Fox News' Greg Palkot and Olaf Wiig tell their colleague John Roberts what it was like getting beaten during the worst of Egyptian violence. This is a rush transcript.
Greg Palkot- It’s the most dangerous situation I’ve been in for Fox News and I’ve been here 15 years. And I’ve been --like all the other people in this room --tip of the spear into Fallujah – over the mountains of Tora Bora, tsunamis, earthquakes, you name it. The most death-defying moment I’ve had, and came close to not defying it.
Olaf Wiig- Moments where you really do not think that you’re going to get out of it, that really, genuinely you think that this is your last moments…
John Roberts- And you were thinking that.
G.P. - The main street was a total war zone. It was smoke; it was rocks being thrown; it was Molotov cocktails; it was flames; it was live fire.
O.W. - I got grabbed, and I thought at that moment, I thought, okay, I’m really now in trouble. And it was immediately 4 or 5 people grabbing hold of you, and grabbing my hair – which was really one of the most uncomfortable things. You know – literally ripping out tufts of hair.
G.P. – People are all over him. Within about 30 seconds, people are all over us – and that’s where our life or death struggle began.
O.W. – And I thought surely I can talk some reason into somebody. Surely this isn’t…they’re not going to kill us right here. And the more they hit you, the more you realized, actually, they probably could right now..
G.P. -The whole time you’re getting pummelled, with open hands, with fists, with sticks, with, we’re told, rocks. Don’t think metal bars. Principally going for the head.
G.P.– According to the doctors, I’ve got lacerations of the scalp, five of them pretty deep. One came pretty close to an artery and that’s what caused a lot of the blood. I was bleeding all over.
J.R.- Do you remember any of the hits?
G.P. -Oh yeah. I remember one hit right here that blanked my vision out to some degree, blanked my hearing from my left ear to some degree and that’s when I thought I was going to go down.
O.W. – I’ve got two really good sized lacerations on the back of my head, a smaller one at the front and a stab wound in the back of my leg. My back just looks like a piece of modern art, just completely black and blue.
G.P. – And he went down. He went down twice for some reason. I didn’t, but he did.
O.W. – I had been tripped over twice, and when you’re on the ground and you’re looking up and you’re seeing people’s feet around you, I thought I’ve got to get myself off the floor, you know. If I stay here, I’m dead, because if people start kicking you, you really are finished. We’d made it to this armored personnel carrier and again I went down. I was down by the tracks, trying to shelter under it and people kept grabbing me and pulling me out and throwing me against the armored personnel carrier. And I kept thinking I've got to get out of here, I’ve got to get away from here because it’s too hard. And if I get hit against it, I’m in a bad way.
G.P. - Egyptians soldiers standing there, with guns. Egyptians soldiers watching, watching as the two of us were being pummelled, pummelled close to our death, doing absolutely nothing. My own instincts is go to the back of the APC where it’s lower – easier to get on back – maybe the army relents. And that’s exactly what happened.
J.R.- What kept you going through that whole phalanx?
G.P. - The thinking that maybe, possibly we could survive. But you get to that point where if you’re fighting, you’re losing energy – you’re losing that fight and I was just at that edge. There was too many people on me, even though salvation was four feet away inside that compartment, inside that place. There was too many people on me. I just don’t think its going to happen and then – who knows, somebody up there likes us, you know.
O.W. - When I eventually got into the armored personnel carrier, I dropped down into it to find that there were a group of maybe a half a dozen people who had been through the same thing Greg and I had. I looked at him and he (Greg) was completely covered in blood, head to toe in blood, and I knew that I probably looked the same. But he was still there and he was still talking.
J.R.- At any point between reaching the street and getting to the armored personnel carrier did you think, 'I’m living the last moments of my life?'
O.W. – I kept telling myself, 'I’m sore, but I’m okay. I'm still okay. I’m still okay.' And you would feel someone hit you and you’re like, 'No, I’m still okay.' And I thought that I was in imminent danger of losing my life, but I didn’t think I was going to die.
J.R.--What kept you going? Was is sheer adrenaline, or did you have something in your mind saying, ‘No. I can’t let this be the last moments of my life because I’ve got this ahead of me?'
O.W.--I think mostly adrenaline, but I’ve got a lot to live for. I was absolutely not ready to die that day, you know. I’ve got a beautiful wife and loving family, and I just want to get back.
J.R. -- You made it to the hospital? How were people at the hospital?
O.W.- The staff at the hospital were fantastic. It was a very, very young group of people. Turns out it was the university hospital and I would have said that you know, the average age of people stitching us up was 20, 22.
They were saying ‘We’re so sorry this happened to you. Egypt, this is not the Egypt we know. We’re so sorry.' And they were fantastic. They did a good job of stitching us up, kind of doing the best they could to look after us.
