actually, Larry, it's been over five years since I spoke to him or since I've heard his voice. I just haven't had any communication at all with him since he's been held hostage.

KING: Would you always -- did you feel assured that he was alive?

GONSALVES: One of the important things that happened -- there was a proof of life video that came out earlier this year. You may be aware of that. And in there, it showed our three guys, along with some other Colombian hostages. And at that point, you know, we could see that they were still alive. They looked very haggard, but they were alive.

KING: Are you, for want of a better word, amazed at how they pulled this off?

GONSALVES: Yes, it's incredible, because the Colombian military doesn't have a very good track record for rescue attempts. But this didn't seem like a military rescue. It seemed like almost a negotiation process where they went in there and they kind of like -- didn't even fire a shot from what I understand.

So to say the least, I'm very, very impressed, very impressed.

KING: Have you spoken you to Marc?

GONSALVES: (INAUDIBLE) I'm sorry?

KING: Have you spoken to Marc?

GONSALVES: No, no, sir. I haven't spoken to Marc. Would certainly like to speak to him, yes.

KING: Well, where are you?

GONSALVES: I'm in Connecticut.

KING: And he's heading where, the San Antonio?

GONSALVES: From what I understand, he's in the air, and he's heading over to San Anton.

KING: No one would know him better than his father. How would you gather he handle this?

GONSALVES: Well, I think, you know, he's -- was in the military for eight year. And this is the kind of job he wanted to do. So I think mentally he was prepared. But I don't think he was prepared for anything like this. I mean, a five-year duration -- I don't think that ever entered his head. I don't think it ever entered any of their heads. So how did they handle it? They probably like anybody else would, day by day.

KING: What was his job?

GONSALVES: He was a surveillance individual. He would, you know, do image reading, movements, by -- you know, cocaine nature.

KING: Yes. Is he married?

GONSALVES: I'm sorry?

KING: Is he married?

GONSALVES: Is -- that was your question?

KING: Is he married?

GONSALVES: He is married. Yes. Two boys and one girl.

KING: George, congratulations. What else can we tell you? I know you look forward to speaking to him and what a great day for you.

GONSALVES: Great day, it's the most -- best day I've had in a long, long time. My birthday was this past Sunday. It's a belated present. And the Fourth of July is Friday. I mean, it doesn't get any better than that.

KING: George, don't go away. We want to ask you a couple more things.

We'll be right back with more on this historic day in Colombia and for freedom-loving people everywhere. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's check in now by phone with Karl Penhaul, our CNN correspondent in Neiva, Colombia.

Where is Neiva in respect to what happened today, Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Neiva, in fact, halfway between Bogota which is where Ingrid Betancourt and the American hostages are now, and halfway between the area where, in fact, they were taken hostage more than six years ago, Larry.

I was, in fact, in the south of Colombia when the news broke. I'm now making my way back to Bogota by road to follow up on this.

KING: Do you expect to get anywhere near the plane?

PENHAUL: Well, the plane now -- the hostages have all disembarked from that from the TV pictures we have seen. We understand that the three American military contractors who were taken hostage five years ago are being flown back up to military facility in San Antonio, Texas.

We haven't seen them appear on Colombian TV so far. That seems to be a concerted effort by the U.S. embassy to keep them away from the media glare.

As far as we know, now, Ingrid Betancourt and the other 11 members of the Colombian military who had been held and now released will go to some kind of meeting this evening with President Uribe in downtown Bogota.

KING: We're going to check in momentarily with Governor Bill Richardson, Democrat of New Mexico, who was former ambassador, of course, to the U.N., and Karl, of course, is right on the scene for us.

Are you -- Karl, are you amazed, as everyone else is, with how this was pulled off?

PENHAUL: This really is -- the Colombian military really has never staged an operation of this type. I think that not only points to it being a very sleekly planned operation, but it also points to their being a number of other factors at play there that so far really haven't come out too much into the open.

We have heard a short while ago from the Pentagon that the U.S. military did get some intelligence on where these hostages were being held in the jungle. They shared that with the Colombian military. The Pentagon has also said that they helped in planning and gave some support to this operation.

Now we have known for the last number of years that the U.S. military on the ground here in Colombia has had teams on standby to stage a rescue attempt if necessary. But we don't know today if members of U.S. Special Forces teams, in fact, flew aboard these helicopters to pluck these hostages from the jungle.

