tv Locked Up Abroad MSNBC May 21, 2016 6:00pm-7:01pm PDT
>> where are you taking us? >> this place was hell on earth. >> we were incredibly scared. if they wanted to kill you, they killed you and nobody said a word to them. >> what are we doing! >> we had no idea whether we were going to come out of this alive. i went to iraq in may, 1990. i was 26 years old. i had been given a 12-month contract on a gas and oil field. the money looked good, so i decided to take up on the option. it was a very exciting opportunity for a young lad to go to a part of the world which most people didn't know about. i was looking forward to it. the oil field was 15 miles west of tikrit, saddam's hometown. and it was named for the arabic for saddam's-field. it didn't cause alarm bells.
just felt we were working on something important. the living quarters were within the compound area. everything was self-contained within that site. my immediate boss on the project was another irishman about ten years older than me. his name was john white. we formed a good relationship from the beginning. >> how was your flight? >> it was grand. >> when tom turned up, i thought he was a fantastic guy. he was so full of life, so exuberant. we got on very well straightaway. >> we've got good people here. want me to show you around? >> yeah, that would be great. >> great. >> tom was one of the 15 engineers i had under my control. they looked up to me because of my experience in the region. i knew quite a bit about the lie of the land, or so i thought.
at that particular point, all things were going splendid. and my two weeks r&r were coming up. i was really looking forward to getting back to ireland to see my children, my wife. i was very excited about that. at that particular point, there was nothing on the horizon to suggest that i wouldn't make it home. that morning, turned on my radio, heard the news that saddam had invaded kuwait. we heard that they were pulling families out of homes, raping women. there were mass killings. the reports from kuwait were shocking, absolutely shocking.
>> very quickly, the western world started making threats against iraq. we realized we were now in a very, very dangerous situation. >> we were now in the middle of what was shaping up to be a full scale war. >> my whole desire was to get out of there and get back to my family in ireland. >> hi, love, it's me. >> but my wife said saddam had put a block on all westerners in and out of the country. it hit home like a thunder bolt.
back in ireland i had been part of the reserve defense forces, so to get us through the desert i made a makeshift compass. i knew it was going to be some way important, but i didn't know how important the compass was going to be. as we were driving north, our only concern that military would stop us, and if they did, what would be the outcome. what we were getting more and more hopeful. this was starting to look easy. and then we hit our first problem. >> in the distance we could see this much larger checkpoint. all the soldiers had their clash kalishnakovs on their shoulders
and it was our first point of concern. >> we pulled up and the senior officer started asking us questions and very basic english as to where we were going. >> i don't understand! >> where you go? >> we're going to hatra. >> all of a sudden this was a commotion around the back of the vehicle. and an iraqi soldier jumped in with an ak-47, all of a sudden we were waved on through the checkpoint. not knowing what was happening. >> why is he in the car? >> okay, okay. >> now we were were in the middle of iraq heading out on a reconnaissance mission. something we clearly shouldn't have been doing, with an iraqi soldier planted in the back of the car. we started discussing in gaelic language what was the reason for him being there. >> who is this guy? >> what do you think this fellow is in here for. >> we discussed turning around at this stage, but we knew we
couldn't. we hadin to carry on. but we didn't know what to do when we got to hatra with this soldier in the back. with one notable difference... the all-new audi a4, with available traffic jam assist. which means fewer costs, which saves money. their customer experience is virtually paperless, which saves paper, which saves money. they have smart online tools so you only pay for what's right for you, which saves money. they settle claims quickly, which saves time, which saves money. they drive an all hybrid claims fleet, which saves gas, which saves money. they were born online and built to save money. which means when they save, you save. that's auto and home insurance for the modern world. esurance. an allstate company. click or call.
