Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘US Military’ Category

Part 8 • A new enemy

After the Feb. 22 shrine bombing in Samarra, killing Shiites became more important than killing Americans – or guarding Jill.

| Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

(J.C.) Blind again under the black scarves – a now familiar routine after one and a half months in captivity – I was herded into a car, headed for yet another change of houses. I didn’t know who the two men in the front seat were until I heard a voice I barely recognized, due to the speaker’s exhaustion.

“Abu Rasha is very tired. It was a very busy day,” said Abu Nour’s No. 2, speaking in the third person, as night fell like its own black scarf on the world outside.

Abu Rasha was a large man, one of the organizers of my guards. His house in Baghdad – or what I took to be his house – was one of the first places I’d been taken after being kidnapped. I’d spent a lot of time in his presence. But I’d never encountered him in a state like this.

“Today was very, very bad,” he said. “All day, driving here, and driving there, with the PKC and the RPG,” he said, referring to Russian-made machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, which were among the insurgents’ most common weapons. It had been a day of hard fighting. But they hadn’t been confronting US or Iraqi soldiers. Today, they had had a different target: Shiites.

(Photograph)
SAMARRA: On February 22, 2006, a large explosion destroyed the golden dome shrine of Ali al-Hadi, one of Shiites’ holiest shrines.
GETTY

Two days earlier, on Feb. 22, an important Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, had been blown up. Shiites had attacked Sunni mosques in retaliation – the result being a vicious cycle of attack-and-response that had altered the world of my Sunni Islamist kidnappers.

We arrived back at the place I called the “clubhouse,” near Abu Ghraib, later that night. Slumped in a plastic chair in a room lit by the stark half-light of a fluorescent camping lantern, another mujahid told me their new bottom line.

“Aisha,” he said, calling me by the Sunni nickname they’d given me, “now our No. 1 enemy are the Shias. Americans are No. 2.”

• • •

(P.G.) As editor of the Monitor, Richard Bergenheim was the person who spoke to contacts who required special handling. That meant, for instance, that if FBI Director Robert Mueller called, he answered. And Mr. Mueller did call, early on, to ask if the Monitor was getting the help it needed.

It also meant that as the Jill Carroll hostage crisis dragged on, Mr. Bergenheim found himself at the center of the strange case of Daphne Barak and Sheikh Sattam Hamid Farhan al-Gaood (also spelled Gaaod). The Monitor was simply pursuing every lead, but this would be quite a rabbit hole.

On her website, Daphne Barak describes herself as “one of the few leading A-list interviewers in the world.” An Israeli-American syndicated television journalist, her interviewees have included everyone from Hillary Clinton to members of pop star Michael Jackson’s family.

Mr. Gaood, to some US officials, isn’t so much a celebrity as he is notorious. “One of Saddam Hussein’s most trusted confidants in conducting clandestine business transactions,” according to the CIA’s 2004 report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The same report said Gaood was once the director of El Eman, the “largest network of Iraqi front companies” that smuggled oil out of Iraq and foodstuffs into Iraq in violation of the UN oil-for-food program, but “he has stated that he believed this to be legitimate business.”

Sometime in late January, a source at a US television network told the Monitor that Ms. Barak was trying to sell an interview she’d conducted with Gaood – and that Gaood had mentioned helping get Jill Carroll out.

So Bergenheim called Barak. The story was true – or, at least, the part about the interview was.

Gaood had said, in an offhand way, that kidnapping was wrong, and Jill should be released. Pressed, he’d said something to the effect of, yes, he could arrange her freedom, he’d even use his own money, if needed – but so far, no one had asked him to.

(J.C.) The wave of sectarian violence which overtook Iraq following the destruction of Samarra’s Askariya Shrine had a huge impact on the nature of my captivity.

That was because the level of activity of the mujahideen group which had seized me greatly increased. Many of its members were out fighting their new war almost every day.

At first, I thought this was a bad thing for me. It was destabilizing the status quo – and under the status quo, at least I was still alive.

I didn’t want to be killed just because I was now a burden. And I certainly didn’t want to be caught in the middle of a Sunni-Shiite firefight.

But after a while it became clear that this conflict, despite its horrible effect on Iraq itself, might be a good thing for me. Their main mission was now something to which my presence was, politically speaking, only tangential. And they began running out of places to put me, because suddenly, American and Iraqi troops were everywhere, trying to keep the peace.

From my first days in captivity I’d seen evidence that they weren’t just kidnappers but also insurgents actively conducting attacks. They didn’t much bother trying to hide their firearms and explosives.