KING: Yes.

PENHAUL: What we do know, according to the Colombian military, is that no shots were fired. They do say that they had managed to infiltrate the guerrillas. We also know, though, that for some while the Colombian government has been offering huge rewards to any rebels who dessert and bring hostages with them.

KING: (INAUDIBLE)

PENHAUL: It could be that, in time, we find out that there's been some elements of desertion as well as infiltration here, Larry.

KING: Thanks, Karl.

Karl Penhaul, CNN correspondent in Neiva, Colombia.

Let's talk with Bill Richardson, our old friend, the governor of New Mexico and the former ambassador to the U.N.

What do you make of this story, Bill?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, TRIED TO NEGOTIATE RELEASE OF HOSTAGES: Well, this is great news. I've been down to Colombia and Venezuela working on this through diplomacy. But it seems the Colombian military has initiated a safe operation.

The best news is the three American hostages getting out. Their families -- they've been in captivity for six months, in bad health, and then Ingrid Betancourt, but also, the other Colombian hostages that were released.

So this is good news because it could mean that the release of these hostages could lead to Colombia and the revolutionary group, the FARC, either working something out where the FARC, the revolutionary guerrillas, incorporate into Colombia, or this could be that the president of Colombia decides for a full military effort against them.

They've been weakened, the FARC. They lost two of their guerrilla leaders. There's still 10,000 of them. They're armed. They're a terrorist organization. But the good news is it may lead to a lessening of tensions between Chavez of Venezuela, Uribe of Colombia, Correa of Ecuador.

But the best news is the humanitarian news that the three Americans...

KING: Yes.

RICHARDSON: ... and Ingrid Betancourt are out. It's a great victory for the French because Ingrid Betancourt is a big, big political figure in France, and a big victory for President Sarkozy of France.

But mainly, you know, these three Americans, they'd been forgotten.

KING: Yes, they have.

RICHARDSON: They had been neglected. And the fact that they're getting out safely, their families -- all of them live in Florida, they -- the families had asked me to try to help through diplomacy. And I did my best. But it seems that this military effort has succeeded.

KING: John McCain was in Colombia today. Make anything out of that?

RICHARDSON: No, I don't think so. I think that was coincidental. I like what Senator Obama said. I saw his statement where he said that he praised the Colombian military for doing this safely. Secondly, that the guerrillas have had a very negative connection with narcotics and terrorism.

But here's an opportunity, I believe, after this release, for there to be a humanitarian effort to get a diplomatic effort for -- once and for all for their stability to happen in Colombia, that these guerrillas, the 10,000 of them, to come out of the cold, to come into society, to be negotiated in the Colombian society and end that enormous tension that has existed for so many years.

And then Chavez of Venezuela -- you know, I talked with him, I met with him, and he said he would try to help with the guerrillas. But the best news is that the Colombian military, in a very risky but safe operation, has gotten them out.

KING: Can you negotiate with FARC?

RICHARDSON: No, I never talked to them directly. We had indirect conduct -- contacts through other sources. But it seems that FARC right now has been weakened by the fact that their top guerrilla leader was assassinated, Raul Reyes, and then their top ideological leader about a month ago was -- he died, Manuel Marulanda.

So they had some internal dissension, internal defeats, a lot of desertions. And so this was the time, I think, when they felt -- the Colombian military -- that this was the time to launch this operation, which was peacefully done. It doesn't seem there were any casualties.

KING: Yes.

RICHARDSON: I think the Colombian military, the president of Colombia, are winners. I think Sarkozy's a winner and certainly the families and our American hostages are out. Maybe this will lead, Larry, to some peace and some...

KING: Wouldn't that be nice.

RICHARDSON: ... negotiations or an effort by Colombia to come back as -- reintegrate itself, because the guerrillas have a lot of the Colombian territory right now.

KING: Thanks, Bill. Thanks for sharing this time with us.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

KING: Governor Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico.

Back with more on this continually breaking story. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These things require incredibly long planning and coordination, et cetera.

I am -- there's no way possible that I could add anything to do with our (INAUDIBLE) that I could imagine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back. Joining us now by phone from Bogota is Ambassador William Brownfield. He is the United States ambassador to Colombia.

