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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Surviving and Returning From Being Held Hostage
Aired July 3, 2008 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A fake out that will go down in history. A con job that not even Hollywood could conceive. Daring rescue in the jungles of Colombia. Captors tricked into releasing 15 hostages held for years. Caught off guard in a brilliant trap. Tonight, we'll tell you exactly what happened. Our mole infiltrated the kidnappers inner circle. Why military commandos had to handcuff and mislead the hostages and how their ruse led to the dramatic release of three Americans. Right now on "Larry King Live."
KING (on-camera): Welcome to this edition of "Larry King Live." I'm John King in Washington. And Larry is off tonight. We're going spend the hour looking at the inside details of this dramatic and daring rescue of these 15 hostages including three Americans in Colombia yesterday, peeling back the curtain to get the secret details. And also to discuss the challenges those hostages now face as they get medical care and are integrated back into society. And let's begin on that note.
Optimistic news on the three Americans rescued in this raid today, down at Lachland Air Force in San Antonio, Texas. Army officials saying those three hostages, you see them there, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell are doing well so far as they get both medical attention and counseling. They are being reunited with their families as well. So an optimistic review from army officials today as we await to hear for the first time from those freed Americans. And as we look into just how they were released in this daring rescue, we're fortunate to be joined tonight by Juan Manuel Santos. He is the defense minister of Colombia and the architect of this daring rescue.
Also, here with me in Washington is Jamie McIntyre, our senior Pentagon correspondent who can fill us in on the U.S. involvement who will also join me in the questioning of Minister Santos.
Sir, let me start with you. Thank you so much for joining us. You were talking to Larry King about some of this last night. I want to dig further into this. If you presented this script to Hollywood, they might send you away and say it's too fictional, too daring. But you infiltrated the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia and were able to send in your commandos disguised as FARC members. What was the biggest secret to your success in infiltrating FARC, sir?
JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, MINISTER OF DEFENCE, COLOMBIA: It was a combination of different factors. Infiltrating the FARC, convincing them of the plot that we had designed. Training our people as actors to convince the people who had the hostages that they were genuinely mission from the FARC and an international mission. It was a whole lot of different circumstances that made this a very daring but very successful.
KING: And what does it tell you, sir, at this point. You have this great success. Does it lead you to believe you are on the precipice of debilitating FARC or this is just one success with many, many challenges still ahead?
SANTOS: NO, no, we have been giving the FARC their hardest blows in their 44 years of existence. Only this year, three members for the first time of the secretary have been killed. Most of the top people of their military establishment, the heads of the different commandos were very famous have been killed or captured. And most importantly, we have weakened the logistics and the morale of the FARC. It's way, way down because the demobilization there. They're giving themselves up in increasing numbers.
Only this year, 1,600 members have given themselves up, saying we don't want to fight anymore. So this is a situation for the FARC which is the worst situation in their history. We're winning, we haven't won yet. But we are, for the first time, probably decades, seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
KING: Jamie, I heard you describe this as textbook Pentagon analysis of the raid by the Colombia Armed Forces. Tell us any new details we know about American involvement and please if there's a question you can't get answer at the Pentagon about the depth of that, please ask the minister.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: I would love to. I like to pass along the congratulations from the Pentagon. And one of the things that you really felt at the Pentagon was you know, the U.S. thinks it's got the best military, the best special forces. There was real open admiration for how this operation was conducted. The U.S. did play a role we're told but very minimal role. U.S. intelligence says it did help locate where these hostages are and the minister can correct me if that's wrong but our understanding is that it happened back in February when they really sort of pinpointed where they are. The raid was considered to be too risky. And they came up with this plan that most people describe as audacious. I mean, that's the word you hear the most. I think the minister said too. In fact, Minister Santos, what I'm curious about is you could have inflicted even a more deadly blow against the FARC when you have those guerrilla fighters left on the ground after the helicopters took off, having safely rescued the hostages, why didn't you do that?
SANTOS: Well, we had more than 60 guerrillas, concentrated, it would have been easy to wipe them out. But we decided that this is going to be a completely clean operation. Not one single shot fired and not one single drop of blood. That was our objective. Fortunately, we achieved that. We did that in order send FARC a message. Saying, listen, we'll allow your people to go free, and to go back to you, and please reciprocate by releasing the other hostages that you have. We want to send that message to the FARC. And I think from the humanitarian point of view, giving a message that our armed forces are, and because we're doing a tremendous effort in improving our human rights record, and I think this helped a lot in that respect. KING: And Jamie, so we know about satellite technology, help from the United States, there have been a suggestion perhaps that some eavesdropping, electronic eavesdropping of radio conversations, is that the depth of it. Do we think that's the full disclosure or is there something more we don't know?