For instance, one morning at the location I knew as the mujahideen clubhouse I awoke to find fresh dirt in the bathroom, dirt in the shower, and dirt in the washing machine. I didn’t think much of it. Maybe they were washing their shoes.

(Photograph)
JILLIAN TAMAKI

But I quickly learned that the appearance of dirt meant that someone in the house had been out planting bombs – IEDs, or Improvised Explosive Devices, the mujahideen weapon of choice. I knew from my reporting, and the time I spent embedded with US Marines, that IEDs were now responsible for about half of all US combat deaths in Iraq.

Not all their explosives were offensive weapons. At least one of my guards – Abu Hassan, a serious man – wore a suicide vest inside the clubhouse.

One night, he was leaning over a little gas-powered stove, cooking eggs and potatoes in oil, and then he sat back and pushed the open flame away, saying something like, “Oh, have to be careful!”

The suicide vest was under his shirt, sort of swinging back and forth. He was afraid the fire would ignite the explosives. And if it did, we’d all be dead.

He used to complain about how heavy it was. He’d wear it at night. He would mime for me what would happen if soldiers came, showing how he’d put it on, with shoulder straps, and then how two wires would connect. Then he would move his hands outward in a big motion indicating an explosion, look upward, and go, “BOOM!”

(P.G.) The prospect of help from Sheikh Gaood raised hopes at the Monitor’s offices in Boston at a time when other tracks of investigation seemed to be drying up. But it quickly became a serious source of tension at the paper and among the US agencies who were supposedly cooperating to find Jill.

The Monitor’s Baghdad correspondents Scott Peterson and Dan Murphy didn’t trust Gaood’s motives. Was Gaood trying to win favor with the US government – as it investigated violations of the UN oil-for-food sanctions program? And the FBI wasn’t happy about it either. They wanted to keep Gaood out of the picture.

US and foreign intelligence sources, on the other hand, said that Gaood had indeed been a powerful figure under Saddam Hussein. And, the CIA’s report on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction described Gaood as “linked” to an insurgent network near Fallujah that “actively sought chemical weapons for use against Coalition forces” in 2004. It was possible he had the contacts to release Jill, they said, but there were no guarantees.

Which government agency was right? How should the Monitor advise the Carroll family? And how much should the Monitor invest in pursuing this track?

According to intelligence sources, the CIA checked with the FBI, the lead agency in the Carroll case, before providing the Monitor with more background on Gaood. The FBI replied with a blistering e-mail: the CIA should stay in its own lane, and stop talking to the Monitor about the Carroll case. (Today, the FBI says no such message was sent. But Gaood “was assessed as a complete ‘X’ factor, which means undemonstrated credibility,” says FBI spokesman Richard Kolko.)

To try and settle this intergovernmental dispute, Bergenheim called Mr. Mueller, the head of the FBI. You asked if we were getting the help we needed, he said, in effect. Well, we aren’t.

(Photograph)
SATTAM AL-GAOOD: The former senior Iraqi Baath party official, shown here at his house in Amman, Jordan, Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, suggested that he could secure Jill’s release.
NADER DAOUD/AP

The FBI response? The Monitor was given two new, higher-level contacts within the bureau, but from then on the paper’s editor was given less information about the government’s efforts in the case.

Bergenheim decided to tell the Carroll family about the Barak/Gaood connection. Bad move, said the Baghdad Boys. But on Feb. 9, Jim and Mary Beth Carroll went on “Good Morning America” and asked for the help of the “powerful sheikh,” without naming him.

A few days later, Gaood issued a statement from his exile in Jordan, calling for Jill’s release to prove that the Iraqi insurgency “does not kill innocents.”

Nothing happened. And the days dragged on.

(J.C.) There was no mistaking that the mujahideen who held me hated America. “One day, hopefully, one day, America, all of America gone,” said one of my guards early in my captivity. He spread his hands out wide as if to wipe America off the map.

“I don’t quite understand,” I said. “All America?”

My female jailer Um Ali, listening in on the conversation, translated the sentiment into simpler Arabic for me. “No journalists, no people, no nothing,” she said.

I could also see that Shiites were high on their list of enemies. Once, when attempting to explain the historical split between Sunnis and Shiites, Abu Nour, the leader of my captors, stopped himself after he referred to “Shiite Muslims.”

“No, they are not Muslims,” Ink Eyes said. “Anyone who asks for things from people that are dead, and not [from] Allah, he is not a Muslim.”

