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7 U.S. POWs Rescued in Iraq

Aired April 13, 2003 - 08:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody, from CNN's global headquarters in Atlanta. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING SUNDAY. I'm Heidi Collins.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Leon Harris. Glad to have you folks with us here at 8:00 a.m. Eastern, 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon in Iraq, where we are just now learning that seven American troops who have been held captive now safe in the hands of U.S. Marines.

COLLINS: That's right. It's incredible news, Leon. In fact, we are going to go to Tom Mintier right now. He is standing by at Central Command in Doha, Qatar, for the very latest on this. Good morning to you, Tom. Big news.

TOM MINTIER, CNN BANGKOK BUREAU CHIEF: Good morning, Heidi. Very big news this morning. And it couldn't come from a higher source. General Tommy Franks himself, while he was being interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, talked about six or seven -- it's now confirmed as seven U.S. soldiers have been recovered, if you will, alive and in good shape.

Two apparently suffering gunshot wounds. But Tommy Franks, during a taping of a CNN "LATE EDITION" program that will be aired later here on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, you will be able to see the entire interview with General Franks. But General Franks, right before he walked into the interview, was told by one of his staff officers about the turnover of six or seven Americans.

As I said, now confirmed as seven, but their identities still have not been released. But General Franks is the one who made the announcement.


GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: While I was walking out to come over here to talk to you, I got a report that six or seven -- in fact people we had listed as missing -- and that's an interesting point, because I don't know -- I know they're in good shape. And I know they're in our hands and under our control now, and that's very good.

What I don't know is if they're from the ones we had listed as prisoners of war or whether they're from the missing category. So in the hours ahead we'll get better definition, but that's where we stand right now.


MINTIER: That listing of POWs was seven, and six were listed as missing in action. Some were from the 507th Maintenance Company, and two Apache helicopter pilots were being held by Iraqi soldiers.

Other information we were getting from CNN's Bob Franken was that Iraqi soldiers who were holding these seven, apparently the officers fled and the enlisted men of the lower ranks simply took them out to a road where U.S. Marines were waiting and handed them over. General Franks saying they're all in good shape. They'll be aboard a helicopter probably shortly and back to a medical area where they'll be treated and move on to Kuwait -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Tom, we'd like you to stand by if you would, please. We are getting some more information now from Bob Franken. I'm gong to hand it over to Leon. If you would, stand by for us Tom. Thanks so much.

HARRIS: Let's go right now to Bob Franken. He's the one who called in moments ago with the latest information he was hearing form Marines, and Bob is right now at an airfield about 50 miles south of Baghdad. We believe that that maybe where those seven troops may be heading. Bob, what do you know?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Heidi? Can you hear me, Leon and Heidi?

HARRIS: Yes, I can hear you, Bob. Go ahead.

FRANKEN: OK. You can tell it's very, very noisy. And the noise from the two CH-46 helicopters that are bringing the seven former POWs from their captivity found north of Samarra. They were abandoned by officers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and other (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HARRIS: Folks, obviously we're having a tough time hearing Bob. And Bob, I'm not sure if you can even hear me, because I can tell that those helicopter rotors are actually making quite a bit of noise. But what I think Bob was trying to tell us right now is that he has actually got eyeballs on these helicopters that are bringing back these seven troops that are believed to be the POWs that are missing. And he's actually there at this air base about 50 miles south of Baghdad.

Let's go now back to Heidi.

COLLINS: Tom Mintier, we have asked you to stand by to tell us a little bit more about what you know. You heard this news coming out of Qatar today. Tell us in your best estimation what will happen next.

We've heard an awful lot of debriefing these people who have just been taken into U.S. custody, so to speak. Also I have that question, and then, the other question about the junior Iraqi soldiers who gave up the U.S. soldiers, what exactly will happen with them next?

MINTIER: All right. Let's start with probably what's most important to at least seven families right now. We do have confirmation from Bob Franken that these two helicopters have landed.

HARRIS: Tom, excuse me. Tom, this is Leon. I just want to jump in because we have Bob Franken reestablished right now. And we'll get to you in just a bit, Tom Mintier.

But we want to go back to Bob Franken. We can hear Bob right now, and Bob is right there at that air base now, where he's watching perhaps the arrival of these POWs -- Bob.

FRANKEN: Well, Leon, it's just been loaded on two CH-46s. And they are being taken out by ambulance to the base hospital here. This is the base about 65 miles south of Baghdad.

You told the story of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) rescued by Marines (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Now, as we watched, five of them came off of one helicopter, all running. One of them, as a matter of fact, had his arm in a sling. But the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), they were both able to walk to the helicopter, but they had their arms in casts and limping.

They looked like they were (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We are being told now that we have to move to another location (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'll get back to you in a bit. OK?

HARRIS: All right. We understand, Bob. Thank you very much, Bob.

I think what I was able to make out from the report there, it you couldn't understand it, you must understand right now that Bob is in a location where he's very close to these helicopters. I believe he said two helicopters bringing in these seven service members who were found alive today. He says that there were five that were on one helicopter. Two were on another.

That could be significant, because it's believed that the reports -- according to reports that we've gotten so far this morning, that two of these service members have been -- have sustained gunshot wounds. So it could be that two of them are being taken to a different location to get some sort of attention to those wounds.