MCINTYRE: Well, you know, from everyone at the Pentagon told us when Colombia says that they conceived, planned and executed, masterfully by the way this operation but that's really the case. They don't want to overstate the U.S. involvement. There was some support there. The other thing that you hear from the Pentagon by the way is that all the intelligence coming into the Pentagon does indicate that the power of the FARC is definitely on the wane and this is only going to accelerate that.
KING: Mr. Minister, I want to play you a clip. We focused here in the United States mostly on the three American hostages. But one obviously is a prominent politician in your country, Ingrid Betancourt who once ran for president. She was released today and reunited with her family. She hasn't seen them in six years. She said her daughter was a little girl. She could lift both her son and her daughter her arms when she was taken hostage. Now they are both as tall if not taller than her. I want to play a little clip of this for our viewers as they can see this tape of this reunion today.
INGRID BETANCOURT (through translator): This infinite joy of having my children after seven years of not seeing them. This, I can't imagine, I don't know if it's nirvana, heaven, this must be something very similar to what I'm feeling right now.
KING: She was very strong in her praise of your government for pulling off this rescue operation. My understanding was she was supposed to go back to France to be with her family. Any details on her physical and emotional condition? She seemed a bit frail but quite well on those pictures.
SANTOS: Well, she had been a very good friend of mine. She worked with me four years back in the '90s when I was Minister of Trade. We became very close friends. I had told her mother, about a year ago, she was very critical of President Uribe's strong stand against the guerillas and not negotiating that the FARC wanted to negotiate. And she was quite cross with the government and me. She told me, how can you do this to my daughter, who I know was a very, very friend of yours, you loved each other. How can you do that to me? I told her, listen, I understand your pain. I understand your position, please understand ours. But I will promise you, I will not rest until I have your daughter back. It was a great pleasure. Yesterday, I embraced her. She was very emotional and I told her I wanted to not only rescue you but I wanted to fulfill a promise your mother.
She was in very good shape mentally. Physically, she was weak but OK. I asked her if she had any special type of fever or sickness and she said, no, no, I have the natural conditions of woman leaving seven years under terrible conditions of these S.O.B.s, she told me that had me hostage. But she was in great spirits. The people were impressed by her mental awareness and how down to earth she was. She made a great praise of President Uribe. Everybody thought that she was going to come back brainwashed, quite the contrary. She remained very strong emotionally, mentally. And I'm sure that we will see her very strong physically very soon.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Juan Manuel Santos, the Defense Minister and Colombian architect of this raid. Sir, thank you for you time tonight. Our Jamie McIntyre as well.
When we come back, two independent journalists who will tell you a fascinating story. They went inside the jungles of Colombia for a documentary on the hostage taking, including interviews with the three Americans held captives. Stay with us, you're watching "Larry King Live."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have lost engines. We are at north 0-2-0-3.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I looked and I heard gunshots. The FARC were on the ground. They are shooting into the air.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you guys. I'm just waiting to come home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back now with two journalists that can give us the unique and insightful look at the harrowing conditions of these kidnappings. Jorge Botero, he interviewed those three Americans. You just saw some of it there. Held by FARC back in 2003, Jorge is an independent Colombian journalist who has covered the FARC for several years and produced a documentary. You just saw a little bit of it there held hostage in Colombia. Also with us, Victoria Bruce, she helped produce the documentary called the "Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt." And we should tell you that CNN will air that documentary, "The Kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt." It's an HBO documentary. We will air it this Saturday at 8:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. Eastern. Thank you both for spending your time today. And Jorge, I want to begin with you. You make this dramatic trek into the juggle. 11 days?
JORGE BOTERO, FILMMAKER: Eleven days in the jungle in July of 2003. And in the middle of the jungle, I find these three American citizens. And then, I knew their families. And I am very, very happy today because they will be together in a few minutes.
KING: Now, for you to make this trek, not only make this a dangerous trek through the jungle but to get access to these Americans, you have to have the relationship of trust with FARC. Explain that.
BOTERO: I worked with very perseverance, John. I have 12 years covering the war in Colombia and in these 12 years, I confidence.