He was referring to Shiites appealing to long-dead Islamic leaders to intercede with God, asking for miracles such as curing the sick. It’s a practice similar to that of Catholics praying to saints.

But after the Feb. 22 bombing of the Askariya Shrine, and rampant Sunni-Shiite killing, nearly every captor I came into contact with would tell me about their hate for Shiites first. Abu Nour now simply referred to them as “dogs.”

• • •

(Photograph)

(P.G.) The Monitor and the family still talked almost every day, but they had less to say to each other. There were fewer leads and less information to share.

In Baghdad, a new case officer from the British security consultants had arrived and was proving difficult to work with. Correspondents Murphy and Peterson were irritated by prodding from Boston to rotate out for a rest.

Neither Peterson nor Murphy considered themselves particularly religious. But as Peterson notes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” From the beginning, he drew strength from the book of Psalms, and this passage: “Truth brings the elements of liberty. The power of God brings deliverance to the captive,” written by Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this paper.

Some nights, at the end of the last conference call with Boston, the pair would listen to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” performed by Jeff Buckley. It filled the apartment, and lifted their spirits, with a song that Murphy knew to be one of Jill’s favorites.

Eventually, reluctantly, Peterson took a two-week break with his family in Istanbul, Turkey.

In mid-February, Jim notified the Monitor that he had opened a new channel with someone claiming to be an intermediary for the kidnappers. Hopes rose again.

An Arabic interpreter was brought into his home. But under FBI advice, Jim refused to tell Team Jill in Boston or the Baghdad Boys any of the details. Even more frustrating to Murphy and Peterson, Jill’s father told them to shut down any other tracks they were pursuing, including talks with Jordanian officials who had just said they would try to help. The Monitor reporters didn’t want to be working at cross-purposes to Jim, so they reluctantly sat on their hands.

But after the bombing of the Askariya Shrine, fighting surged between Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents, prompting more curfews. Jim’s Iraqi contact stopped answering his phone. Days dragged into a week, two weeks.

Another dry hole.

Discouraged, Jim sent word that Murphy and Peterson could resume their efforts in Iraq. By now, Murphy needed a break and left for Cairo.

(J.C.) On the day in late February that an exhausted Abu Rasha had told me that Shiites were now the mujahideen’s top target, he’d told me something else, something chilling.

“We killed an Al Arabiya journalist,” he said, his face drawn, his eyes hard. “She said the mujahideen are bad.”

It was unclear if he meant that he himself had participated in the killing or if it had been done by men from the larger group of mujahideen.

They’d frequently assured me that I wasn’t going to be killed. But clearly there were times when their rules for jihad allowed them to kill women, and to kill women journalists.

As I learned after I was released, the well-known Al Arabiya newswoman Atwar Bahjat and two colleagues were abducted and killed by gunmen while they were interviewing Iraqis near the bombed Samarra shrine.

I bounced from house to house over the next few weeks – mostly between the clubhouse and a new house west of Fallujah – and the guards grew incredibly agitated. They would bitterly complain to me about being stuck with guard duty. Abu Hassan – the guard with the suicide vest – would sleep and eat little. He was always on edge. He would fiddle with his 9mm pistol obsessively and leap to his feet to peer out a window at the first sound of a helicopter or barking dog.

(Photograph)
ATWAR BAHJAT: Jill Carroll’s captors said they killed this TV journalist on Feb. 22.
AFP/GETTY IMAGES

He spent his time on the phone, checking in with others for the latest news on their campaign to kill Shiites. When anyone came to the house, he pumped them for stories about their “work,” as they all called it.

In his state of agitation and boredom, he began raising suspicions about the Shiite neighbors. They didn’t know I was there. They didn’t appear to know that the men at this house were mujahideen. They’d drop off fresh bread or yogurt, or stop to chat outside, just as Iraqis had done for generations.

They did not yet recognize that those days of amity were over.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Part 7 • False hopes

How the insurgency operates and views the world. Five Iraqi women are released but Jill must make another video.

| Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor
(J.C.) It was late January the next time we moved. Hot and tired of traveling, I threw up all over myself. They didn’t know that I’d always been prone to car sickness.

“Do you need a doctor? Are you sick? We can bring you a doctor,” said Abu Rasha, my No. 2 captor, who was driving. Again and again, I saw that their beliefs would allow them to deprive me of my freedom and kill Alan, yet also lead them to express sincere concern over my health and well-being as their hostage.