So that's what Bob Franken is reporting right now, is that he saw five being offloaded with one helicopter, two off of another. And once things calm down there at that air base, we'll get back to Bob -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Good idea. All right. We are going to head back to Bob Mintier now, who has been standing by this morning for us in Doha, Qatar, to tell us more of what he knows. Go ahead, Tom. Tell us once again what you know.

MINTIER: Heidi, well despite what we were hearing from Bob Franken, it's a very good visual sighting by Bob, being able to see the seven come off those helicopters and heading into an ambulance and going for medical treatment. So, again, he saw all seven, and that's the first visual sighting we've had.

We heard first from General Tommy Franks that indeed he was saying at the time he had received good news as he was preparing for these interviews that six or seven Americans who were missing had been located and were in good shape and with U.S. forces. So this process of moving back away from the battle lines is under way.

Apparently the senior officers who were holding these seven Americans reportedly ran away from their posts and left them to the lower-ranking Iraqi soldiers, who apparently realized in the closing hours of this the value of holding these people and taking them, fortunately, to coalition forces and within walking distance. They apparently walked these seven to the command post that the Marines were holding and provided them to be handed over to the U.S. Marines.

So that was the first knowledge we had, and we've been hearing trickling reports in the preceding hours that POWs or MIAs had been indeed found. Each day at the briefing, an update is requested from Centcom on the status of these missing Americans on the battlefield. Yesterday they had information that they found some uniforms at a prison just outside of Baghdad...

COLLINS: Tom, I am so sorry to continue to do this to you this morning. We have more breaking news, as you would imagine in a situation like this. Once again if you'll stand by for us, we'll going to try to head back to Bob Franken with Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, we got the word now that Bob now has more information. And it's quieter now. We can hear Bob a lot better. Bob Franken, are you there?

FRANKEN: I am. We are racing toward the field hospital now. The two ambulances carrying the rescued Marines. We rolled past a gauntlet of Humvees full of Marines who applauded them as they went by. We witnessed they were taken off the two CH-46 helicopters; there were seven of them.

As I said, in the first helicopter, all five raced to their ambulance employ only one had his arm in a sling. They were in various stages of dress. Some of them were wearing the Marine t- shirts and pants. One had on striped pajamas and another one had some sort of desert-colored pajamas.

In the other one, two others were more injured, both were able to walk to their ambulance, both seemed to have their arms in a sling and both were limping. We had been told two of them had suffered gunshot wounds and of course, the story is that we've been told here is that they were recovered after the unit that was holding them north of Samarra had its officers deserted.

Some of the underlings from the unit thought they would take them to the road. They flagged down an oncoming Marine light armored unit and they were taken. We do not have knowledge of what happened to the Iraqis who took them there. We do not know the exact nature of the injuries of the Marines who were brought here, but as I said they were all walking under their own power. Some of them limping a little bit. They'd been taken to the field hospital, which is where we are racing right now. It's about 65 miles south of Baghdad. They will be taken from here, we are told, to the Kuwait area where they will receive more extensive medical condition and debriefings go on from there.

So it's a fast-breaking story, but we have now witnessed them. They have been rescued and been taken to the hospital here.

HARRIS: All right, Bob, let me ask you a couple of questions here, first of all we're trying to narrow down specifically who it is might be watching right now. Have you been able to get any sense of identities here? Have you been able to tell whether we are looking at male soldiers, female soldiers who have been on loaded here?

FRANKEN: I do not have an identity and chances are, Leon, as you know there are restrictions about passing that on until certain procedures have been followed including notification of families. So we have no information about their names nor do we have any real information about the specific circumstances that led to their capture nor any more than what I've reported that led to their release.

HARRIS: Exactly, I didn't want to ask you specifically if we had names. We're just trying to figure out whether or not you've seen women amongst the service members and is there any way at all which branch of the service they happened to be serving in by looking at the uniforms they're wearing?

FRANKEN: We were told they were all Marines.

HARRIS: You were told they're all Marines?

FRANKEN: Wait a minute, I'm just -- now I'm being told contrary to what I'd been hearing earlier so that they were soldiers, which would make them U.S. Army. Quite frankly, I've had two versions of this, so we'll going to have to check it out further. They are, I will tell you, at a Marine facility and I will tell you they were in fact picked up by a Marine unit.

HARRIS: That's good to hear, Bob. The reason why that's important to clarify because according to the list that we have, the list of both those missing in action and those that are POWs is a big mix. I've only seen a couple of Marines, but mostly we're talking Army and specifically we've been very concerned about the POWs who were with the 507th Maintenance Unit out of Fort Bliss, Texas. We'll wait until you find out more information and get clearance on actually...

FRANKEN: We're seeing them getting taken off the ambulance now. Can you hear me?

HARRIS: Yes, go ahead, Bob.

FRANKEN: OK, if you can't, I'll do my best to talk. What you're hearing is the roar of the C-130 airplane that is waiting for them, the transport plane. They are being taken off the ambulance, they are running, one of them (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I can tell you right now one of them is a woman. One of the ones --- and she was limping. She is limping toward the plane and the other one with the arm? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plane. He raised his fist in the air obviously in a symbol of celebration. Everybody at this Marine base (UNINTELLIGIBLE) HARRIS: Bob, I'm going to have to ask you to back up and try it again. We were able to hear the tail end of that as the noise level died down a quite a bit. I did mention earlier before you talked about the one who raised his arm to those who were on the sidelines they're watching, can you back up and begin again, please?