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we were now in a very much of a limbo situation. armed soldier in the back not knowing what he was doing there. >> we were driving along and then the guy just started roaring and shouting. >> we had no idea what he wanted us to do now. so we stopped the vehicle. >> okay, okay, okay. all right, all right, all right. >> all of a sudden he ran around to the side of our vehicle. [ speaking in foreign language ] >> it turned out he was simply
just riding a lift with us into hatra. >> there was a great sense of relief amongst tom and i. >> we could now make this evaluation that we set out to do. >> at the edge of hatra was this vast inhospitable desert. we knew there was nothing there between us and syria for at least 150 miles. we knew there were going to be vast challenges in getting across it, but i also understood that we were only going out 15 kilometers and then we would report back to the rest of the
team. >> this is it then. >> yep. let's go. >> the first five kilometers or so went entirely to plan. the surface was pretty flat and my roughly made compass was giving us the right way we should be heading. then we came across our first problem in that desert. >> we came upon these vast dunes and craters which we couldn't drive through. >> i knew this was going to be a concern, but i was still convinced we could get around them without getting lost. >> keep left. >> i know, i know. i know. >> after 15 kilometers we had achieved exactly what we'd set out to do. we knew we were going to pushed left and right by these river beds, but it looked like there
was a way out to the syrian border. so i said to john -- >> about time to start heading back, set out what we went to do. >> he was acting strange. >> we're going to take it forward. >> we said 15 kilometers was the cutoff point. >> we're going a little bit further, tom, all right? >> i began to wonder why was john asking us to go a little bit more and a little bit more. i knew we had accomplished what we set out to do. i felt i wasn't having my proper say in this. i think i understood better than he did the implications. i was watching the fuel gauge very, very closely. >> john, we have to head back. we're about to go past the point of no return. our lives are on the line. >> no, tom. i'm going to keep going. >> we can't keep going. >> there were so many reasons to continue. >> we're doing fine. >> we have one bottle of water between us two.
we're not prepared at all! >> let's just keep going. >> for god's sake, john! >> in the end, i had to play what i thought was the trump card and say our responsibilities are back with the people on the site. >> they're expecting us to come back with news as to whether we could go back. >> i wasn't going back. i was going to continue until the last drop was gone out of that tank. and that i was in syria. i wanted more than anything to get home to see my family. at the expense of tom and the other guys i'd left behind. just consumed. >> i was not happy about this, but there was no chance of going back anymore. we couldn't have made it back. this point of no return had been exceeded. i resigned myself to it and i decided to get us to where we were meant to be going. but it was a very scary time.
there was absolutely nothing in that desert to indicate whether we were on the right track or not. at one stage we were doing such large sweeps left and right that i was seriously doubting whether we were going around in circles or not. we had left than a quarter tank left. so we turned off the air conditioning to reduce the amount of fuel consumption. even though the outside temperature had reached nearly 50 degrees celsius. we had about half a bottle of water left and i knew either fuel running out or water running out or a combination of both was very, very likely to kill us here. >> the situation at that particular moment was grim.
i knew i had made the wrong decision. and i became incredibly worried. it seemed like all our hopes were shattered. >> all of a sudden, we saw telegraph poles. i don't think i fully believed it. it meant someone was out there. >> look over there. >> i see it. i see it. >> suddenly we saw in front of us a tarmac road. i was elated. i can't describe to you the feeling. i felt vindicated that i had pushed on. i honestly believed that we had
had made it to syria. then we had to make a decision whether to go right or left. >> left. >> we were driving down the road and there was a great sense of achievement between tom and myself. i was really convinced that we had made it. completely convinced. and then suddenly we saw iraqi flags. we were devastated. absolutely crushed. i felt obviously all of that was for absolutely nothing. >> suddenly we noticed military vehicles were coming at us with great speed. >> we realized we're in a highly
sensitive militarized area. we wanted to turn around quickly and drive away from them. they had already seen us. >> it's at that moment that the nightmare really started. help hm with renters insurance. because all his belongings went up in flames. jack got full replacement and now has new pants he ordered from banana republic. visit geico.com and see how affordable renters insurance can be.