Were you on the scene or near it today, Ambassador?

WILLIAM BROWNFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO COLOMBIA: I was there at the first place where the plane put down, which is Tolemaida Air Base in southern Colombia. Obviously, I wasn't actually there in the FARC area in far southern Colombia.

KING: Did you know this was going to happen?

BROWNFIELD: Sure, we've been working this very closely with the government of Colombia now for about two weeks. I mean it was a Colombian operation, a Colombian plan and a Colombian concept carried out by the Colombian armed forces.

But I am delighted that we were able to work very closely with them in putting it together and in supporting some of the -- kind of technical parts of this operation.

KING: How did it go so well?

BROWNFIELD: You know, that's the $64 trillion question and we'll all do a good news after action report as to why it worked well. I think there was an element -- there was a successful element of deception, which the minister may or may not chose to reveal when you talk to him a little bit later this evening.

There was, as well, I think -- and on this score, I think Governor Richardson has it right. I think a good number of the FARC, and a lot of the FARC units, including, perhaps, this one are actually getting a bit tired. They've been in the field a long time. Things are going wrong. And, in fact, they are not perhaps as sharp as they had been in years past.

And I've got to tell you, I spent two hours or so on the airplane talking to our three former hostages now as we were bringing them up to Bogota before putting them on the plane for San Antonio. And what all three of them said to me was that these guys have actually lost a lot of their sharpness, a lot of their military ability, over the last couple of years.

KING: I think we can talk to both of you at the same time.

Minister Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian minister of Defense, are you with us?

JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, MINISTER OF DEFENSE, COLOMBIA: Yes, I am, Larry.

KING: Good. Have you been able to listen to what the Ambassador Brownfield is saying?

SANTOS: Yes. I hear him very well.

KING: OK.

BROWNFIELD: I always listen to what the minister has to say. He's a very smart man.

SANTOS: Thank you, Ambassador.

KING: OK. How, Minister Santos, did you pull this off?

SANTOS: Well, good training, patience, perseverance, and we have some very good people that pulled this off in impeccable form, without one shot being fired. Fifteen people rescued after, some of them, 11 years in the jungle, kidnapped, under the worse conditions. So this is a marvelous occasion for us.

KING: Did you keep the United States informed?

SANTOS: Yes, I talked to ambassador a couple weeks ago. We told him what the plan was. And he and his people followed it very closely. But as he said, this is a Colombian operation, 100 percent. The U.S. has helped us many times. And we are very grateful for this help. It's been very useful.

But at this time, it's been Colombian-made operation.

KING: Ambassador Brownfield, frankly, did you think it would succeed?

BROWNFIELD: You know, Larry, I'll be uncharacteristically honest with you. When I started the day this morning, I gave it about a 50 percent chance of success. But the way I assessed it was that the risk to the hostages was very, very low, almost no risk at all, because my own judgment was if the FARC had figured this one out, they just wouldn't show.

They wouldn't -- there would be no risk to the hostages. There would just be no one there. So what my -- my concern was, in essence, that they would have figured out in advance that something was going on and therefore we would not have a successful operation.

But my view was 50 percent with almost zero risk to the hostages was well worth taking. And the minister was right, who was considerably more optimistic than I was. And I hereby acknowledge it on the air and live and in person.

KING: That's generous of you, Mr. Ambassador. It's rare that people would say he was more right than me.

Minister Santos, was Senator McCain briefed?

SANTOS: Yes, last night, I was with him in Cartagena and I took him apart with the president and I told him that the operation was going to be launched, but please keep it a secret because it was a very, very sensitive operation. And he said -- well, he was very enthusiastic about it and he said good luck. And yes, he was informed.

KING: Frankly, did the ability, Ambassador Brownfield, of the Colombian defense and the forces to pull this off at all surprise you? BROWNFIELD: You know, Larry, we have -- and this may tick off the minister. But I will tell you we had another operation that we were working, obviously, that was principally a Colombian government operation, last February.

And when it was over -- and it was obviously unsuccessful because the hostages remained in FARC hand, we did a joint after-action review, which is to say the U.S. side and the Colombian side sat down together, assessed what happened, and assessed why it was that we had not successfully freed the hostages.

