DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD/PA
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I'd like to start by giving you a few facts on the return of the remains of Warrant Officer David Hilemon. His remains are expected to arrive at Travis Air Force Base in California at 3:15 [p.m.] our time--that's 12:15 West Coast time. He will be examined there by a team from Walter Reed Medical Center. There will be a complete forensic autopsy at Travis, and then his remains will be transported to the burial site in the state of Washington, probably on the 23rd of December.
The family has asked that no press coverage be allowed either at Travis or in Washington where the remains are going. The military will do its best to help the family honor that request.
If there are any questions, I'm prepared to take them.
Q: Is there a preliminary indication of how he died, if you're running an autopsy? Was it a gunshot wound or shrapnel...
A: The autopsy hasn't been done yet.
Q: That would be pretty obvious.
A: Not that I know of. I don't know anything more than what Congressman Richardson reported today.
Q: There will be no video or photograph of this body arriving at Travis Air Force Base?
A: That is my understanding. The family has requested no press coverage. It seems like a reasonable request and a reasonable request for all of us to honor.
Q: If he is going to be released on the 23rd--which is tomorrow--to go to Washington, one assumes the autopsy will be complete. When do you expect to release the results...
A: I can't give you any details on that. I think it's not correct to assume the autopsy will be complete, particularly if there are any sort of chemical analyses that have to take place in connection with the autopsy. I'm not an expert on autopsies, but you could imagine that there would be some analysis that would have to take place.
Q: If it's determined tonight or tomorrow morning that he died of a gunshot wound--or that he was shot three times--will that be released?
A: Eventually it will be released, yes. When it will be released, I don't know. Whether we'll discuss this before Warrant Officer Hall gets home, I have no idea. But as soon as we can give you that information we will. It should be clear to you, [we have] no specifics on when it will be released.
Q: Anything new on Warrant Officer Hall?
A: No. You probably saw what Congressman Richardson said this morning. We hope for a speedy return, but we have no details.
Q: The way you keep saying, "Soon, very soon," it sounds like you've got a specific day in mind or have been told to expect it on a specific day. Is there a specific day when he has been told that they might release Hall?
A: Not that I know of.
Q: Secretary Perry mentioned in his interview today that the North Koreans were apparently examining some of the paperwork that was on the helicopter. Is there any concern that there might be some classified or some kind of compromise as a result of their examination of that?
A: I don't believe so. This was a routine orientation flight. It was a training flight. They were flying by maps. It was a fairly austere helicopter, used in this case for training--no other mission. I don't believe there's anything we have to worry about on that helicopter.
Q: On a little different angle, was there any equipment on that helicopter that could be even remotely construed as being intelligence gathering or incriminating of their mission?
A: There was not a camera on the helicopter. We don't know if one of the pilots may have taken a personal camera with him because we haven't had a chance to talk to the surviving pilot. It would be very atypical for a pilot to take a personal camera on such a flight. There was a radio on the helicopter--but not a radio that--I mean, a standard radio for that type of helicopter. I don't think it should be seen as anything but that for communication.
Q: Was Hall at the time of this helicopter downing, or in his previous assignment before that, in a situation that he would possess sensitive information personally? I don't know where he was before, but is there some reason... Something they could learn from continuing to interrogate him?
A: I don't know the answer to that question. If I knew it, I probably wouldn't answer it.
Q: You said that you didn't have any indication whether Richardson had had a definite indication from them when he'd be released. Has the United States received any indication from the mission to the UN where negotiations are also going on when he might be released?
A: No. We do not have firm information on that. Our information comes from Congressman Richardson. I believe Congressman Richardson has said publicly--on probably every network represented in this room--that he hopes that the pilot or co-pilot will be released soon. I think he said he hoped it would come before Christmas, but he has no firm information on that.
Q: Do you happen to know when Congressman Richardson is going to return? Has he communicated anything to Secretary Perry about his plans?
A: I do not know when he is returning, and I am not aware that he has spoken with Secretary Perry. Most of his conversations have been with Secretary Christopher and other people at the State Department.
Q: He is not flying back with the body?
A: I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know what his travel plans are. We'll try to find out. [Note: Congressman Richardson did not accompany CWO2 Hilemon's remains back to the U.S.]
Q: We were told that there was a great deal of diplomatic effort--pressure being put on the North Koreans both by Secretary Perry and the Secretary of State. Is that continuing, or is the assumption that whatever deal is going to be made is done and the pressures are eased off?
A: I wasn't aware that we were making a deal.
Q: Not a deal. Has the pressure on the North Koreans to release him... You said there was diplomatic negotiations--diplomatic pressure--being placed on the North Koreans. I'm asking, "Is that continuing?"
Q: Are you satisfied with whatever Congressman Richardson has negotiated is all that's going to be...
A: No. We are not satisfied until Warrant Officer Hall is returned.
Q: So diplomatic pressure is continuing?
A: Yes. We're continuing to work by any means we can to secure the prompt relief of Warrant Officer Hall.
Q: Yesterday, Senator Frank Murkowski, after his news conference in an interview, was asked about... He had been in Beijing, had just come back I think the day before yesterday. He was asked about the naval incident of October 27 through 29 that had to do with the naval task force being in the Yellow Sea. He was told in response to his inquiry about that, that the United States was perceived to have violated the territorial integrity of China, violating their air space in that particular incident, which of course we have denied. I've been told we were no closer than 29 miles.
Then this morning, in a call to the embassy, I learned that, indeed, there was a statement out from Beijing that was condemning this kind of aggressive behavior, I believe it was aimed at us. I do not have the full statement, but it was a confirmation of what Senator Murkowski was saying.
Do you have, first, any information on that? And secondly, when will we be meeting with the PRA, the People's Republic Army? When will we be meeting with them to kind of iron these kind of things out, these military exercises, etc., out with them? Do you have any knowledge?
A: Did the embassy of the People's Republic of China give you a copy of their statement?
Q: I think they're going to be able to. I did not take it down in toto, but they have a statement.
A: I'm not aware of a statement, but that doesn't mean they haven't issued one. I haven't seen their statement.
Q: As far as I know, it's only at the embassy. It has not been registered with the State Department yet. It has not arrived there. I will further pursue it.
A: Thank you.
This is the last formal briefing we're going to have for the next two weeks. So I hope you all have happy holidays. Of course, if there is news to announce, we will be here to announce it and to answer your questions with typical forthrightness and frankness.
Press: Thank you.