KING: Yes. VICTORIA BRUCE, FILMMAKER: Actually Botero was, Jorge was responsible for a massive prisoner exchange. So he's sort of being a little coy. He was, has been the only journalist to ever be in the hostage camps and be able to get access, and so in 2001, because of footage that he got out, just inflamed the Colombian people, the government actually decided they would do a prisoner exchange. And so 300 people were liberated at that time.
KING: Let's take a clip. It's a dramatic documentary of held hostages in Colombia. Let's listen for a little bit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I 100 percent miss my family. I have --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just wait for me, babe. Joey, Cody, Destiny, I love you guys. And I'm just waiting to come home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kind of a hard ass, I apologize.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You see the tears and conditions, these men using the opportunity to send well wishes to their family. Tell us about the conditions in the camp. And this was back in 2003. The beginning of their captivity.
BOTERO: The conditions was very bad. They was in, they were in the middle of the jungle, they can't have - talk with soldiers. And the situation in the jungle is very hard. The weather is very hard. And the alimentation is difficult. I think they are heroes because five years and half in this condition is very difficult for any person.
KING: Well, let's talk about your role in this. Senator Betancourt also held for six years I think in her case.
BRUCE: Over six years.
KING: In her case, how did you come to do your project on her?
BRUCE: Well, first of all, I have to say welcome back to Ingrid and the guys. I mean this has been a six-year odyssey for both of us. I'm so proud of the Colombian government and how they handled it and just the way that they win in there showed how not using force but using intelligence can do amazing things. We were always terrified that they would be killed in a rescue attempt. So we became, I knew about Ingrid because I fell in love about Colombia after having written a book about Colombia. And I was introduced to her here in Washington. And I said this woman, we have to make a documentary about her campaign. I mean, people were shooting at her, and she had all these death threats but she was still going forward and trying to be president of Colombia. She was fascinating and I worked with Karen Hayes, my co-producer. And we've never made a film before. And HBO just completely was super supportive of us and Ingrid's plight and we made film and that's the film that you're talking about.
KING: Let's take a listen. Let's have our viewers enjoy some of it right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INGRID BETANCOURT [ speaking Spanish ]: ... here is a gesture for the FARC. No more kidnappings. No that the FARC promises to stop kidnapping to fee the kidnapped people. This is a decision that you, here, to make. No more kidnappings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A powerful and a brave message for her to make. That's the former leader of FARC two died recently, is it not in the film then?
BRUCE: One of the leaders. That was Raul Reyes who was sort of the press secretary.
BOTERO: March the 1st.
BRUCE: But Ingrid in that video as you see is saying, no more kidnappings. You have to stop the kidnappings. Ten days after she made that speech to the guerillas and other politicians is when they caught her on the road and --
KING: You see the image of her and there it is again, in your documentary and you've seen the pictures of her since the release. Obviously taken a bit of a toll on her. Her spirits were very high, but physically has take an toll on her.
BRUCE: But still, I'm absolute astounded how good she looked. I mean there was a video released in November where Ingrid looked terrible, and there were reports of her imminent death. And you know, there are hepatitis. She was said to be suffering from leishmaniasis, a flesh eating diseases. All of these are typical jungle diseases and there's not very much medical care. So, when I saw Ingrid, it was unbelievable how great she looks but we had heard from another hostage who was released with her that she had saved his life. That she was her morale and she was always rallying around the other hostages and she was defiant. She tried to escape three times. They were chaining here by the neck to a tree at night so she wouldn't escape. And this woman comes down and says, I'm going be president of Colombia, still. You watch.
KING: You both are going to stay with us. We need to get to a break in just a moment but help the Americans watching, who may not have been paying close attention to this, and who are hearing the word FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. This is not a new organization. This is not a short term confrontation, even the five years these Americans were held captive is but a blip in the history of this conflict.
And quickly, just a synopsis of why, why does FARC exists and what is its mission? BOTERO: The FARC exists because there are is - political system in Colombia. They have 44 years in the jungle and in these years, no changes in Colombia, no important changes. I think the political situation has changed radically in this event.
BRUCE: From these event.
BOTERO: I think it's coming, maybe, a peace process in Colombia after they release.
KING: Fascinating work from both of you. Please stay with us and stick with us for a little bit further as we go through more of this drama. I want to come back from a quick break. We'll also be joined by two people who know first hand the fear, the pain, and the trouble of captivity. Two former hostages, one from the Philippines and one from Colombia. Please stay with us. You're watching "Larry King Live."