FRANKEN: Leon, I'm going to have to go. I can't hear you at all.

HARRIS: OK, understood. Bob Franken there. Very close to the planes now that we are now hearing apparently these service members who have been rescued now and have been turned over to the Marines didn't spend very much time there on the ground at this air base that Bob Franken is at right now and moments ago he may have been talking us to 10 minutes ago, he saw them being offloaded. Seven being taken off two helicopters. Now he's mentioning a number of them being put on a C-130. so we'll try to get back to Bob after the noise level dies down -- Heidi.

COLLINS: I sure think they'll be checked medically and also debriefed and we'll hear more about that process in just a moment. Actually, we have Bob again. Poor Bob. Let's go back to Bob, we are able too hear him once again. Bob, tell us what you have now.

FRANKEN: I'm sorry. It's a very noisy place right now. Can you repeat what you said?

COLLINS: Just wondering what you're seeing. We were hearing you talking about the --- pardon me, the seven people who have been taken into U.S. custody now and are being flown off in a C-130. We heard you say there was celebration, obviously. There was one of the soldiers was raising his fist in the air in celebration. But prior to that we weren't able to hear you very well. If you can recall what you may have been telling us about what you were seeing.

FRANKEN: OK, the plane is still waiting. You can probably hear it in the background. There were seven who got off of two ambulances. And the first ambulance, the first five were ones that were uninjured or had minor injuries. They ran to the C-130 that was waiting. One or two of them raised their fists in the air. In the other one were two that were injured more seriously. But walking, one of them was a woman. Who was in uniform, she was limping. She looked to have an ankle injury and she was carrying her material into the plane and the other one had similar injuries and neither looked like they were having life-threatening injuries they were rescued a short while ago after that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COLLINS: All right, apparently we have lost Bob right now, but you did hear him say some pretty exciting news. Seven of the people they have just taken into U.S. custody; now five of them ran to that C-130 obviously in quite good condition. Two of them were injured but still walked to the plane, and Bob did mention quite interestingly, we would get more questions to him in a moment that he did see a woman. So we will be waiting to hear more word on that -- actually, we'll hear it right now. Bob Franken, I'm wondering if you can tell us were you able to tell if possibly the woman that you did see was African- American.

FRANKEN: As a matter of fact, she was. I was right next to her. I did not talk to her, but she was moving very slowly to the plane. Yes, an African-American woman, I would describe her as 5-foot-5 and somewhat stocky build. She was the one who had an ankle injury. It did not seem to be that serious. She was limping and she was moving under her own power to the plane carrying her own material. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COLLINS: Obviously, Bob, what we're trying to get at here is there was a POW, Shoshana Johnson out of the 507th. You see her picture there in the top left of her screen from Fort Bliss, Texas, Army specialist. Just waiting to hear if this possibly might be whom we are talking about and who Bob Franken might have just seen. Bob thanks so much for now, we want to -- I'm sorry, did you have something more, Bob?

FRANKEN: Well, I just wanted to say that we don't have any ideas, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and that will be coming at some point. And just to point out, we were able to take video of them. This happened so quickly that we were not able to get our live units into place, but obviously as soon as we get our video back to a transmission point we will share it with you.

COLLINS: Absolutely. We certainly do not want to speculate. Just pointing out as we've been saying that that POW that we know of, Shoshana Johnson, African-American woman with an ankle injury, so we wanted to put that out there, the information we have. We, of course, will wait for absolute clarification on that -- Leon.

HARRIS: We have to be careful; we don't want to jump the gun. We do also understand that we've been working with two different sets of numbers. Seven POWs, six missing in action. Let's go to Patty Davis, who is standing by at the Pentagon and see what she's hearing there and see if she can add any more to all of this. Good morning, Patty, what is the word there?

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon. The U.S. military has certainly made finding these Americans a priority. As you've heard Bob report, now Central Command confirming what Bob has seen in terms of the -- there are seven Americans that are now back in U.S. custody. No word though from Central Command or here at the Pentagon whether these are prisoners of war specially or those six that are missing. There are of course, seven prisoners of war; five of those had been taken along with Jessica Lynch from the 507th Maintenance Unit on March 23 when their convoy was ambushed in Iraq near Nasiriyah.

Also, there were two other Apache pilots who the next day, March 24, who were taken prisoners and they looked to be in good health when they were taken prisoner. There are also six missing and those from incidents dating from March 23 to April 6. Now as Bob reported, these American service people in the custody of U.S. Marines and in transit right now.

Pentagon, of course, not yet identifying them. They want to let the families have a chance to find out word first before we put that out. Also they have been very concerned here about the Pentagon about the whereabouts and the health, the status of the missing and those prisoners of war. The International Red Cross, although it had been trying had not been able to have any access to these people at all.

Also, you will recall the bloody uniforms, the American uniforms were found in some prison that bore the logos and the names of some of the prisoners of war and there had been a lot of concern here at the Pentagon about their status and their health. Very good news here at the Pentagon and at Central Command that some, seven now, it is confirmed, have been located and found and now back with the U.S. -- Leon.