When we finally came to a stop I was led, stinking, into a new house – the sixth place I’d been, in the three weeks I’d been held. It wouldn’t take much to prompt a move: a helicopter overhead, wild dogs barking at night, a US patrol in the vicinity. At the time, I thought the house was south of Baghdad. The US military now says it was near Abu Ghraib.

Once inside, they steered me directly into the bathroom, and I stripped off my soiled clothes.

The house was so new that the mujahideen were still building it around me. No family lived here. This was a house built by Abu Nour, my lead captor, solely for the use of the mujahideen. It was a meeting house, a bomb factory, and, for me, a jail.

In my head, I called it “the clubhouse.”

Here there were no women and children to serve as buffers between me and my captors – or to witness my eventual fate.

I’d felt some measure of safety in the presence of the mujahideen families. That might have been an illusion. In any case, now it was gone.

As the weeks of my captivity accumulated, I felt physical and mental stress begin to mount.

The inactivity was claustrophobic. The psychological poking and prodding of my captors – who knew so little about Americans that they were shocked I wasn’t blond – sometimes made me feel like an animal in a zoo.

Constant adrenaline crashed up against chronic fatigue. I’d lie down at night, and my eyes would feel swollen. I’d close my eyelids and it would seem as if they weren’t big enough to go around my eyeballs.

Sometimes I would think about people back home and I would feel a little better. My grandparents are Catholic and they go to Mass every day. I would figure what time it was in the US and would think, “I bet they’re praying for me right now. I bet they’re saying, ‘Let’s pray for our granddaughter, Jill Carroll.’ “

If it was early morning in America, I would imagine my mom, dad, and twin sister, Katie, waking up. If it was a little later I would think, “They’re having their morning meeting at the Monitor. Maybe they’re talking about me.”

That was my only escape.

At first in the clubhouse, I was happy to sit alone in my bedroom and not be bothered.

Between moments of terror, throughout my captivity were long hours doing nothing. Here, I didn’t want to look around the room too much, because I wanted to save the newness, and the interest of looking at new things as long as I could. After fear, boredom was my tormentor, my constant enemy.

I’d think, “I’m going to spend today looking at the heater. And then tomorrow, I’ll sit in a different part of the room, and it’ll look different.” I’d stare at flies for hours.

It sounds crazy now, but then it seemed normal. If you looked at everything all at once, it became familiar and boring really fast.

I sang camp songs to myself, and songs that Mom used to sing to me. I spun fantasies of US marines rescuing me. I ruminated over old boyfriends and choices I’d made. I deeply questioned my decision to come to Iraq. I had devoted a year in Jordan to studying Arabic and working at an English-language newspaper, slowly learning my craft. For what? To spend my last days under the thumb of the bleepin’ muj? If I ever got out, I decided I’d never leave the US again.

At night, I would think hard about Katie, sending her mental messages: ‘I’m OK. Don’t worry. Can you feel me, Katie?’ In my head, I’d write letters to Dad, in North Carolina, telling him about my days. I’d imagine him hugging me and hugging me in the doorway, telling me everything was OK.

I spent a lot of time staring at my toes, and wondering if I was slowly going around the bend.

After several days at the clubhouse, the guards asked me if I wanted to watch them make dinner. Then they let me watch a little TV. Eventually, they let me pace the length of the house, about 15 steps, and help wash dishes and prepare meals. I was overjoyed with these activities after so many hours spent doing nothing.

(Photograph)
THE CLUBHOUSE: This house near Abu Ghraib was one of at least six locations where Jill Carroll was kept hostage. The US military says soldiers raided it in May.
View interior photos of ‘the clubhouse’ in our interactive map.

US MARINE CORPS

Access to sunlight became the most important new benefit, though. It poured into the sparse sitting room where my guards slept and where we all ate.

I was desperate for light after painful days in dim rooms in the Abu Ghraib house with my now-departed female minder, Um Ali. I had been handed off to a different cell under Abu Nour, to a different set of guards.

One of the guards at this new house, who had himself spent time in prison, seemed to understand the way I felt. One morning before breakfast, he tied back the thin curtains.

“Sun,” he said smiling and gesturing at the bright streams pouring in through the etched glass windows.

I sat on the ground in the sunbeam and closed my eyes. It penetrated my eyelids and warmed my face.

By this point, I had learned much about the way the mujahideen operated. To me, at least, some of their tactics were surprisingly clever.

Take transportation. Men with beards, and cars with only one or two men, drew too much attention from patrols and at checkpoints. So they shaved their beards and drove around as families, kids and women included. They played Shiite music. As insurgents, they knew how to not look like an insurgent.