KING: More from Jorge Botero and Victoria Bruce in just a moment. But first, we're joined now by two people who know the pain and the fear of kidnapping and captivity first hand. In Phoenix, Arizona, Glenn () he was held captive by rebels in Colombia for five weeks, back in 2001. His story in "National Geographic" program "Locked up abroad" and he has written a book about his ordeal "Two Wheels through Terror." And at Wichita, Kansas, Gracia Burnham. She was held hostage in the Philippines for a year with her husband back in 2001 and 2002. Her husband was shot and killed during the rescue effort. Glen, let me begin with you. You were captured by another rebel group in Colombia, the ELM, the National Liberation Army back in 2001. Take us back to that day and the circumstances of your capture.
GLEN HAGGSTEAD, KIDNAPPED IN COLOMBIA IN 2001: Yes, I was. First, I would like to say congratulations to the President Uribe and the entire government of Colombia and the military. They did a fine job. This is one day for the good guys.
In November of 2001, I was on a South American motorcycle ride down to Argentina and I was just outside Medellin, and I was stopped at a road block and taken prisoner by the National Liberation Army. It's a Marxist group with more of a political agenda than the FARC but is staunchly anti-American group. We didn't know they have a base camp. They kept moving me every two days from one group to another. Marching me up and down the mountains. Same deal, chaining me to the tree at night and going through interrogations nightly.
KING: Chaining you to the tree nightly, interrogations, any other things done, beatings, torture, to scare or intimidate you?
HAGGSTEAD: Yes, all of the above. In a way, it's the political group, they had a, like a news program every morning from 7:00 to 8:00 and at night, 7:00 to 8:00 and they had a broadcast going on in an AM station. It was like the anti-American hour. Every night, every morning, they broadcast all these, you know imperialists is, and those Yankees and everything that the U.S. government supposedly was doing wrong around the world. And they would have the political officer put me in a circle of all the men and made to listen to the radio and point a finger and sort of point me out as the guy who was responsible for it all.
KING: Gracia, you were in the Philippines celebrating your wedding anniversary, if I'm correct, when you were taken into captivity, why?
GRACIA BURNHAM, KIDNAPPED IN THE PHILIPPINES in 2001: Actually, we were missionaries there. We just happened to be celebrating our anniversary. We choose the wrong resort. You know, they just, I think the jihad of the Abu Sayyaf, the group that was holding us has kind of degenerated into a kidnap for ransom group. And we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, they like resorts because wealthy people are supposed to go there.
KING: And take me back in time. And I know it's painful, into the details of your captivity, how you were treated. The way you were intimidated or kept in fear.
BURNHAM: For over a year we lived in the jungle, we slept on the ground, we starved, we mobiled, walked day and night, and day and night. Totally exhausted. We witnessed the atrocities is that these would commit against the villagers as we would pass through the villages. We were always trying to stay a step ahead of the military, who of course we're trying to come in and rescue us. After a year and 16 gun battles, the gun battle that rescued me, killed my husband, Martin but I was able to come home to Kansas and take care of my children.
KING: To the degree, you can take us back into that night. Because as we celebrate the success of the raid in Colombia, your story and the pain of your story is a reminder that these raids are not always fully successful. It certainly not always fully successful.
BURNHAM: You know, at the time, that final gun battle happened, we had not eaten for 10 days. I didn't know you could go 10 days without food. I thought after three you dropped dead. But we had salt and we had water and we were at just at our wit's end, Martin and I were begging god to get us of there, and we didn't care how. What we didn't know that the CIA, I think was working with the Philippine government, and they had sewn a homing device into a backpack that had come in. So, the military was following us and we didn't know that. That day, when they came up over the hill, they just opened fire on us like they had always before. There was never selective gun fire in those gun battles. And Martin immediately was shot and I was, too, in the leg. And I came to rest beside him on the hill and I don't know how long that gun battle lasted. But when I heard the Abu Sayyaf retreating down the river and I heard the government forces coming down the hill, I started to move my hands around so they would know I was alive. They drag me up the hill, and as I looked back, Martin was white, and I knew he was dead. And they called the helicopter and they took me to like a U.S. Army field unit that had been built just for our case. They fixed me up and treated me very well and sent me home.
KING: It's a powerful story. We want to come back to it. We need to work in a quick break here.