And one of the lessons that we learned from the U.S. side at that time was that, in fact, the capabilities of the Colombian armed forces were far, far better than we had realized. And that actually was the reason -- or at least that was the principal reason -- why we were so comfortable this time agreeing, supporting, and endorsing this operation.

So my answer to your question is not really. We would have been surprised last February. But we actually were not surprised this July. The truth of the matter is this is a first-class professional group of people. And this operation was varsity. I mean there's no question about it whatsoever.

This is as good an operation of this nature as any armed force could have carried out in this part of the world.

KING: I'm going to ask you, gentlemen, if we can hold you a couple more minutes. Is that OK, Minister Santos?

SANTOS: Yes, Larry.

KING: And Ambassador Brownfield?

BROWNFIELD: I'm hungry, Larry, but I can hang on for another 10 minutes or so.

KING: OK, because this is kind of historic television, the United States ambassador and the minister of defense discussing an event that occurred but hours ago.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you just joined us, we're talking on the phone in Bogota with Ambassador William Brownfield, the ambassador to Colombia, and on the phone is Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's minister of defense.

Ed Henry, our CNN White House correspondent, has a question, I believe, for Minister Santos.

Is that right, Ed?

HENRY: I do for the ambassador first, Larry. You've got some news right there, with the fact the ambassador was talking about how the planning for this operation got intensive over the course of the last two weeks. That's a new timeline that had not been reported before. Mr. Ambassador, I wonder if you can shed some light on information we're picking up that there was some intelligence that U.S. officials had picked up broadly, recently, that helped sort of pin down where the hostages were. What can you tell us about that?

BROWNFIELD: I mean, I -- let me give you, first, the general, and then the specific. On the general front, and I believe it's no secret, the United States government and the government of Colombia had been cooperating on intelligence, security, training, mutual support issues now for years. And certainly this particular operation was no exception in that regard. I mean, we actually at times are sharing exactly the same intelligence, even though we're acquiring it through independent means and it becomes very useful to cross-check.

Now, on this operation itself, as the minister said, and as I confirm, this was a Colombian operation. It was conceived. It was planned. It was trained for. And it was executed by the government of Colombia. And, in fact, most of the intelligence I believe -- and the minister can correct me if he thinks I'm wrong -- but most of the intelligence in terms of how this FARC unit was pin-pointed was developed by the Colombian government itself.

We were able to cooperate. We were able to endorse. We were able to share our own experiences, and some small bits of equipment for this particular operation. But on this one, I've got to say to you, I tip my hat to the government of Colombia. This operation was overwhelmingly a Colombian operation.

KING: Minister Santos, is there anything you would add to that?

SANTOS: No, the ambassador is speaking the truth and nothing but the truth. The operation was planned by us. It was executed by us. What we did with the ambassador and with his people is sort of cross- check. We had several meetings. And what do you think about this, what do you think about that? And they gave us their opinion. But the plan was already there. And the way we were going to -- we were going to execute it was already there. So -- but --

KING: All right.

SANTOS: We're always very grateful to the U.S. for all the help that -- throughout the years they have given us.

KING: Ambassador Brownfield, were you in touch with the White House throughout all this?

BROWNFIELD: Yes, Larry, obviously I won't go into great detail, but we have our own systems, our own internal systems. Whereas, I was talking for last week and a half or so on a fairly regular basis with the minister. And then we would have issues that we had to decide, in terms of what our position would be from the U.S. side, and what the Colombian position would be from their side. And I'd run that up the chain. And it would eventually generate a meeting and discussion chaired by the White House that would give us the decision.

KING: I got you.

BROWNFIELD: -- put back to the minister.

KING: I'll let you go in a minute.

Juan Carlos Lopez, do you have a question for Minister Santos?

LOPEZ: I wanted to ask the minister how they came up with this idea. I remembering FARC, several years ago, did something very ingenious by storming the state assembly in one of the Colombian departments, and they kidnapped almost the whole legislative assembly. Twelve of those legislatures, Larry, ended up being murdered by FARC not long ago. So where did the idea come from, minister?

SANTOS: It came from our intelligence officers. I've been pushing them for some time to be creative, audacious and they certainly delivered. It was a proposal that at the beginning we thought they were crazy. I mean, this is something simply that cannot be done. But then they insisted and we said, OK, let's try it. And slowly they demonstrated that it could be done, and then we started building up from there. And we ended up doing the operation you all saw.