(Photograph)
ILLUSTRATION BY JILLIAN TAMAKI

They have the home-field advantage. As Abu Nour, the leader, told me more than once: “I can go out, plant my bomb, and go back and have a homemade dinner with my wife. What are American soldiers going to do? They go back [to their base] and do not have good food or get to see their family.”

Abu Nour (“Ink Eyes”) began coming to see me almost every day. Clearly, he felt freer to visit the clubhouse than the other places I’d been held. It was during one of these visits that he’d mentioned Margaret Hassan, and I’d hysterically begged for the guards to use a gun to kill me, not a knife.

At the clubhouse, he also appeared eager to have me “interview” him (see story). He seemed to have begun to view me as a messenger – an idea I had been pushing, hoping it would give them a reason to set me free.

My hands always shook when I did these “interviews.” Like all interactions with my captors, they felt like mine fields, or chess games.

Among other things, Abu Nour said that some people joined the mujahideen because they were angry about the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison or raids on their homes at night. Many enlisted following a battle they considered a great victory – the April 2004 fight for Fallujah, a city west of Baghdad in the Anbar Province.

Abu Nour added that too many of these new recruits had impure motives. That, he said, is why they lost Fallujah to US forces in November 2004.

“A good mujahid enters the war so [that] if he dies he goes to heaven,” Abu Nour insisted.

Secular insurgents were useful allies, but wouldn’t be allowed to take part in the Iraqi government after the mujahideen’s final victory, he said. Sunni politicians participating in the current US-backed government were traitors to Islam and should be killed.

My captors would laugh, for example, when Adnan al-Dulaimi would appear on TV – either when he was pleading for my release or as part of a group of politicians trying to form a new government. I had gone to interview Mr. Dulaimi when they seized me in front of his political headquarters in Baghdad.

[In a press conference on Jan. 20, Dulaimi said: “By kidnapping her, you are insulting me. You’re insulting the work that I’ve been doing for Iraq…. release her….” Nine days later he issued another tearful public appeal for Jill’s release, which was featured in the Monitor’s Iraqi media campaign in February and March.]

(Photograph)
ADNAN AL-DULAIMI: The Iraqi politician on Jan. 20 at a press briefing calling for Jill Carroll’s release.
AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

“Look, Jill. Ha, ha. There’s your ‘friend’ Dulaimi,” they scoffed each time he appeared. “Oh, please, please free Jill! Ha, ha, ha, ha.” They mocked him.

Within minutes of my capture, I had suspected Dulaimi, the head of the Iraqi Accordance Front, a Sunni political party. The kidnappers were waiting for us when we left his office. They must have known about my appointment ahead of time.

During one of these talks at the “clubhouse,” Abu Nour said that Dulaimi had been to see him that week. Dulaimi had begged Ink Eyes to let me go. Later, the guards told me that Dulaimi had been back again. Dulaimi said, “Please, please let her go. The [US] soldiers are threatening to arrest my sons. Tell me where Jill is. Let her go.” (See related story)

My captors were angry about being labeled “terrorists.” But the deaths of innocent people caused by their activities – such as the murder of my interpreter, Alan Enwiya – didn’t taint the purity of their jihad.

“Sometimes when we try to hit the American soldier or Iraqi soldier, sometimes we kill women and children in this operation,” said Abu Nour at one point. “We don’t want to …, but this is war.”

Periodically, Abu Nour would tell me people were calling for my release. He would never say whether this was good or bad.

Throughout my ordeal, my captors would make oblique references to what I later discovered were organized appeals on my behalf. For example, Abu Nour wanted to know if I knew the leader of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. I thought it was another test of my character. Later, I learned Hamas had issued a statement condemning the kidnapping of civilians.

When my father and mother made their first televised statements, Abu Rasha said, “Your father and mother say, ‘Hello’ to you.”

“Very good man, good man, your father,” he said.

It was clear that whatever my parents had said on TV had made a good impression.

One day Abu Nour arrived, and said that five women detainees had been released. This was important, and good news, he said.

(Photograph)
GOING HOME: Two of the five Iraqi women released from a Bagdhad detention center were driven home on Jan. 26. US officials said the release was not related to the demands of Jill’s captors.
Hadi Mizban/AP

“This is Step 1,” he said. “Now we have to go to Step 2.”

He wanted me to make another video, and ask for the release of all Iraqi women prisoners.

