A Former POW Speaks Out
With Col. (Ret.) David William Eberly
Senior Ranking Allied POW, Gulf War 1991
Thursday, March 27, 2003; 9 a.m. ET
Col. David William Eberly was the senior-ranking allied prisoner of war in Baghdad during the Gulf War in 1991. An airman, he participated in the initial air strike into Iraq. On January 19, the fourth night of the campaign, he was shot down while flying an F-15E Strike Eagle and, after three nights, eventually captured on the Syrian border. He was held captive for 43 days in the Iraqi intelligence service headquarters, nicknamed the "Baghdad Builtmore" because of how well it was constructed.
Eberly hasn't seen the video of the currently held American POWs although he did hear a tape of them in a news segment recently. He told the Hampton Roads, Va. Daily Press newspaper, "Having heard the interrogators, I was very proud of those men and women. The way they performed while being questioned, you can see their professionalism coming through."
What has changed or has anything changed in the POW predicament in 12 years? How do we get them back? What can Americans do?
Eberly was interviewed Thursday, March 27 at 9 a.m. ET and discussed the POW situation back then and now.
Listen to the AUDIO interview.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: Col. Eberly, thank you for being with us this morning. You were a POW in the first Gulf War in 1991 and held for 43 days. Now, 12 years later, the U.S. is there again and so far there are five POWs from Ft. Bliss being held. What would you say to them?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: First, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this discussion this morning. If I had the opportunity to be in a cell I would tell them to keep the faith in their god, their country, their fellow soldiers, that now, four days into this, they are four days closer to being released. Their fellow soldiers, airmen and Marines are continuing the fight. Do not be afraid. In the midst of the terror around you, focus on the strengths of your inner self while maintaining vigilance against the nearest threat. But you can do this.
Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: What kept you going during your capture?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: What kept me going during the three days that we evaded and the 43 days we were held was my faith, not only in my God, my country, my fellow airmen and the spirit that every fighting man and woman takes into battle. There were times in interrogations when my mind's eye simply saw the waving of the American flag and I knew I represented a bigger cause than my own personal frailties.
New York City: Do you think that the current POWs will be treated humanely by the Iraqis? What if they are not?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: We can only hope that the regime will adhere to the accords of the Geneva Convention and allow access by members of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). Saying that, however, the initial pictures of the murdered soldiers reflect President Bush's characterization of this regime's brutality. The pictures shown recently of the two Apache helicopter pilots set a base line for their condition upon release. We need to continue to push for ICRC access to ensure humane treatment.
Washington, D.C.: Do you support President Bush and the U.S. in this war?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: Absolutely, because he represents through this action the foundation upon which this country was built and for those who are demonstrating in the streets against this war, I would say that in hour hearts you must support the young men and women who are giving their lives for your privilege to do that.
Alexandria, Va.: Have you been following this war? What do you think so far about it?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: Yes. I've been very impressed with the apparent bravery of the Army and Marines as they slug forward from the south toward the capital of this regime. Pictures we've seen of the terrific fire fights show the courage that these men and women have taken into battle. The pictures from last night of the airborne jump into the north were just amazing. Again, the courage of these soldiers jumping into the dark, an unknown.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think the Iraqi people want to be liberated by the allied forces or do they just want Saddam Hussein out of power?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: I haven't been in the city for 12 years and at the time, my contacts were rather limited. I can only hope that the elimination of Saddam will allow them to enjoy a newfound freedom and, so in that sense, it is a liberation. A liberation from the fear of a chemical attack by their own president or brutality by the members of his regime.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I was curious what the average day is like as a POW. What is the food like? How often are you interrogated?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: You live life moment by moment. While everyday in isolation might seem like the day before, a constant vigilance to the unknown of approaching footsteps outside your cell door brings you back to the sharp and sometimes painful reality of your situation. I would not say that eating is the highlight of the day. Much like animals in a cage it is a feeding. We enjoyed a cup of sometimes warm tomato broth and a half a piece of pita bread per day. We were not fed everyday. And a glass of water was a real treat because it wasn't worth the price of asking for.
Washington, D.C.: You wrote a book last year called Faith Beyond Belief. It was an account of your capture. Can you tell us a little more about it?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: Faith Beyond Belief is one of God's war stories. It's the story of how faith sustained me through my captivity. While it is the story of my experience, it was written to provide anyone or everyone something they could hang on to when facing periods in their own lives that they feel they cannot overcome. For more information, go to www.faithbeyondbelief.com.
McLean, Va.: What do you think of the TV coverage of the war. Some of it we're seeing live. Do you think it's a good idea?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: Yes, I think it has brought a new dimension to the reality of war to the American people. The sad part is that it also provides that same immediate access to the families of those who are killed or taken prisoner.
Falls Church, Va.: I've heard you and 16 other former Gulf War POWs are filing a lawsuit seeking damages from the Iraqis for barbarous treatment. What's the status of that?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: We pass another milestone when affidavits are submitted on Monday. The current executive order directing Iraq's frozen assets toward rebuilding Iraq may complicate the result, but we are hoping that congressional intervention will provide some small percentage of these frozen assets to be put into a foundation for the families of future prisoners to deal with the lingering psychological problems that they will encounter.
Washington, D.C.: As a captive POW, would you have welcomed any opportunity to have your existence and your physical and psychological condition communicated to others?
Did you worry that you would be forgotten by your government if the war became too unpopular?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: My faith in the U.S. never faltered. I knew that our political leadership and military prowess would prevail.
Jonesboro, Ga.: With the capture of our servicemen and woman by the Iraqis, do you think it is wise to send female to the front lines? And if so why?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: Yes. We should not deny any American the opportunity to serve their country. While there are still some positions that are not allowed under Title 10, I think we can all agree that man or woman, Americans in uniform have an undeniable spirit that will prevail on the battlefield.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Did you witness any violations of international law by the Iraqis? If so, what were they? If not, do you fear there might be violations this time, as Iraq has stated they feel this war violates international law and thus they seem to hint they may not feel bound by the international laws to which they previously agreed?
Col. Ret. David Eberly: Yes. Under the Geneva Convention, there are four distinct accord including humane treatment, photography and two others. All four were violated 12 years ago and we have already seen similar actions in the past week, most notably the use of a clearly designated hospital facility as a barracks for Iraqi soldiers and storage of ammunition and chemical warfare suits.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: While captive did you have access to any outside information? Did U.S. public opinion have any impact on your spirits? How long did it take for the Internatinal Red Cross to access? Thanks.
Col. Ret. David Eberly: We had no outside information. Being held in isolation, we were not exposed to any updates on coalition advances and were in fact told Iraqis had captured over 25,000 Americans, had fatally injured President George H.W. Bush. At no time did the ICRC have access to us, nor did the Iraqis report who they were holding or where we were being held. In one instance, Lt. Bob Wetzel's family did not know he was alive until he walked off the aircraft in Riad.