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john, what the hell is that? >> the iraqi military vehicles were coming at us with speed through the desert. >> it was abundantly clear we were in a very, very serious situation. we knew this would take a lot of getting out of. >> the military vehicles pulled up around us. lots of soldiers surrounded us pointing their ak-47s at us. they were all excited and clamoring and shouting. there was a huge amount of uncertainty there.
were they going to just discharge weapons at us in overexcitement? a few moments later a captain came up through the front of the iraqi group. [ speaking in foreign language ] >> we don't understand. >> oh, you speak english. >> yes. >> so what are you doing here? >> we told them that we'd been in hatra looking at archaeological ruins and we got lost in the desert. >> lost? >> yes. >> hatra is here. we are here. a long way, no? >> he obviously didn't believe us. this guy was too intelligent not to know what was happening. we knew our number was up then. >> we had no idea where we were going or where we were to be
taken. after an hour's driving, we came to a large military installation. >> we were brought into this dining hall area. the whole table was laid out for dinner. then tom and i had to sit there and have dinner with them. people were looking very, very strangely at us and started talking and laughing. something was seriously wrong. >> suddenly everything took a very, very serious turn for the worst. there was a complete air of
coldness about them. it felt like the temperature of that air dropped by 10 degrees. >> i recognized them as the iraqi secret police. the iraqi people were terrified of these people because of their ruthlessness. they torture people. they kill people. they are the most terrifying people in the world. >> they moved us very quickly out of that room. there was no delay in anything they did. a complete knot in our stomachs developed. >> where are you taking us? [ speaking in foreign language ] >> the anxiety was beginning to escalate because we were now in an entirely different situation. >> we pulled up outside a plush
hotel in the middle of baghdad. i had no idea why i was arriving there. >> they brought us into the lobby where quite a substantial amount of other western expats were. in secret, we were able to speak with a few of the westerners. >> what are they using this place for? >> it's a turning center. every time people come, people go. >> go where? >> we are being used as human
shields. >> i don't think we could believe it. we had attempted to find ways out of iraq and we were now going to be put right in the firing lane that we tried to avoid. >> that was a pretty frightening prospect. [ speaking in foreign language ] >> we were whisked upstairs pretty quickly. >> this was a very, very heavily guarded area. we were brought down to the very end room and they closed the door behind us. i was angry towards john for getting us into this situation. i thought that maybe there was a way out of this. in the en suite, there was a phone. >> john, it has a dial tone.
>> this was absolutely fantastic because we knew as electrical engineers, once the dial tone was there, we could make a call. >> call the embassy. i'll keep an eye on the door. >> it had no dial plate on the phone but you would overcome this by tapping the top of the phone. i tried tapping the irish embassy number. i could hear the phone attempting to make the connection. i was completely surprised to hear that the phone was picked up by the embassy staff. it was a very hurried conversation. i didn't want to hold that line open. i urged the ambassador to come as quickly as possible. the minute we got dispatched to some vital installation, it would have been very hard to
track us down again. i stayed on about a minute and a half maximum. >> when police guys came in, we didn't know what was happening. >> had they detected that i'd been on the phone? was i in for some serious trouble as a result? were we being taken to a vital installation? we just didn't know. the first thing i saw was that the first consul was there. it was a fantastic feeling. it was a flood of relief. >> it gave us renewed hope that very, very soon our ordeal was going to end.
>> boy, are we glad to see you. >> we blurted out our story. >> we went into the desert to explore a little bit and we got lost. that's when those guys picked us up and brought us here. >> we asked him to intervene. to stop us being sent out to vital installations. >> i have a very young family. i need to get out of here. >> but there was no optimism in what he was saying. >> you're in a foreign country. you were caught in an area you shouldn't have been. we're doing everything we can. >> what does that mean? >> we're doing the best we can. >> it was very obvious it wasn't within his power to do anything. we were not going to be
released. there was no negotiation and we were back to the same situation. he gave us a few important things. some money, passports. then we were taken out of that room. >> suddenly there was an order barked out by one of the senior policemen. the men were being taken by military. they were to be used as human shields. and it left the wives and children crying and screaming. they had no idea if they were nt this is where we put food. a dog's foot is cleaner than a human's mouth. that's what they say. is it? cleaner than my mouth. cash back on purchases. backed by the service and security of american express.