G.P. -- In a very dirty and a very decrepit hospital, and that’s not their fault.
When we got to the hospital, then a totally new chapter happened. You know, the way I describe it to people, it was insult added to injury, literally because the moment we stepped into that hospital – not the moment – maybe about ten minutes in – we were under virtual house arrest by the Egyptian government. That’s about the time. It's about 2 o’clock in the morning Thursday.
From what I read afterwards, it’s about the time the Egyptian government decided that they would target journalists, that they decided the outside attention given to these protests was causing problems. We will accuse them of being spies, anything – whatever – we will put them under some kind of control. We had an armed soldier with us from the moment we were in there as I was going to get my CAT scan, I was being accused of being an Israeli spy.
J.R.- What was your experience after they stitched you up?
O.W. – We spent the rest of the night with the soldier keeping a very close eye on what we were doing.
G.P.– Locking our door, locking our door from the outside. This is a hospital room.
O.W. – I now felt that we were being imprisoned. It was, it had gone onto a whole new thing. It was now, I’m a prisoner in a place that’s a long, long way from home. And how am I going to get out of it. We had this fantastic moment of lying there in our beds and kind of thought, 'Who’s going to come and get us.' And one of our colleagues walks in with the New Zealand ambassador and (claps hands).
J.R. -- You thought, ‘Here we are – home free.’
O.W. – Yeah.
G.P. – Wrong.
J.R.- What happened next?
G.P. – We were thrown into the back of an old jeep, okay. This is three journalists, our Canadian journalist still with us. Three badly injured individuals. And then we sat outside a complex which really turns out to be the headquarters for the secret police. We were blindfolded at that point, before we entered --blindfolded.
O.W. – You’re hearing rattling of guns and people moving stuff around and you know, you can’t help but thinking, 'What are they doing?' Surely they’re not gonna – you know, it doesn’t make any sense that they’re going to pull us out and shoot us.
G.P.– And then they sat us down in three plastic chairs, stood us up, sat us down, played with us. And then finally they took the blindfolds off. And there was one guy, beaten up, old videotape camera and another guy with a still camera. And our mug shots were taken, and taken, and taken. I think this is the eureka moment for me and my understanding of exactly what was happening. This time I could look around at all the people standing there and it wasn’t uniform people. It was people in plain clothes and it was youngish people, and it was people with guns.
And I could see, the light went off. I could see the same people that were standing around us at that point were the same people, or the same kind of people who were targeting us the night before in Liberation Square.
J.R.- Did they interrogate you?
O.W. - That was the bizarre thing about it. It was sort of this weird, you know -- what were they getting out of it? Were they just – I have absolutely no idea. They put the blindfolds back on. They walked us out the back, put us back into the back of this little jeep and I thought at that point, 'here we go.' We’re just going to be dragged off to some political prison and our governments are going to fight for our release for however long.
(Instead, they were driven out of the compound to the waiting ambassador of New Zealand.)
O.W. – They got us out of the car and the ambassador is just like, 'Get in the back of the car. We’re leaving as fast as we possibly can. You guys are fine – we’re safe – we’re leaving.'
G.P. --And I could see that there were other individuals there, and I believe they could have been some of the other journalists who were taken there.
J.R.- The treatment of journalists in Cairo over that period of time was strongly criticized by the U.S. State Department. What’s your sense of what happened there in Cairo to journalists over that 48 hour period?
G.P. – For me to sum up, I think it’s the wild flailings of a regime that just didn’t know what to do, that was out of control.
They went for us. They went for other journalists. They went from room to room in hotels, things that okay, I could name a half a dozen countries you would totally expect that in. But from an alleged strong ally supported by billions of dollars of support from the United States, you wouldn’t expect that to happen.
O.W. – It all makes sense that they were angry. They were pissed off that they lost both the physical battle and he PR battle on that first Friday. And you could just imagine that all those angry secret service and all those angry police had come back on the streets and they’re like, 'We’re going to get those protestors, and by the way, if we see any of those press that made us look so bad – we’ll sort them out too.'
J.R.- You wrote a blog about this on Friday. Obviously, while you had a lot of concerns and probably found what happened to you to be reprehensible, you also had some good things to say for the Egyptian people.
G.P. – Incredible things. I mean, prior to the events of the day we saw empassioned, articulate, English speaking people from all walks of life expressing things that Americans would be very happy to express: 'We want democracy, we want freedom of speech.' And then when the trouble started, we were touched by something else. At every step of the way, there were some Egyptians who said 'No, we will not return to the stone age – this is uncivilized behavior.'
Time after time, after time, after time people helped us. So in no way do we sit here and indict the Egyptian people at all.
O.W. – All the way along we met with huge kindness, but also absolute moments of complete brutality.