KING: Tim Padgett of "TIME" magazine, the Latin American bureau chief, a question for either the ambassador or the defense minister, before we let them go?

PADGETT: Yes, minister, I'm very curious to know how you were able to plant a mole into the -- you know, the hierarchy of the FARC and have that mole convince them to move the hostages in such a way that you could carry out this operation in the first place.

SANTOS: Well, that's some information I have to keep to -- without divulging because it's a very, very sensitive piece of information. But that's what we did. And we will hopefully continue to do it.

KING: Minister Santos, thank you so much for the time. Ambassador Brownfield, thank you. Go get a beer.

BROWNFIELD: Thank you, Larry. I'll have both dinner and maybe two beers.

KING: That was Minister Juan Manuel Santos, minister of defense for Colombia, and Ambassador William Brownfield, United States ambassador to Colombia. More with our reporters and others after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INGRID BETANCOURT, FREED HOSTAGE (through translator): I always knew that for our families, the subject of rescue was very anxiety filled. But for us, the hostages, rescue was a less terrible option than captivity. We thought that if a rescue took place, we of course had the risk of dying. But how wonderful to die touching liberty with our hands, if only for a second, and not die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was Ingrid Betancourt, a former candidate for the presidency of Colombia, the French-Colombian, one of the hostages. Let's check in now in Bradenton, Florida -- (INAUDIBLE) -- he's outside the home of the Stansell's, one of the freed hostages.

John, what's happening?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Larry, a lot happening inside the house behind us there. Keith Stansell's mother and father live there, and his son and daughter came by a couple of hours ago, and they've been inside. That's Lauren and Kyle. And less than an hour ago, they came out and they talked with us about their father's release, about how happy they were. As you might expect, totally overjoyed.

They have not spoke with him yet on the phone. They don't know when they will be able to speak with him. They're of course chomping at the bit to do so. They're not sure at this pint if they'll be going to Texas to meet him or if they'll have to wait here. More agonizing long days until he comes back. But they said that they have prayed long and hard over the past five years for their father's release and has renewed their sense of faith, they said. And now that sense of faith obviously fulfilled, they said. And their grandparents who live here, the American flag flying there, where it has been for the past five-plus years.

They said their grandparents are elated. Everyone is just jumping for joy, as we certainly might expect. But, again, don't know a timetable when they'll see him or when they'll talk with him. They're waiting by the phone, hoping that when he gets to Texas later this evening that perhaps they'll get a phone call from him. But this is, of course, as they said, the happiest time of their lives, and it comes, of course, a couple of days before the Fourth of July and Independence Day, so very, very significant. Larry?

KING: How surprised were they, John?

ZARRELLA: Absolutely floored. They -- Kyle got a phone call from his step-father saying, hey, your dad's been released. His daughter got a phone call from her mother saying, your dad's been released. At first, they said they just could not believe it. It had been so long, and it was -- basically, they said they were pretty much in shock that it hadn't sunk in. There's two army officers here with them, with the family, and have been here for several hours now, staying with them. And they were the ones, the army officers, who asked the Stansell children to come out and speak with us. And of course they did. Larry?

KING: Thanks, John Zarrella, always on top of the scene. Sybilla Brodzinsky is with us by phone, Christian Science Monitor's Bogota correspondent.

SYBILLA BRODZINSKY, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Hi, Larry.

KING: Hi. Were you surprised how they pulled this off?

BRODZINSKY: I was very surprised. I don't think there's a Colombian who wasn't. It was a stunning operation. Everybody was surprised by it. And the fact that it was the FARC's top-level hostages who were released, Ingrid Betancourt and the three Americans, as well as Colombian military and police officers, made it even more stunning.

KING: As you heard the minister of defense and the ambassador -- were you able to hear them?

BRODZINSKY: Yes, I heard them.

KING: As they related, it's an incredible story, isn't it, how they worked together? It was certainly a Colombian operation, with the Americans kept in tune with it.

BRODZINSKY: Oh, absolutely. I think the most -- the most incredible part of the story is how they managed to infiltrate FARC and dupe them into actually luring the hostages on to a Colombian military helicopter, you know, without even knowing that that's what -- what the rebels were doing.

KING: Are you in Bogota now?

BRODZINSKY: I'm in Bogota, yes.