As we go to break, I want to note, Glen will be with us. His story, the National Geographic Channel's "Locked Up Abroad in Colombia," will air Monday at 8:00 Eastern. We'll be back.
KING: We get right back to our guests here in Washington, journalist Jorge Batero and Victoria Bruce, in Phoenix, Glen Haggsted, who was held captive in Colombia back in 2001, and in Wichita, Kansas Gracia Burnham, held hostage in the Philippines in 2001 and 2002.
Glen, you're a black belt in the martial arts, a tough guy. Explain your captors. Are we talking about children? Are we talking paramilitary? Did they have training?
HAGGSTED: No, no, they weren't. They were mostly campacino children, kids, teenagers that the older commandants -- there were usually three or four commandants that controlled about 15, 20 youngsters, very poorly trained. They just kept guns pointed at me all the time. The kids were actually marveling at the martial arts background and what not.
It's interesting that that was ultimately my method to gain my freedom, was to use the principles of Judo and Jujitso to use their energy against them, and redirect it when I discovered that they did want to keep he me alive. First, from all the beatings, I thought that they wanted me eventually dead, because of all the hatred they had for Americans. But then I realized they wanted me alive. At that point, I took it upon myself to sabotage my own health. I told them all along I was dying of prostate cancer anyway. The government didn't care about people like me.
That was one thing that the embassy was pretty smart in. They told my friends and family to pull my website down. I have a website called StrikingViking.net, and that tracks my travels around the world on a motorcycle. They pulled that down. So the rebels, they also have a branch in the cities. The university students check when they grab a hostage to see what the news says. If it is big headlines around the world, they think your important and they make a really high demand for your ransom. That way, you stay there longer.
It worked better for us when the FBI hostage release team said, you know, just keep quite about it. We kept it out of the media. I told them I'm not important. They couldn't figure it out. There was no news about me whatsoever. We just did a complete news blackout. It eventually leaked right about the time of my release, but that worked.
Once I discovered that they wanted me alive, I had told them I was dying of prostate cancer and I needed a sample of my own blood to prove that I was urinating blood. So I took a key and rammed it up my nose at night when no one was looking, and caused blood flow. I did that a couple nights in a row, and squirted it all over my groin. In the morning, they saw it and started to get worried. I told them I'm bleeding to death, have this cancer. That's really what expedited things for me and really got the ball moving. KING: Jorge and Victoria, you heard the calculations there. Are you better off dead, are you better off alive? Is FARC -- is it the same calculation for them, or are the political consequence different. They obviously kept these hostages alive for a long time. They view them as ransom, as leverage?
BRUCE: This was probably, according to one of our sources, who is a former FBI hostage negotiator, the most difficult and complicated hostage case that he had ever worked, the longest for sure. What had happened is the contractors were considered to be prisoners of war by the FARC, because they were flaying in -- they weren't flying a spray airplane. They were actually flying reconnaissance airplanes, looking for drug labs, things like that.
When they crashed, the guerrillas, who are down there and who do some of the drug trafficking out of those areas that you're fighting in the war against us. Therefore, you are now prisoners of war, which meant they're in a totally different category than Glen, because there was no demand for money ever. They wanted an exchange of prisoners.
BATERO: For Colombian leader of the FARC, who is here in the jail, in DC jail, and he will be in jail for the next 60 years.
BRUCE: Which made it even more complicated. We extradited a FARC guerrilla who was not actually one of the people kidnapped the guys, but he was one who was sent to make some arrangements for negotiation, and he was picked up.
KING: Gracia, we're running out of time. But in your experience, was Abu Saif the same? Did they ever explain to you why they had you, what they wanted to get for you?
BURNHAM: What the Abu Saif wanted the whole time was money. Martin, they said, was to them worth a million dollars, and his companion, me, could go free. They were waiting for a payoff to fund their Jihad. They did. They fed us. They wanted us to stay well.
KING: A sad but a fascinating story. We need to work in a quick break. When we come back, three Americans who know the treatment in Iraq captivity, including Shoshana Johnson. She was a POW taken in Iraq when her battalion was ambushed back in March, 2003. Stay with us.
KING: We're back with LARRY KING LIVE, and a new panel of guests to discuss the horrors of captivity. In El Paso, Texas Shoshana Johnson. She was taken captive in Iraq when her battalion was ambushed back in March, 2003.
