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Special Report

Looking for Answers

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," March 7, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. ET

BRIT HUME, HOST: So, how is it that a freed hostage rushing to the airp ort in Iraq has her car fired on, the man who helped free her killed by American troops? For answers, we turn to FOX News military analyst, General Robert Scales, the military historian who knows about a bit about what life is like on the road to the Baghdad Airport.

Bob, from talking to people and so on, what is it that appears happened here? First of all, what about that road?

GEN. ROBERT SCALES (RET.), FOX NEWS MILITARY ANALYST: Yes. Let me tell you a little bit about that, Brit. I’ve been talking to some officials over there. And they kind of painted a little different picture than you hear in the news media. It’s a road about seven miles long. The troops call it Ambush Alley or RPG Alley. It’s actually not the most dangerous stretch of road in Baghdad. The troops consider this to be about sixth or seventh in the relative degree of danger.

HUME: You can kind of see it there on that map.

SCALES: Yes. You can see it.

HUME: It stretches from the center of the city of Baghdad up to the airport.

SCALES: It runs right into the center. Yes. The reason it receives so much publicity, of course, it’s where diplomats and reporters travel, as they travel from the airport into the center of the city. But it’s so important that the Army traditionally leaves a battalion of troops, that’s about 1,00 troops, mechanized infantry troops to defend that stretch of road.

It looks a little bit like the Dulles toll road or say, the Garden State Highway. It’s very wide, six lanes wide, big median, but the checkpoints that we’re talking about here, normally manned by about a platoon, two tanks and three Bradley fighting vehicles. There’s normally an Iraqi National Guard unit.

And these are move around because it’s very, very dangerous to stay in place for any period of time. Because then the Iraqis will begin to target the checkpoints.

HUME: And the checkpoints are there to keep enemy forces from barreling a car bomb down the road to the airport.

SCALES: Yes. Right. See what’s happened in the last year is the bad guys have escalated the conflict along this road? It started off with just RPG fire, countered that with armored vehicles. Then it escalated to roadside bombs, countered that with sweeps. And now they’re using suicide bombers.

And the only effective way to stop them is use of these hasty, impromptu checkpoints that you put up along that road, to try to stop the suicide bombers before they do serious damage to the Iraqis.

HUME: And what happened here apparently was that this car is coming down the road.

SCALES: Right.

HUME: U.S. intelligence knew or didn’t know that it was coming?

SCALES: That’s not entirely clear. Here is what we do know. The rules of engagement are very specific. The rules of engagement are what the soldiers have to do. First thing is you have signs to warn approaching vehicles.

HUME: Signs in Arabic?

SCALES: Arabic so they can understand. Second, hand and arm signals or flashing lights. The third thing, warning shots in the air. The fourth thing is to shoot weapons, either the engine compartment or the tires to stop the vehicle. And if all of that fails, to use deadly force. And apparently that’s what happened in this case.

HUME: Explain to me how it is that a driver heading down that road would not think it a good idea to simply stop. I mean obviously what happens when people get out on that road? I assume because of the danger of attack that they tend to drive very fast.

SCALES: Oh, they barrel down that road. Even in the daytime, some of them move up to 100 miles an hour, at night 50 to 60 miles an hour. But what makes this particularly dangerous is they were doing this at night. And it’s 10 times as dangerous to try to go down that road at night between say, 8:00 p.m. and 1:0 p.m. when the curfew kicks in.

So this guy is going at a high rate of speed at night down an incredibly dangerous highway. See a checkpoint, which is lit up with floodlights and signs. And at the last moment decides to accelerate through the checkpoint. And the soldiers apparently did what soldiers are trained to do following the rules of engagement.

HUME: And so that meant they first fired, once the...

SCALES: Once the hand and arm signals didn’t work, you shoot in the air warning shots. And of course, the soldiers have tracers. So at night you see these red streaks go up in the air. That tells you something.

HUME: So in other words, it’s not just a sound of gunshots.

SCALES: No. No. No. No.

HUME: It’s something they can see.

SCALES: You can see it. It’s bright red in the air. Next thing, you shoot at the tires and the engine. If that doesn’t work then you use deadly force.

HUME: And it happened.

SCALES: And apparently it did. Now, there’s some question as to whether or not Miss Sgrena and the intelligence agent were killed by trying to fire into the engine compartment. So it may not have even gotten to the point where deadly force was used.

HUME: So in other words, the shooting of the engine compartment may have could have penetrated and killed them.

SCALES: It could have been very well the thing that killed them, unfortunately. Yes.

HUME: So is there any indication — it’s been alleged that this may have been intentional?

SCALES: Oh, that’s ridiculous. I mean there’s no way. I mean these are young soldiers, 19 to 24 years old, this is a platoon commanded by either a sergeant or a lieutenant. They’re out there late at night. The spot where this incident occurred is one of the most dangerous spots on the highway. And these young soldiers knew that. They have, what? Ten, 15 seconds to make a decision on whether or not they’re going to stop this vehicle with deadly fire.

HUME: From the time the car comes into view.

SCALES: Yes. It’s going 50 miles an hour. You start 150 yards out. Do the math. It takes what? Ten, 15 seconds to get to that critical point. The soldiers had to make key life or death decisions. And the soldiers made the decision according to rules of engagement.

HUME: One wonders what impelled the driver to keep going.

SCALES: I have no idea.

HUME: Now, is there something about these — I mean I read a story today that said these checkpoints come and go. And there’s lack of charity.

SCALES: I’ve heard that. Yes. First of all, at night there’s no lack of charity. If you see floodlights and armored vehicles that are well lit up, you know that you’re coming up on a checkpoint.

HUME: And they are — even despite the dangers they light them up well?

SCALES: Of course, they are! They have to. Otherwise the approaching cars are going to try to run through them.

HUME: You wonder if they light them up all that much except at the last minute?

SCALES: No. No, they light them up. And that’s why you move these checkpoints. Because if you keep them in place too long you give the bad guys a chance to plan an ambush against the Americans. And so it’s the American soldiers who wind up getting killed.

HUME: Bob Scales, good to have you as always. Thank you.

SCALES: Thanks, Brit.

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