KING: How do you cover the rest of this? What do you do now? They're on their way to San Antonio, right?

BRODZINSKY: The Americans are on their way to San Antonio. And I -- you know, at this point, I think that becomes sort of an American story. I'm going to follow up on the Colombian story, which is Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages, and, also, just the way that the operation, you know, evolved. I was very interested to hear the ambassador say that -- that an operation failed in February, which is when several other hostages were released unilaterally by the FARC.

So it's interesting to hear that while the FARC was making unilateral adjustors, the Colombians and the Americans were actually looking to do a rescue operation.

KING: Thanks, Sybilla. Sybilla Brodzinsky, the Christian Science Monitor's Bogota correspondent. We'll be back right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining us on the phone, old friend Scott O'Grady. We go back to June of 1995 when Scott was in the jungles of -- was it jungles in Bosnia?

Where were you evading being captured?

SCOTT O'GRADY, SHOT DOWN AND RESCUED IN BOSNIA: It was in the northwest region of Bosnia, a forest, mountainous area.

KING: So you know what it's like to be under pressure. What could you imagine this was for those three Americans?

O'GRADY: Well, just the fact they are now liberated, to where they're not captive, where they can live in freedom and be reunited with their loved ones and come back to a country like the United States of America, they've got to be walking on a cloud right now, and very happy, as well as their families. So I'm very elated to know that they've been freed and very happy that they're coming home.

KING: As a former military man who knows pressure and who knows the way to evade and do things, are you surprised at how the Colombians did this?

O'GRADY: Well, I think that we as the American people should be very much in gratitude toward the Colombian government for freeing these individuals. I know that they have a tough time down there with the guerrilla and rebel groups that they are fighting. And we just have to realize, as Americans, you know, the world can be a dangerous place and not every country has the basic freedoms we enjoy here.

KING: Do you ever think back to your six days in hell?

O'GRADY: I absolutely do. Not on a day to day basis, but when I'm going through a tough time. Just like these three individuals, they had to dig deep down inside themselves and have a will to survive, to get through the five-plus years of captivity, for me six days of evading enemy forces that were trying to kill me 80 miles behind enemy lines was an experience I'll always remember, inspiring me to get through any tough times I face in life.

KING: And how close do you think you came to being caught?

O'GRADY: I had enemy forces just within a few feet from me, and they even publicly came out this past year and admitted that if they were to have found me, they would have killed me.

KING: Thanks Scott. Continued good luck. Great guy. Scott O'Grady.

Let's go to Houston and Don Clark, the former head of the FBI. Don, are you there?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI AGENT: I'm here, Larry. Good to be with you.

KING: Glad to have you. What do you make of this?

CLARK: Larry, I think it's a great day for all the parties involved. And I listen to everybody talk, and you start thinking about the technical aspects of what really took place to get this going on. I don't want to take anything away from the Colombians because they had to be a major part of this, but you go back and you look at the FBI's hostage rescue team. You go back and look at the Army's Delta Force and the Rangers that they had and all of those.

I have to say, I'm getting up in years, because I was a part of most of those organizations that they had to be a part of this to help make it happen. That's what unilateral cooperation in these types of operations really takes. Notwithstanding, the Colombians stuck in there with them, and I think that's really good. Clearly, those American people and the FBI, who had to be the first ones notified about this when kidnappings take place, Larry.

KING: And how about getting a mole in there?

CLARK: Yes. And you know, who better, I would say, than the FBI to be able to infiltrate something of that nature. Albeit, I'm sure this person was Colombian. But I would not doubt that with the cooperation we've seen thus far, that they had some relationship with the FBI and the other military intelligence people to help them get this person in there.

KING: You never lose your pride in your bureau, do you?

CLARK: No, I don't, Larry. Not only that, you know, the agency is out there, and all of these people, it's just a great day. This is what -- sometimes we hear the American people say those people don't cooperate with each other and so forth. Not only do they cooperate together, but they cooperate across other borders to be able to get these Americans and the other people freed.

KING: Always good seeing you, Don. Thanks.

CLARK: Good to be with you, Larry.

KING: Back with our remaining moments after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In our remaining moments, let's quickly check in with Drew Griffin in San Antonio, the CNN correspondent. The young Americans will be arriving there at some time later tonight.