HARRIS: Very good, thanks, Patty. We appreciate that. Patty Davis at the Pentagon -- Heidi.

COLLINS: We will take you now to the White House. We have Dana Bash standing by to tell us about any possible reaction. Obviously, it's very early on a Sunday morning, Dana, but given the scope of this news, the enormity of it wondering if there is a comment from the White House at this time.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not yet, no official comment here at the White House. As a matter of fact, generally with situations like this the White House has been very strict about a rule where they say that all operational details and information does come from the Pentagon.

However, the president himself is not here. He is at Camp David for the weekend, and while he's there, Heidi, he generally gets constant updates on what is going to in Iraq. Constant updates from the war front, and one would think that information like this would certainly come to him very quickly, but we do not know yet exactly what he has been told, what the President knows. He has at Camp David all of the modern technology that he needs to communicate in secure lines with his war council. He communicates specifically with Tommy Franks when he needs to over in Doha, Qatar.

So he is generally kept up to date. At this time, we don't know what exactly he knows about this situation. We do know that on Friday the president was visiting two local military hospitals and while there he was asked by a reporter what he thinks about the situation with the missing -- soldiers who are missing in action and prisoners of war, how high of a priority it is for him to get them back, and he said it is certainly a very high priority. Let's listen to what he had to say on Friday.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The priority of this campaign is to rid the Iraqi people of any vestiges of Saddam Hussein and his regime so we can not only free the people, but clear that country of weapons of mass destruction. I don't know the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. I don't know if he's dead or alive. I do know he's no longer in power. In terms of POWs, we'll use every resource we have to finding POWs that are alive and pray that they are alive because if they are, we'll find them.


BASH: Now, it was just yesterday that Jessica Lynch, a former POW, was brought back to the Washington, D.C. area, and when Jessica Lynch was rescued, the president was kept in the loop about that rescue mission, and, of course, there was jubilation here at the White House once she was successfully rescued, but there was certainly that happiness was tempered by the fact that the president said that there were other men and women, service men and women who were still missing, and it was something that the president, as you just heard him say, that it was a very high priority for him to get them back.

It was just three weeks ago today that we had the first word that there were some prisoners of war. We had those images coming up of prisoners of war. The president three weeks ago did talk about the fact that it was very important for him that those prisoners of war be treated humanly and he made it clear at that time that they are treated according to the Geneva Convention.

So he had been certainly been keeping tabs on all of the soldiers and Marines that have been missing and have been captive, so it is certainly something that if -- clearly Bob Franken saw them come back, this White House will be very, very happy.

COLLINS: That's right. Given the fate of some of the POWs, I would understand how that would be tedious, at best, be thinking of how they were treated and unbelievable timing as Jessica Lynch just gets home. A boost to her whether these are POWs or MIAs still waiting to hear from that. I'm sure a big boost to her. Dana Bash at the White House. Thanks so much -- Leon.

HARRIS: Let's bring in our military analyst, Major General Don Shepperd, Air Force, retired. Good thing we have you with us this morning, General, since you are the expert on POWs, you've written a book on it -- a book or two, I understand. Let's talk about what is happening right now. First of all, you have to be quite pleased to hear that they've been turned over. They are now in safe hands. What is going to happen to them right now?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That is such good news, Leon. And frankly you're interrogated by your captors and then you're interrogated immediately by your rescuers. What's going on is the Central Command wants every piece of information they can from these captors. Where were you held? Did you see anyone else? Were you held together? What kind of questions did they ask you? Did they take care of your injuries? Were you allowed to communicate? Any information that could lead them to other POWs or information on the MIAs. When they saw Jessica rescued, they even found out about bodies and dug those bodies up and brought those bodies back with Jessica, and they're interrogating close information and that information is being passed to all levels of the command, and that information will be used in future rescues.

HARRIS: What we've heard about the way this came about is they were turned over by an Iraqi lower -- didn't say an officer, but a junior member of the Iraqi ranks actually might have been holding them captive and turned them over to the Marines. As I understand it, when a raid is planned to go in and rescue a POW like we saw with Jessica Lynch, there's a lot of information that could be gathered in the process of the raid. In this case they were turned over is there a difference in the level and kind of info or intel you picked up from this?

SHEPPERD: Yes, it is kind of following a particular pattern. In the northern part of the country, what's happening is the senior officers, are the commanders are walking away from the troops and leaving the troops on their own it appears that's what happened here. Also it appears that the area around Tikrit is being abandoned as opposed to any kind of last outpost. Brent Sadler reported earlier this morning that lots of abandoned equipment. And so the information that you get from people turning them over is different than if you go in and bust in and find things such as documents around and that type of thing. So it's a different situation.

HARRIS: What's to tell you about the fight that's come or not to come around Tikrit?

SHEPPERD: It's looking more and more like there won't be a big battle at Tikrit. It will more likely be a melting away and a cleaning up of pockets. That's kind of what is developing, but we need to be cautious about that, Leon.

HARRIS: They were not found in Tikrit. They were actually in an area, Bob said around Samarra. Might have been in the town of Samarra?