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the pentagon says a taliban leader was taken out in a drone strike. it was carried out earlier on the afghan/pakistan border. the new commander of u.s. forces in the middle east has made a surprise trip to syria. army general joseph botel said he felt morally obligated to visit troops there and to make his own assessment of progress
as u.s. troops continue to train arabic and kurdish fighters to take down isis. now back to "locked up abroad." " all of a sudden, we were pushed out the door and moved down the corridor very, very fast. >> we felt that we were being moved onto strategic locations as human shields. it was unbearable. it was unbearable. >> the secret police brought us out the back door of the hotel and we were bundled quickly into the back of a waiting vehicle. and to my horror. >> reporter: could see that the irish diplomatic car was being held up at the security gates. it became clear that that was
the reason for our urgent departure. >> look, look, look. >> they clearly didn't want the two of us to meet up again. that tenuous link with the outside world was now being taken from us yet again. and it just heightened the sense of danger, the fact that they clearly could not accept the embassy knowing where we were going. >> we were moved to a very, very bleak building within the city of baghdad. we had no idea what were we doing there. >> we were pushed into a place which was as far as you can possibly imagine from the hotel we'd just come from. >> suddenly we were encased in a sea of bodies all shouting, screaming, trying to figure out who we were, what we were. it was a frightening,
frightening experience. >> we were quickly guided to one of these dugouts in the side of the wall. i realized that we were now in a prison-type environment. and it looked like we were going to be dealt with as part of the criminal system. why else would we be there? we didn't know what the charges were going to be. we no idea of what the penalty was being sought. it was a pretty frightening situation to comprehend. >> later that night there was a blast of automatic gunfire. we were sure that it was a firing squad. >> we asked ourselves, were we next? we knew the system had managed to successfully remove us from any type of contact with the outside world.
it would be easy to do away with us. it was at this time john rapidly went downwards. he just lost it. he retreated into himself. >> i felt we wouldn't make it. i had almost thrown in the towel. >> the more that john's head dropped and the more he lost his sense of purpose, the more i pushed myself to look for some solution, some route out. so i started to explore all the various different dens and cubby holes within that compound. one of them was a small toilet
area with one slit window up high. so i decided to see if it did indeed represent a wave escape out from where we were. i started widening it. using my fingers, i made some little bit of an impact on it, but not enough. so i managed to pry a brick out of the surface of that slit. that brick then became a tool so i was able to make much more progress. suddenly i heard footsteps coming. i was in a very dangerous situation.
if i was found doing what i was doing, i would be next in the firing line. i had to make believe as if i was using the toilet facilities. the reality was that as much as i wanted to get out of that place, it just wasn't going to work. but i didn't resign myself at all after that. one option had failed. i'd wait and see what the next option might be. we were fully expecting to wait in that detention center and that that was to be our fate. but after five days the guard came for us. >> for one moment i felt that just maybe we were actually being released. just maybe i would get to see my family again. >> but they were waiting for us with two more. >> here we were again back in the arms of the secret police. i was absolutely certain our situation was going to get worse.
but they brought us to an infamous prison in the center of baghdad called shaab. when i realized this is where we were, i almost had a heart attack. it was a notorious interrogation center where the secret police were not governed by any law. they were the law. they decided they were going to torture you, they tortured you. if they were going to kill you, they killed you, and nobody said a word to them. >> we were led into the depths of this prison down long corridors. the atmosphere was getting thicker and more dense. we heard screams of pain. finally they came to the end of a corridor. they tossed us both in and
closed the door behind us. >> this is crazy. why are we here? what are we doing! >> needless to say, we were incredibly scared. later that night we heard this incredible commotion. screams and shouts and dragging of people around the corridor outside. we shot up, tried to look out. there was a very small little opening in the door. we could actually see it a little bit up the corridor. it just heightened our sense of fear as if it wasn't high enough already. emotionally to hear another human being being tortured, it is mind blowing. >> we had to consider we were next. why else would we be there? >> we were seriously concerned
for our lives. never in my life will i forget it. i can still hear the screams like they're just happening outside the door right now. the next morning, they esurance was born online. which means fewer costs, which saves money. their customer experience is virtually paperless, which saves paper, which saves money. they have smart online tools so you only pay for what's right for you, which saves money. they settle claims quickly, which saves time, which saves money. they drive an all hybrid claims fleet, which saves gas, which saves money. they were born online and built to save money. which means when they save, you save. that's auto and home insurance for the modern world. esurance. an allstate company. click or call.