In Jackson, Mississippi, Tommy Hamill. He escaped his Iraqi captors after three weeks in captivity back in 2004. He was in Iraq as a civilian contractor.
In New York, Micah Geren, kidnapped in Iraq in 2004, held for more than a week. Mike is the author of "American Hostage," and he's working on a film called "The Road to Nasariyah."
Shoshana, I want to start with you. You've heard the stories, the drama of the last couple of days of this captivity and rescue in Colombia. How is it different being a military person?
SHOSHANA JOHNSON, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, I don't know if there's that much of a difference. Having your freedom taken from you is something that's very much unexpected. Having it returned to you in such a dramatic fashion is traumatic in itself. I really don't see that much of a difference, being it military or civilian. Your freedom is your freedom.
KING: Tommy, you were held captive for three weeks or so. These Americans who have been rescued in Colombia, five and a half years. Talk about your challenge coming back into freedom, the significance of it, the scope of it, and whether you think it's a much more significant challenge for these gentlemen, given the time?
TOMMY HAMILL, KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ: I can't put words to how long they were being held. I was only held for three weeks. There was days that I would sit there and look out through the bars in some of the rooms they had me in and think, if I'm here two years from now, or three or four, am I going to still feel the same way now, since I'm fresh? My faith brought me through this. It gave me a peace in my heart. It gave me the courage to stand up to my captors.
They fed me, and they took care of the wound that I had. I knew that they were reasons for some of the things they were doing. They didn't want me to die because of the wound I had. They had things they were going to use me for. They were trying to sell me up through their network. I knew that we weren't doing any kind of negotiating with the US. What they were trying to do was sell me through their own network. They had to keep me in fairly good shape, because they would come in periodically and video me sitting there.
I'm sure they were showing these videos to other insurgency groups in Iraq, letting them know who they had, and how well I was being treated.
KING: Mike, as you listen to a story like that, you're afraid. I assume you're petrified, worried for your life and yet, your captors are talking about you as if you're commodity, some way to trade you or sell you. What is that like?
MICAH GEREN, KIDNAPPED IN IRAQ: It's interesting because you know at least if you have some value to them, then you're going to be kept alive. So, it's a conflicting emotion. I kept saying to my captors, I have no value, nobody cares about me. You should just let me go. In reality, you know that because you have some value to them, that's the reason that they're treating you, they're not killing you right way.
And at one point, five days into my captivity, they just took me off without saying anything and brought me into a small room where they made an execution threat video. That was the moment that I thought, maybe everything has changed. All conversations that I had been having with them, trying to appeal to them, trying to reach some sort of common ground, maybe it's not working.
KING: We're going to hear much more from all three of your. We're going to sneak in a quick break here. This special edition of LARRY KING LIVE continues.
We'll be right back. Stay with us.
KING: Back on LARRY KING now. Joining us, Dr. Paul Ragan. He's a former Navy psychiatrist. He has interviewed and treated former POWs. He's now an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University. Still with us, Shoshana Johnson, Tommy Hamill, Micah Geren, all taken captive in Iraq over the past several years.
Dr. Ragan, let me begin with you. Three Americans released after five and a half years of captivity. You heard the Army doctors saying, physically, they seem well, although there will be additional testing. Psychologically, they seem well. There will be additional testing. Is this the kind of thing that in 24-48 hours you know whether this person has survived in a well adjusted way, as well as one can be adjusted? Or do you have to check back three months, six months, a year or two down the road?
DR. PAUL RAGAN, PSYCHIATRIST: Actually, you can't tell that much in 24 hours, except for very severe, acute illnesses. So monitoring these three gentlemen is going be very, very important. Five and half years of captivity, they're at very high risk for developing a form of complex post traumatic stress disorder. So you're right, you need to check up on them pretty frequently and be sure that you make services available when they need them.
KING: Shoshana, tell us what that is like? I assume you get these check ups from time to time. Take us through your own readjustment.
JOHNSON: I'm still going through readjustment. Actually, in April of this year, I was hospitalized for deep depression and suicidal tendencies five years later. You can't tell it in the beginning, exactly how severe it is. It is not easy adjusting to having your freedom returned to you, returning to your family, your friends. You are looked upon differently. And being a soldier is a little bit even tougher because you don't want to admit that you have these problems.
I see a psychiatrist on a regular basis to help me through this. I do take medication. Fortunately, I get together with my fellow POWs at least once a year. And that really helps me deal with all the stresses of being a former POW. But without a doubt, I know I'm going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life.