SHEPPERD: Samarra is a town about two-thirds of the way between Baghdad and Tikrit. It's about 30 miles southeast of Tikrit on the Tigris River. So this evidently was a military outpost there where they were being held and the junior people turned them over when the officers fled.

HARRIS: Any surprise to you to find them there and to not find them in Baghdad or in Tikrit?

SHEPPERD: No, I suspect they're being moved to what they consider secure places further and further from any fighting that's going on and it would make sense they'd be evacuated toward Tikrit because it's the only place left that the regime basically still owns.

HARRIS: All right, so what exactly as I understand it, two are injured, ambulatory or injured, still, they'll be taken off separately and they'll be debriefed and interviewed in that process? Is that process under way?

SHEPPERD: Yes, of course it's all pulled together very quickly. But likely if you had time to plan this. What you would do is was to take care of any life-threatening injuries and then as you were taking care of injuries, immediately begin to get information from them as they're put on the C-130. Each one of them will likely be assigned to a handler if you will that will get information. The handlers will get together, share all of that information. All that information will be passed up to others that may be looking out there that had Special Forces or planning teams. What other pieces of information could we have on MIAs or POWs, anywhere. Let's go get them with the following information.

HARRIS: All right, listen, this is one of a procedural question because we want to be careful and we want to be respectful of the families involved and we want to be respectful of the military and we understand there are guidelines we have to follow here. We don't want to jump the gun in trying to identify people. But in this case a lot of information has come out. We are talking about seven. We also understand, Bob Franken there standing next to one of them being an African-American woman. Now considering the fact that we got these numbers and we have at least some sort of a cursory identification of at least one of them here, how much further can we go about saying whether or not this is the POWs versus the MIAs and who they are, we all know who the POWs are.

SHEPPERD: As you say, CNN wants to be very respectful and not put out false information or destroy or create hopes. Central Command early on said seven or six so that matches up with the seven that we knew were POWs because we saw them filmed and the six that are missing. So they wanted to make sure they have the right information, because, clearly, the families of the missing are sitting there on pins and needles wondering if they can be theirs. The seven it appears would match the number from the 507th and the one female. So it's kind of falling into a pattern that is what you would expect. Until Central Command confirms it and notifies the families, we need to be careful.

HARRIS: Exactly, exactly, but in the meantime, if there's any reason for people there to be Fort Bliss, Texas, to be very happy this morning, I think we may be watching and hearing it this morning right here. Thanks, General appreciates it. We'll be back in just a bit -- Heidi.

COLLINS: As we wait to hear even more developments on this incredible story this morning there was another question in the war that many of us have had and that is where is Saddam Hussein? Wolf Blitzer had an opportunity to speak with Tommy Franks today, and we do have new information on that. We'll let you listen in to what he had to say to Wolf Blitzer.


FRANKS: He's either dead or running a lot.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What's your hunch right now?

FRANKS: My boss doesn't permit me to have hunches, Wolf. He'll simply be alive until I can confirm he's dead.

BLITZER: Are you looking for his DNA at that crater?

FRANKS: The appropriate people with the appropriate forensics are doing checks, you would find appropriate in each of the places where we think we may have killed regime leadership. BLITZER: Do you have DNA of Saddam Hussein?

FRANKS: Oh, of course, of course.

BLITZER: You do?

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: You'll be able to confirm?

FRANKS: Of course.

BLITZER: If in fact he was in that building?

FRANKS: Well, unless remains were removed. One wouldn't ever want to say for sure 100 percent you can do anything, but what you should know is that we have the forensic capability to chase these things down and we'll chase them down, every one of them, all of the way.


COLLINS: As you can see from that interview, at least that portion of it not clear if that DNA sample that the coalition has of Saddam Hussein's is new or if they've had it on file, so to speak for quite some time. You'll need to watch the interview to find out more about that. General Franks will be a guest this afternoon on CNN's "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER." That begins at noon Eastern time. Make sure you stick around for that. All right, for now we're going to take a quick break. We hope you'll join us when we come back.



COLLINS: Good morning, everyone, from CNN's Global Headquarters in Atlanta, I'm Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: And I'm Leon Harris, and boy, just crossing 8:30 Eastern time, just after 4:30 in Baghdad in a day in which we're getting significant and substantial news coming to us hot and heavy, fast and furious here at the CNN Center.

Now here's what we've been hearing. Our Bob Franken has been reporting from a location, he is at an air base about 50 miles south of Baghdad. What he's been seeing with his own eyes there is the arrival and then departure of seven U.S. service members who were turned over earlier this morning by Iraqi keepers, if you will, U.S. Marines had command a post and those Marines have been since brought them back and they've been loaded on to a C-130 plane and they'll be flown off and taken care of by U.S. troops now. There is a lot of information we were able to get, but we can't necessarily confirm right now. The U.S. military right now in the process of confirming of identities of these people.

We understand it's seven troops. We believe it's possible there could be seven POWs who have been missing now for about two weeks or so. They were basically ambushed by a Nasiriyah, we believe it was Nasiriyah and they've been missing since about March 23, but what we believe may be happening here is these seven people. Five of who seemed to be OK, two were injured but were able to walk, have since left this air base with Bob Franken south of Baghdad and are now on their way to get attention and to be debriefed. Here's what Bob Franken called to report moments ago.