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i was able to look back. i stood transfixed. there were two iraqis hanging by their arms. their whole chests were completely open in circular lines where obviously somebody had whipped them. it was a dreadful, dreadful sight. tom was completely freaked. >> he really was so, so afraid, so scared. he was quite uncontrollable. >> i felt complete abhorrence that anyone could do this to someone else. a serious desire overcame me to get the people who did this and to tear their eyes out. it was most overwhelming and draining series of emotions i've ever had.
finally they moved us. we were brought on to this prison bus. as we sped out the front gates, suddenly a mean looking guard as we sped out the front gates, suddenly a mean-looking guard came into the back shouting and roaring loudly at the top of his voice. he stamped down the center of the bus. he blocked off all the ventilation hatches in the roof. now effectively, we were in a steel coffin with no air getting in. the internal air temperature
started rising and rising and rising. temperatures were probably around 50 degrees. it was becoming extremely hard to take each breath. i believe there was a very strong chance that people were going to suffocate in here. i was getting very angry. here was another sadistic iraqi causing direct hurt and injury to someone. i noticed that he was carrying a pistol, very clearly on his right hip, and i was so angry, and so furious, i wanted to jump up and grab the gun. but was i going to be able to get that gun from his holster? would i manage to cock it in time? and if even if i managed to cock it in time, was i going to be able to do what you're supposed to do with a loaded pistol?
that was to pull the trigger. i decided not to go ahead with it. and i felt guilty with myself for several hours for not going ahead with it. finally we arrived at a police base. we were taken off to a small room, and there, sitting in the room, was the first consul. >> we were thrilled to see him, but we were also incredibly intrigued as to why had contact been re-established. the reason that he was there was to inform us that we were going to trial. >> the charge was being in an area prohibited by military law.
this charge was an allegation that we had been spying, and that carried with it an 18-year sentence. >> i'm afraid there's very little the embassy can do at this point to intervene. >> it was a shocking moment to realize that after all we'd been through, it comes down to a court case. and we knew in our heart and soul that we were going to be found guilty. and we knew that in itself was a death sentence. ♪ [engine revving] the all-new audi a4 is here.
resent and the blame out of the equation. there was enough other emotions in my life at that point. there just wasn't room for those ones as well. after the trial, we sat in our cell. nobody was letting us know whether we were guilty on not guilty. >> it was a pretty bad time mentally for both of us. >> finally one of the guards came and called for john and i. he indicated, take your bags. we were completely deflated. we thought we were being moved somewhere for 18 years. we asked him several times which particular prison it was. >> which prison? >> and he said, you are free,
you are free. >> free, free, free. >> i don't think we could believe it. it was just immense. somebody was at last telling us we're finally free. we were taken out and there standing in front of us was the suv that we had used to get across the desert. the first consul was waiting there for us. >> is it true? are we free? >> he said, you were found not guilty, and you're being released. >> as we left, it was an overpowering feeling. tom and i were shouting and roaring inside the vehicle.
just incredibly relieved to have gotten ourselves out of that situation. to his eternal credit, tom never in any way blamed me for the situation that we found ourselves in. could have and should have. but he kept his counsel. >> his decision to carry on caused me extreme hardship, however, it doesn't cause me any bitterness, and it doesn't cause me any resent. what happened happened and we both got through it. >> my family were waiting for me in dublin. it was fantastic. it was just wonderful. all that madness was finally behind me. you know, i'd managed to get home.
it was good to be back. back reunited with my loved ones. follow "lockup" producers and crews as they go behind the walls of america's prisons and jails with the scenes you've never seen. "lockup: raw." in the united states, prisons only house offenders who have actually been convicted and are serving their sentences. whereas the majority of jail inmates have only been charged with crimes and are awaiting trial and the resolution of their cases. though jails and prisons are