What Really Happened at Al-Qaqaa?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," Oct. 26 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: As you saw earlier, when the 101st Airborne Division (search) stopped overnight at that weapons facility south of Baghdad, there was an NBC News reporting team embedded with them, including correspondent Dana Lewis, who is now with Fox News in Moscow, where he joins me now.

Dana, tell me what happened. Now, this was the day after Baghdad had fallen. You were with the 101st. You were making your way up the spine of Iraq toward Baghdad. How did you come to stop there, and what happened?

DANA LEWIS, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brit, I mean, you know, put it into context of what was going on at that moment. The fighting wasn’t over; there was chaos everywhere on the roads. And we were with the 101st as it was pushing north to take the southern suburbs of Baghdad (search). And as we were driving up the road, I can remember seeing this amazing wall that just seemed to go on forever. This thing was about 10 feet tall and it went on for at least a mile or two. I’ve never seen such a big compound in Iraq since I’ve been there for two years now. It was a tremendous compound.

The 101st was ordered to go into the compound and spend the night there. They were not ordered to search that compound there. They simply used it as a pit stop so that they could then continue their mission on to Baghdad. In fact, I can tell you I was with the colonel of the Strike Brigade, the Second Brigade, Colonel Joe Anderson. He was frustrated they had to spend the night there because they wanted to get on to their mission in Baghdad.

HUME: So you got inside this facility. I suppose some members of the unit might have heard of the place. What did you see when you got in there?

LEWIS: Sure, they may have had information on what may have been in there, because they generally had that kind of information. It was a tremendously large facility. You got in and saw all sorts of bunkers inside. And Brit, because we spent 24 hours in there, I had a chance to walk that facility and I took it. It was a long walk as we went from bunker to bunker with me and my cameraman.

Most of the bunkers were locked at that point. You could not get inside. Some of them, though, appeared to have been hit by air strikes and we were told by some of the soldiers on the ground that they had been hit by bombs. So some of the concrete was split open and you could see munitions in a few of the bunkers. And at one end of the facility, I can remember seeing hangars full of rockets. I’ve never seen so many rockets in one place. It looked like that facility had also been bombed from the air and most of those rockets were bent out of shape and inoperable.

HUME: Right. Now, we have seen pictures of these seals that the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) and the weapons inspectors used to identify, and to close off the bunkers where some of these explosives were believed to have been kept. Did you see any of those seals on any of the facilities as you were walking through there?

LEWIS: I had those seals described to me. And I can tell you that as we went from the bunkers, certainly there were wires and there were locks. But I don’t recall ever seeing an IAEA stamp on any of them. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t any of them.

HUME: I got you.

Now, in addition to — you saw evidence of bombing, obviously. Was there any sign that this facility had been looted that you could see?

LEWIS: I would say at that point, no, Brit. I mean as we went north, you could certainly see looting in Baghdad. And I know what looting looks like. Hundreds of kids and hundreds of people everywhere. This facility was basically abandoned at that point. There were lots of Russian tanks that had been abandoned on the road around it. But it looked like it had been well guarded right up until the point that the Army got in there.

But I don’t know what happened between the point that the Iraqi army left that facility and then the U.S. Army (search) came in there. There would have been a gap. And who knows what would have gone on in there? But when I was there, we didn’t see any looting. And that’s not to say there couldn’t have been looting after we left, either.

HUME: Right. Now, after you left, describe if you can — I mean obviously, we’re talking about a fairly large amount of explosives. The IAEA says it was 30 — 380 tons. That would be, we estimate, about 38 truckloads. That’s quite a lot.

LEWIS: That’s a lot.

HUME: Was the situation that you witnessed around the facility such that it would have been easy for somebody to spear it, 38 tons of explosives, or 38 tons of anything else out there, undetected by U.S. forces in the area?

LEWIS: I think it would have been pretty tough. I mean the roads for the most part were closed down. Not very many people were driving those roads, because there was still some shooting going on and people were worried about getting caught in the crossfire. It would have been hard to move trucks in there right under the Army’s nose. But at the same time, certainly there were vehicles moving on the roads, as we got closer to Baghdad.

But at that moment, I certainly didn’t see any lines of trucks heading for that facility. And remember, who would have been ordering those trucks down there? For all intent and purposes, the regime had fled.

HUME: So it would have taken an operation of some size, if the stuff was still there, to get it out of there. And you didn’t see, at least, any indications at the time you were there that such a thing could easily have been done.

LEWIS: We didn’t see any sign of that when we were there, no.

HUME: All right. Dana Lewis, glad to have you. Thanks very much for staying up late in Moscow to be with me. Thank you very much.

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