FRANKEN: We are seeing rescued Marines we rolled past a gauntlet of Humvees full of Marines who applauded them as they went by. We witnessed as they were taking off the two CH-46 helicopters. There were seven of them as I said. In the first helicopter all five raced to their ambulance. Only one had his arm in a sling. They were in various stages of dress. Some of them were wearing the Marine t- shirts and pants. Another one had on striped pajamas and another one had some sort of desert-colored pajamas.

In the other one, two were more injured and both were able to walk and both seemed to have their arms in a sling and both were limping. We have been told at least two of them had suffered gunshot wounds and of course the story here is that we've been told here is that they were recovered after the unit that was holding them north of Samarra had its officers deserted some of the underlings decided they would take them to the road. They flagged down an oncoming Marine light armored unit and they were taken.

We do not have any knowledge about what happened to the Iraqis who took them there. We do not know the exact nature of the injuries of the Marines who were brought here, but as I said, they were all walking under their own power. Some of them limping a little bit. They'd been taken on a field hospital at this base, where we're racing right now. It's 65 miles south of Baghdad. They will be taken from here, we're told to the Kuwait area where they receive more medical condition and debriefings go on from there. It's a fast-breaking story, but we've now witnessed them. They've been rescued and taken to the hospital here.


HARRIS: Now that was Bob's initial report. Bob subsequently called back in to tell us that number one; they all have since been flown off on a c-130, still unable right now to determine exactly at which point they've have been flown. We understand they are getting something sort of medical attention and he was also able to clarify one other point. You heard in that report there he mentioned that one of them was wearing or a couple of them may have been wearing Marine t-shirts.

Well, Bob, after that he was able to get a confirmation that it was not necessarily Marine identification or they were not necessarily wearing Marine uniforms. They are believed to be wearing army uniforms. So we'll have more on that information later on and we'll get a hold of Bob Franken as a matter of fact, in a few minutes. Heidi, over to you now. COLLINS: In the meantime, Leon, we are going to Tom Mintier who is standing by in U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar this morning. Good morning once again, Tom.

MINTIER: Good morning, Heidi, and it's a good clarification by Leon. We don't want to lead anyone's hopes too high that may want need to be let up. We are waiting for the Pentagon to make the notification of the identities of these seven. We first heard about it more than 90 minutes ago from the top man himself, General Tommy Franks, the commander of the coalition here in Doha in a series of interviews. Basically, the word was out about 15 or 20 minutes before these interviews start.

Our CNN's Wolf Blitzer was sitting down with General Franks in an interview that was going to be seen on CNN's "LATE EDITION." Now, Mr. Franks did know about the six or seven as he referred to at the time, but we've since confirmed that there are seven individuals who were picked up in northern Iraq.


FRANKS: While I was walking out to come over here to talk to you I got a report that six or seven in fact, people we had listed as missing and that's an interesting point because I don't know that -- I know they're in good shape and I know they're in our hands and under our control now and that's very good. What I don't know is that they're from the ones we had listed as prisoners of war or whether they're from the missing category. So in the hours ahead we'll get better definition, but that's where we stand right now.


MINTIER: In the hours ahead we may know more about the identities of these seven individuals. What we do know is that apparently they were held by senior Iraqi officers who apparently abandoned them, leaving them to the junior officers and the recruits, if you will, who in turn took them to the U.S. Marines as they were advancing on Tikrit and then they were evacuated by helicopter and now C-130. It's going to be very much of a fast-forward for the next few hours as they were brought off the battlefield for medical attention and for debriefing, but as we know it right now, seven Americans have been returned into U.S. custody. They are in American hands, their exact identities are unknown at this time. Something being worked on by the Pentagon, calling those relatives and informing them that their loved one is OK -- Heidi.

COLLINS: That will be an incredible phone call if and when it does help, soon, we hope. Tom, let me ask you just quickly, we've been hearing from General Shepperd this morning on the question of what that exactly could mean in the town of Tikrit, the area we've been waiting for, possibly a very large battle, the last city -- with a large battle possibly because of Saddam Hussein's ancestral roots there, but now that we are hearing about senior Iraqi soldiers passing these people, the U.S. soldiers, down to junior soldiers and then them just turning them in, was there any comment from U.S. Central Command on that and what it means for that battle? MINTIER: No, not yet. I think you're trying to put two and two together and come up with more. What we saw in the North with Brent Sadler's pictures, that there was a lot of military equipment that had been abandoned but when he went into the Republican Guard Unit there was a lot of military equipment not there, location not known. What we have seen in the south is reports again, indirectly that senior officer has been moving out and abandoning their troops.

So this is a possible indication of what's going on in the south. Again, just an indication. We are not really hearing anything from Central Command yet on what kind of resistance they're facing in Tikrit, just 24 hours ago they told us that the Marines were moving out of Baghdad and heading north and the 4th Infantry Division, the lead elements, at least, had crossed over into Iraq from Kuwait.

