Seven former prisoners of war told stories of fear, loneliness and mistreatment Thursday in their first meeting with reporters since returning from captivity in Iraq. Two of the former POWs said the statements they made on Iraqi television were given against their will.
"About 90 percent of the time you felt you were in danger of losing your life," said Navy Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun of Cherry Hill, N.J.Zaun, Navy Lt. Lawrence R. Slade and five Marines appeared on an auditorium stage at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, where they are undergoing treatment.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Clifford M. Acree said that statements made by the POWs on videos for broadcast by the Iraqis were made under duress, but he declined to go into details.
Zaun, describing the making of the videos, said, "They took me to a TV studio and sat me next to the big guy and then told me what questions they were going to ask and they told me what my answers were going to be."
He said he tried to "screw up" his answers but he didn't think it made any difference because they were translated into Arabic anyway.
Zaun said he was apprehensive that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein might use the videos to convince his people that they were winning the war, but he did not worry about the reaction of Americans.
"I had enough faith in Americans to know that anybody who saw this was going to say, `This is ridiculous,' " he said.
Zaun, whose badly bruised face was widely pictured in the United States after the video, said about 90 percent of his facial injuries occurred during his ejection from his airplane and "maybe a little bit of it was getting slapped around."
Capt. Russell Sanborn of the Marines described captivity as a "terrifying experience" in which the prisoners were kept in solitary confinement.
"There was some mistreatment and the food was less than adequate," Sanborn said. He described the medical treatment as "minimal."
Marine Corps Capt. Michael C. Berryman of Yuma, Ariz., said, "It was very difficult coping with the interrogation." He said he was helped by his religious faith.
Acree said that he assumed he was probably treated worse than the others because of his senior rank but "I was never in the same location with the people who were being interrogated and beaten" so he could not be sure.