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The Hostage

Interview On <b><I>60 Minutes</b></I> Is Roy Hallums' First Since Rescue

Hostage-taking has become a continuous and insidious variety of terrorism in Iraq. About 200 foreigners, including more than a dozen Americans and thousands of Iraqis, have been abducted since the war started. Some hostages are killed, others ransomed. Roy Hallums was rescued.

He was found virtually buried underground. Blindfolded, with his arms and legs bound, he had survived ten months in utter darkness. The first and last time his family had evidence he was alive was in a video released by his captors in January, three months after his abduction. He had a gun to his head, and he was pleading for his life.

Hallums told his story for the first time to 60 minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl.

We met Roy Hallums just days after he was rescued by coalition forces.

Roy is still weak. He lost 35 pounds during his months in captivity. Talking is hard now, since his captors rarely allowed him to speak. Walking is still hard, too, and he gets tired easily. "I didn't use my muscles for ten months," he says. "It's like somebody who's been in the hospital for an extended period."

Two weeks ago, Roy was still in a small, underground concrete cell. The ceiling was maybe four and a half feet high. He stayed in this dark pit for 10 months.

Often, other hostages were in with him—up to about nine at one point, although they couldn't see each other because all were blindfolded and bound throughout their ordeal. "We've got our hands tied behind our backs, these nylon straps," he recalls. "And they tied our hands and our feet. You couldn't hardly move."

Roy told us his story with little emotion, no matter how horrendous the details, as if what had happened to him had happened to someone else. He seems numb, and he is. "I'm not totally here yet," he says, "I mean, cause that was my reality for ten months."

Being back here, still, is almost like a dream.

Roy Hallums' ordeal started last year, on Nov. 1. He'd been working as a contractor in Baghdad for a Saudi Arabian company that provided food services to the Iraqi army. His office was in a relatively safe part of the city, and was protected by armed guards.

He was working at his computer when four armed people come through the door with ski masks on. "And they said, 'Come with us or we'll kill you,'" he says.

Roy had reason to believe them. He was kidnapped right at the time Islamic terrorist Zarqawi was abducting Americans and beheading them on videotape: Nicholas Berg in May; Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley in September; and in October, just weeks before Roy's abduction, British engineer Kenneth Bigley.

When he was confronted by the armed men, it flashed through his mind that he, too, was being abducted by Zarqawi.

He was dragged from the building as a gun battle went on inside. A guard was killed, and Roy was thrown into a car.

"It was one man on my right, and he had my head under his arm and holding me down," he recalls. "I had my hands tied behind my back and he said, 'If you move, I'll kill you.'"

For several weeks, his captors moved Roy around to various places. Then, in mid-December, he was taken to a farmhouse outside of Baghdad and into that dark, airless cell.

Just this past Wednesday, some of the men involved in Roy's rescue went back to search the farmhouse where he was held, located in what they call the "Triangle of Death." It's considered so dangerous that the unit needed the protection of tanks and helicopters during the search.

The leader of the mission, whose name is Dan, took us into the house and to Roy's underground hell-hole. He pointed out where the opening had been cemented over. "Unless we had detailed, specific information we would never have known to look down in here," Dan pointed out.

Roy Hallums remembers when the kidnappers sealed the opening to the hole. "You can hear them putting fresh concrete over that door," recalls Roy. "You're sitting in this room, totally dark. There's no way to get out, because that door had concrete over the top."

Over the concrete, the kidnappers laid a carpet. And over that, they placed a refrigerator. Hallums was completely sealed in, and in the dark.

"What I would do is plan trips in my head," Hallums says now. "I would try to make one of those trip-planning sessions last for a couple of days."

The captors fed him, but not much. He got rice, cheese, sardines and rotten fruit. Roy thinks he survived at least in part because of his military training; He was in the Navy for 20 years.

One of the few things he ever learned about his captors – whom he never saw – was their taste in television shows. Since they were strict Sunni Muslims, they couldn't watch television shows that featured women with their hair uncovered.

So what did they watch?

Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Now, he can laugh a little about it. "I mean, when you get all these restrictions together, you're down to Tom and Jerry," he says of his captors' viewing choices.

At some point, Roy realized that his captors weren't part of Zarqawi's group. In fact, they were just running a family business, kidnapping foreigners and holding them for ransom.

But these "businessmen" sent their messages in the form of videos of their captives, who were beaten and then handed scripts to memorize. "Before the shot," Hallums says, "they would say, 'We want lots of crying and to help you cry, we're going to beat you.'"

And they did beat him so he'd look even more distraught, and they messed up his hair so he'd look disheveled, and then one of the captors gave him a script and forced him to read it. "I didn't like the videos going out because I hated for my daughters to see me in that situation," Hallums says.

Roy says the other hostages were also beaten and forced to make videos.
"There was a lot of crying going on, as you can imagine; people being upset," he remembers. "Every time the door opens you don't know what's going to happen."

One of his worst days came when the captors asked for his daughters' phone numbers. "I knew if I gave them the number they would call them and ask for money, and say something like, "If you don't give us $10 million in ten days, we're going to kill your father," he says.

He refused repeated demands for their phone numbers. Then, he says, "a guy comes out with a 9mm pistol and puts it in my mouth and says, 'If you don't tell me those phone numbers right now, I'm going to kill you.' And I said, 'I don't know those numbers.' And he says, 'OK.' And we went on to something else."

Ironically, his ex-wife had tracked down the captors' phone numbers – through channels she can't reveal -- and had been trying without success to reach them. Susan Hallums, Roy's ex-wife, spent most of the last ten months doing everything she could think of to win his freedom. Even though she and Roy divorced two years ago, after 30 years of marriage, she says they remain best friends.

With the help of an intermediary, she offered a reward of $40,000 for his release. They demanded $12 million.

For six months Susan had heard nothing.

Meanwhile, as the months passed, Roy came to realize that his fellow hostages, none of them Americans, were being set free because, he believes, ransoms were being paid.

Asked if that was hard for him, Hallums replies, "You're happy for them, but then on the other hand, here you are, you're sitting there and nothing's happening for you. You're just waiting."

He waited while nine other hostages were freed, one after the next. As he began his eleventh month as a captive, he wondered how long they would keep him alive.

It was right at that point, on Sept. 7, that U.S. soldiers assigned to a special hostage rescue unit, acting on a tip, found Roy.

"The door popped open and somebody jumps down, and it was somebody from the Army!" he says.

"Are you Roy?" the soldier asked. Roy, pulling off his mask, said 'yes.' And the soldier said, "Come on, we're getting you out of here." He handed Roy a little American flag decal, which Roy still has in his pocket.

Asked what he did next, Roy replies, "I hugged him."

Meanwhile, the kidnappers escaped down the road.

Roy's family was at times angry because they thought the military wasn't doing anything to find him. Now they've been told that the special rescue unit was searching for Roy the whole time.

The unit is now looking for three more Americans. There's no telling how many kidnapping rings are operating in villages and cities around Iraq.

Roy has been home now for two weeks, catching up with his two daughters and his granddaughters. Psychiatrists have warned him he might experience flashbacks. He told us they've already begun.

Finally, we asked Roy if President Bush, or anyone from the government, had called him since his release from captivity.

No one has called, but that doesn't bother him much. "If nobody calls, that's small potatoes compared to what I was in," he says. "I'm just happy to be back."