So the 4th Infantry Division apparently can move very quickly up into this area along with elements of the Marine expeditionary force and as far as what's going on in Tikrit, especially the southern half, we have seen the northern part of the city and at least one or two military bases that Brent Sadler visited, but in the south the only information we have right now is that seven former missing are now in U.S. custody. As far as the course of battle or what is going on we do know that over the last few days that air power has been used heavily in that area, shaping the battlefield, as the military likes to call it, but what we have today is the fact that seven Americans are now back in the safety of U.S. troops, having been turned over by Iraqi forces ...

COLLINS: All right Tom, we'll have to interrupt you one more time, I apologize for that, but we'll go back to Bob Franken, he has breaking developments for us. Leon, you want to hand it over?

HARRIS: Bob is reporting that this air base we're talking about south of Baghdad. Bob, what's the word now?

FRANKEN: The word is that the seven who were rescued have gotten on a plane and they're heading, we are told, to Kuwait City where they will receive extensive medical care. Two of them will need some medical care although they were able to hobble off their helicopters and into an ambulance, both has been injured. One an African-American woman.

These are all members of the U.S. Army, by the way. One an African American woman was limping on what appeared to be ankle injury that is to say we could see tape with the ankle and the pants she was wearing. The other one had injuries I couldn't determine. Those two were hobbling to the plane. I point out neither of them seemed to have life-threatening injuries obviously they were the sufficiently injured. And the other helicopter and the five others, the five came running off their helicopter to get into their transports. One of them raising his fist in the air. One of them had his arm in the sling and he was in good spirits and good health and all seven were taken to their plane.

As they were driven from the helicopter part of that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) airport to the place where their C-130 was waiting. They went past a gauntlet of Marines in Humvees who applauded them as they went past. Everybody is obviously in high spirits. The story here is they were rescued this morning when the unit that was holding them north of Samarra was deserted by the officers in charge of that unit. They just cut and run and the junior members of the unit decided they would help their POWs so they took them to the road where they were able to flag down a member of the Marine light armored unit and of course the rescue was put to high speed and they've been brought here and whisked away where they'll get medical care and as you can image an awful lot of debriefing -- Leon.

HARRIS: Bob, one last quick question. They weren't on the ground very long there at all. How long were they there at your location and do you know exactly if anything at all was done to them while they were there?

FRANKEN: Nothing was done. It was just immediate transport to the plane. They decided they didn't even need to stop at the Field Hospital here that was prepared for them. Here, by the way, it's 65 miles south of Baghdad at one of the secret Marine bases that's been set up around the country. In any case, they wouldn't say how long they were on the ground for. The five who were in really good shape, weren't on the ground at all. They were flying through the air, they were so happy. They were racing to the plane. They were on the ground no more than 10 minutes, maybe 15 minutes max and most of the time they were in one vehicle or another.

HARRIS: All right, good deal. Thanks Bob. Bob Franken in the right place at the right time this morning at that air base 65 miles south of Baghdad. Heidi, over to you now.

COLLINS: All right, we have Patty Davis standing by now at the Pentagon for an update on this situation this morning. Hi, Patty.

DAVIS: Hi, Heidi. The big question here now is who exactly are these seven and that is something that Pentagon nor Central Command say they have the answer to right now. Are they the seven prisoners of war that were taken by the Iraqis?

Five of those taken along with Jessica Lynch from the 507th Maintenance Unit ambushed near Nasiriyah on March 23, also two Apache pilots, the next day, a hard landing and were also captured by Iraqi troops. Are they the six who are missing? Now those incidents and which those servicemen and women went missing perhaps March 23 to April 6. So a big question here and one that we're not getting a lot of answers on.

Now of course, the Pentagon not identifying anybody at this point. They're waiting to notify the family members of exactly who these people are and we will not get the word before that happens but this is the best news here at the Pentagon since Jessica Lynch was rescued in a daring overnight rescue in Iraq in early April. She was taken to a U.S. air base in Germany where she had some surgery done. She had two broken legs, a broken arm, face laceration, trouble with her spine. She now, yesterday was brought back to the United States, is at Walter Reid Army Medical Facility here in Washington, D.C. area where she will continue to recover here in the United States -- Heidi. COLLINS: All right, Patty Davis thanks so much for the update from the pentagon. And speaking of Jessica Lynch we are getting some information on that as well this morning. Right, Leon?

HARRIS: As a matter of fact, there will be a press conference there today of Jessica Lynch there being the star patient there. She's going to be having -- or they'll have a press conference where more information about her case will be coming up and our Elizabeth Cohen is standing by there with the latest of that. At the Walter Reid Medical center in Washington, D.C., what are you hearing, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon. They'll be holding a press conference to talk about Private Lynch in about an hour. Right now she is listed in satisfactory condition. Private Lynch arrived here at Walter Reid yesterday evening along with other wounded from Operation Iraqi Freedom. The commander here from Walter Reid said they would spend the rest of the weekend evaluating her to see what kind of medical care she needs now.


COHEN (voice-over): Jessica Lynch arrived in Andrews Air Force Base with 49 other injured service members and with a long list of injuries sustained while in captivity in Iraq. She has fractures in her right arm, foot and ankle, both legs and a fractured disc in her lumbar, or lower spine, according to the military. She also suffered head lacerations. Saturday morning, a military spokesman read a statement from her family.