KING: It's a fascinating point. Tommy, do you have a shared experience, in the sense that do you get help, counseling, camaraderie from others with similar experiences? Does that help?
HAMILL: In the beginning, you know, I told the psychologist when I was in Germany, I experienced a nightmare, dream while I was being held one night, the whole thing, the attack all over again. I just sat up in that pitch black building they had me in and I just prayed to go. I said lord, I can't deal with this every night. I can't go to bed and wake up with these nightmares every night. I'm going home one day. I'm going to pray I'm going home. I've got a family at home. I've got teenagers at home.
And I'm not going home any less a man than I came over here. We're fighting an enemy that we can't let win. I'm a pretty sore loser. And I'm not going to let them win. When I came back, I wanted them to know that I'm not going to hiding. I'm not going to be fearful of you, even though what I went through -- they're terrorists. They terrorize people. So the experience I went through, I'm not going to let them terrorize me. I'm not going to let them win. I'm going to keep coming at you every day and that's how I deal with this.
KING: Sneak in one more quick break. More from Micah and Dr. Ragan and the rest of our panel when we're back in just a moment.
KING: Back with our panel here on LARRY KING LIVE, discussing both the short and long-term psychological strain and stress of captivity. Micah, when you were held captive in Iraq, your captors said they will kill you if the Americans didn't leave. Obviously, you have no control over that. How do you deal with something like that?
GEREN: In the short term, when you're facing that, you deal with it by digging into as much inner strength as you can muster. It's really important that you hold yourself together. So you're terrified, but you can't face that fear in the moment. You have to be extremely strong. In the video that you're showing, that's what was going through my head, just maintaining strength. I had a lot of anger at that moment.
When you get out of that situation, that's what's difficult, because you're thrust into a totally different environment. You're with people who sympathize, but don't necessarily understand what you went through. And you're dealing with all the facets of daily life that just didn't make any difference at that point, like your job, your relationships. It's because of friends and family that you can really pull together.
I was extraordinarily lucky, because I had about a year to be able to digest the situation by writing a memoir with my fiance, and that just helped. That was cathartic for me. I was able to talk to everyone who was involved in the rescue efforts on the outside, and go through with it them, because it was extremely traumatic as well, even more so perhaps for everyone on the outside who saw videos like that.
KING: Dr. Ragan, let's follow that point, and talk about it in the context of these three Americans and the politician Ingrid Betancourt, a French Colombian citizen. They're released after more than six years in captivity. In her case, we saw pictures of her today with children. She could lift them with her arms when she was taken into captivity. You see them now. Her daughter is a grown young woman. Her son is taller than her. What are the challenges when you come out of this situation and you're being reintegrated and you're spending time with people who you haven't seen five, six years, their family members, their spouses. What are the stresses?
RAGAN: The stresses are that time marches on. And what's important is that when the euphoria of being liberated dies down, and you begin to realize what you've lost -- for Ingrid Betancourt, she's going to realize that very critical years of her children's development -- their teenagers now, as tall as she is -- those critical years, she missed and she'll never be able to get them back.
It's sort of like a Rip Van Winkle effect. The country has moved on. These three Americans, it was 2003 when they were last in this country and things have moved on. It's a very, very bizarre experience. I think this panel is articulating very well that it's bizarre. It's jarring. It's difficult to reintegrate back. And it doesn't happen in just two or three days.
KING: We're about to run out of time, but I want to ask each of you who have been in this situation, starting with you, Shoshana, for one sentence or two of advice for these three Americans as they get reintegrated with their families in society.
JOHNSON: Take your time and if you need help, there's no shame in asking for it.
HAMILL: That's true. One thing that I prayed the most about while I was being held, I wanted to come home. But I knew I might not come home alive. I made things work out on May 2nd that there was a military unit close by, and I knew if it didn't go the way I wanted it to go that day, that I wouldn't come home.
GEREN: I think it's important to keep reminding yourself of why you're back and the friends and family that are around you, and accept going back into your life and just be happy to be alive.
KING: Dr. Ragan, the last word for you, sir.
RAGAN: I think that all three of these people have said it very well. Take the time. There's no shame in asking for help. Post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, it's very difficult to reintegrate. Take the time and you want to do things where you're able to reassert control in your life.
KING: Need to cut it off there. Larry will be back tomorrow night with a special anniversary edition. Right now Anderson Cooper standing by in New York. Anderson?