What's the situation there, Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: In fact, they're expecting them, Larry, at 10:00 p.m. Central, which is updated from the numbers we're dealing with earlier. They're expected to fly into Kelly Field at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio on a C-17. Then they'll chopper them to the Brooke Army Medical Center for what they call a reintegration. They don't really know what to expect here. It seems like the hostages that are now freed are in pretty good shape. So not clear what medical attention they'll get, but this is the reintegration program that the State Department is going to be operating here at the Brook Army Medical Center.

KING: 10:00 central, that's 8:00 Pacific they'll be in, and 11:00 Eastern. If you're viewing, you can see it at 8:00 Pacific time, 11:00 Eastern time, when they'll be arriving in San Antonio. Are you situated right where they'll be, Drew?

GRIFFIN: I'm actually at the helicopter pad. They'll land at the Air Force base across town and then chopper over here. We'll be able to see them getting off the choppers, three choppers. And then they're going to take a bus just about a quarter mile over to the medical center, where I'm also standing in front of. We should have a good view, although we're expected not to be able to talk or hear them talk as they pass through.

KING: I would imagine. Drew Griffin of CNN, again, they'll be arriving in San Antonio 8:00 Pacific time, 11:00 Eastern time.

Let's talk with Gracia Burnham. She was held hostage with her husband for a year by the Filipinos.

How were you rescued, Gracia?

GRACIA BURNHAM, FORMER HOSTAGE: We were rescued in a military operation by the Philippine army, much the same as what happened today in Colombia.

KING: What do you make of what happened today in Colombia?

BURNHAM: My hat's off to the Colombian military. I had really, in my heart, kind of given up on these guys. I was praying for them. I would put myself in their shoes and know how they felt with hopelessness over and over and over. And I'm so grateful that they're headed home.

KING: I bet you are. It must be the worst feeling in the world to be a hostage.

BURNHAM: It's awful. You run for your lives. You sleep on the ground. You starve. You witness the atrocities that are committed amongst the group. And then suddenly you're free, and it's the neatest feeling in the world.

KING: Thanks, Gracia.

One more to check with. Tommy Hammill, a former hostage. He was held in Iraq.

Do you still work for Halliburton, Tommy?

TOMMY HAMMILL, FORMER HOSTAGE: No, I don't.

KING: How long were you held?

HAMMILL: A short time, about three weeks, 23, 24 days.

KING: That's enough, right?

HAMMILL: Any time in captivity away from your family and not knowing what your fate's going to be? Like I said, you never give up hope. Hope will prevail one way or the other.

KING: How were you rescued?

HAMMILL: I believe they had moved me to a staging area. They were trying to process or relocate me. They had gotten me halfway through to a little staging area, and it wasn't as secure a facility as I'd been held in. It just so happens the Second 108th, the national guard unit patrolling nearby, I heard the sound of the vehicles, and thought that today would be a good day to come home. And I was able to break out of the building I was in. And luckily the guard that was guarding me had been scared away by the unit coming close.

KING: How were you treated?

HAMMILL: You know, in the beginning, I had a pretty severe gunshot wound. They weren't ready for me to die, and I had a wound that was pretty severe, and infection could have set in, could have been deadly. And, of course, they took care of me. They operated on my arm. Of course, they weren't ready for me to die at that time. They wanted it to happen on their terms, not mine. They knew they had to do something or the wound that I had would probably eventually kill me from infection.

They fed me, and I had water. But I lost 15 pounds in three weeks. So I wasn't getting that much nourishment, but it was enough to survive.

KING: We're close on time. What do you make of today?

HAMMILL: It's great. I want to thank the Colombian government for a well planned and thought out, risk-free rescue. I want to mention that Tim Bell, a colleague of mine from Kellogg Brown Root, is still missing in Iraq. And Matt Maupin (ph), we just found his remains in March. He was executed over there by the insurgents. We just need to think about these hostages and what they've gone through. It's a great day for Americans.

KING: Thank you very much, Tommy Hammill.

Go to CNN.com/larryking for transcripts of this show and others. And check out all of our web features at CNN.com/larryking.

Hostages will land about 11:00 p.m. -- 10:00 p.m. in San Antonio, 8:00 p.m. in the West coast, 11:00 p.m. in the East coast.

Time now for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360."