COL. DAVID RUBENSTEIN, LANDSTUHL REG. MED. CENTER: "Jessie's recovery continues and she is doing well. She is in pain, but she is in good spirits. Although she faces a lengthy rehabilitation, she is tough. We believe she will regain her strength soon."

COHEN: Lynch has already had several surgeries. In Germany, doctors put pins and bolts in her broken right arm and both legs, and they repaired her fractured disc. The rehabilitation won't just be physical. Psychologists say there's a mental process all POWs must go through with the help of counselors. It's called decompression in military lingo.

COL. BOB ROLAND, NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY: Oftentimes there are jumbled memories and confusing things going on and it's important for them to process that information and reintegrate it in a way that helps them to recover and I suspect that Jessica is going through that process right now.

COHEN: Part of that process means staying away from the spotlight at least for a while. Psychologists say POWs need to make a slow transition back to the real world.

LT. COL. ELSPERTH RITCHIE, DEP. OF DEFENSE: When they come from that environment and they go to an environment that there are well wishers and stimuli and lights and sound that can just implode upon them and they can actually become disoriented and confused. COHEN: Where Jessica Lynch is in the decompression process is not known. What is known, however is that Americans won't get to see much of their hero as she starts her road to recovery. A road that won't be easy, but Private Lynch has already proven she knows how to do things that aren't easy.


COHEN: You may have noticed at the beginning of our story when we saw the shots of Jessica Lynch coming off the plane, when you saw the video, there were big guys that were blocking any view of her. That is all part of the effort to keep her out of the spotlight so she can recover psychologically. We do not expect to see much of Jessica Lynch in the beginning of her recovery and we are told her family will not speak at the press conference at 10:00 this morning -- Leon.

HARRIS: The family's been consistent about trying to protects their privacy. And we can understand that. Thanks, Elizabeth, we'll see you in just a little and you stand there at your post -- Heidi.

COLLINS: We are hearing a little bit from a family friend, a family friend of the Lynch's describes Jessica Lynch as a giggle waiting to happen. We have Glenda Nelson on the phone from West Virginia this morning to talk more about Private Lynch. Good morning to you, Glenda. Thanks for being here today.


COLLINS: Tell us a little bit about Jessica. Obviously this is an incredible time for the family, difficult for her to get over what she has gone through, but in the same breath, probably feeling very, very lucky to have the support that she's got. Tell us a little bit about her.

NELSON: Jessie's a strong girl. She's a lot of fun, she loves people, loves kids and this won't hamper her. She'll bounce back real quick.

COLLINS: Yes, we read or actually we heard from the military and the statement that they read from the family. That was one of the lines that they read. She's tough.


COLLINS: What exactly does that mean? She's 19 years old. The picture that we continue to see of her, she seems a little small, but not small-minded, right? Tell us more.

NELSON: No, she's very tiny, very tiny, but she's headstrong. I think she's proven that to the world.

COLLINS: There's no question about that. We're looking at her picture now. Tell us, we have been hearing so much about the privacy that will be very important for Jessica as well as her family. Is this a way that they normally react to things or is this, obviously, for the reasons that they've just gone through this terrible ordeal? NELSON: I think they need their privacy right now. I think the whole family needs it. They need to help Jesse get back on the road to recovery and just be there for her and I think this is the time just for the family.

COLLINS: I know that Jessica was hoping to become a schoolteacher. We're looking at some more video now from the hometown there. What do you think about her future plans? I know this is something that was important to her, specially with some of the word that we've had about Jessica keeping in close contact with her kindergarten teacher, very important to her, indeed.

NELSON: Jesse will probably come back get her education and be the best schoolteacher West Virginia ever had.

COLLINS: She'll be a popular one, that's for sure.

NELSON: Yes. She loves children.

COLLINS: All right, very good. We appreciate you so much you talking to us this morning. Glenda Nelson from just outside of Charleston, West Virginia. Thanks again, Glenda -- Leon.

HARRIS: We'll going to go back to our military analyst, retired Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, who's been joining us this morning and sharing his insight on this. And he's got a lot of insight. He has quite a lot of experience dealing with POWs. First of all, we talked earlier about the entire process of them being handed over by the Iraqi holders or keepers or whatever and then turned over to these Marines and information being gathered from them immediately at that particular point. Let me ask you this, those Iraqis that turned them over, what happens to them? Is there any -- I don't know what the guidelines are on a situation like that. If they were turning over troops, would they actually be held themselves and interrogated?

SHEPPERD: Well, absolutely is the answer to that, but I can tell you that anyone that turned these folks over in good shape would carry great favor with their captors. So we would like to take those same people and find out information on others that may be POW or missing in action, Leon. So, sure.

HARRIS: OK, understood. And that could be a good motivation and could be the reason behind them doing what they did this morning anyway. We're going to take a break. Before we go to break. I have to ask you this. There may be family members watching this of those six MIAs or the seven POWs we're aware of right now. How long does the notification process take between the time they get the POWs back to the base some how some way and the family members finding out who they are?

SHEPPERD: It will be very, very quick and of they're roller coaster. You hear seven. You are thinking the original seven, not what's happened to the six MIAs, so the notification I assume will take place very quickly and telephonically. HARRIS: All right, good deal, you stay there, General. We'll get back after this break. Folks, don't go away. Much more coverage coming up in just a moment. Stay with us.


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