I was crushed. Another video meant days or weeks of waiting for it to air, then waiting for a reply. The black-eyed leader – someone who I thought never saw me as a person, despite the chocolates he brought from Baghdad – now thought he had something really valuable. The last thing they were going to do was let me go.

It wasn’t until later that I figured the release of the five women had helped by making it harder to justify killing me.

(P.G.) Five Iraqi female detainees were released on Jan. 26, along with some 450 male prisoners. While US officials denied this was in response to Jill’s captors’ demands, her family saw it as a hopeful sign.

But four days later, Jill’s twin sister, Katie, got a disturbing call from Amelia Newcomb, deputy foreign editor, who served as the Monitor’s liaison to the family. The kidnappers had released another video, said Newcomb; and on this one Jill was crying.

Immediately Katie assumed the worst – that this was evidence her sister was being mistreated. She snapped on her television, and, indeed, saw a picture of a sobbing Jill. And in an instant, she felt much better.

Jill was faking, Katie thought.

She knew her sister. She knew that when Jill really cried it was like the Nile at the crest of a flood. The tears would come so hard, Jill wouldn’t even be able to see, if she didn’t wipe them away.

But this was different. This was … restrained. Maybe the kidnappers were coaching Jill. Maybe she wasn’t being physically mistreated.

Katie wasn’t the only family member to take heart from the ostensibly disturbing video. Mary Beth Carroll didn’t think her daughter was crying, either. Clearly, Jill was being fed – her cheeks weren’t sunken – and she was dressed in a neat hijab, which seemed in some manner a token of respect.

Nine days later, a third video of Jill appeared on a Kuwaiti television station. This time, for the first time, her voice could be heard. “I am with the mujahideen,” she said. “I sent you a letter written by my hand, but you wanted more evidence, so we are sending you this letter now to prove I am with the mujahideen.”

On Feb. 10, a day later, the owner of the Kuwaiti television station said that sources close to the kidnappers had told him there was a Feb. 26 deadline. Two whole weeks! The US had that long to release all Iraqi women from its prisons, or else. To Mary Beth, that meant Jill’s safety was guaranteed for the next 16 days.

The day after the video came out, Mary Beth woke up in a good mood. After the daily worries she and the rest of the family had experienced, this was almost like being on vacation, she thought.

 

Read Full Post »

Part 3: The first video

Jill meets Ink Eyes, her chief captor, and makes a video seeking the release of Iraqi women.

| Staff writers of
The Christian Science Monitor

 

(Illustration)
(J.C.) Monday morning – two days after the kidnapping – my captors began trying to convert me to Islam.

He was eager to show me the similarities between Islam and Christianity, so he was telling me how many stories from the Bible are actually in the Koran. I was anxious to make him like me and feel I was sympathetic to him, so much so that I began using more of my Arabic.

He and the others marveled at how much of their language I seemed to have picked up in just one day.

I tried to listen to Abu Ali‘s lesson attentively as he translated complicated Koranic Arabic into more basic Arabic he thought I could understand. He was very pleased that I showed interest in learning. He kept saying there was no pressure, no pressure in Islam, that they were forbidden from forcing people to convert. True acceptance must come from a free will.

They’d kidnapped me, and they all had guns ready to kill me, but, oh no, no pressure there. I falsely assured him that I felt no pressure. I have always been interested in learning about Islam. But only so that I can understand the people I’m covering as a journalist.

Later on, this would come back to haunt me.

(P.G.) Meanwhile, the rest of the world was just beginning to hear about Jill Carroll‘s kidnapping. Journalists in Baghdad had learned of it minutes after it happened, but most held off on reporting the attack. The reason: the Monitor had asked the media to temporarily remain quiet about the crime.

As he hopped from airport to airport on his way into Baghdad, staff writer Scott Peterson had called Boston to add his voice to those of TV network executives and Baghdad reporters who were forcefully arguing for a news blackout. It was a question of Jill’s safety and hostage value. If the kidnappers had made a mistake, and hadn’t known they were snatching a young US female reporter, a blackout might provide them space to release her unharmed. If they had targeted her – a scenario that seemed more likely – the blackout might buy time for a quick negotiation, and make Jill seem less valuable.

More critically, a blackout might protect Jill if she was hiding her Arabic or lying to her kidnappers about her name or background.

The Western media who live in Baghdad are a tight group and consult on everything from security to parties; thus they’re easy to reach en masse. On Jan. 7, managing editor Marshall Ingwerson sent them a formal request to sit on stories about Jill. From his small office off the Monitor newsroom, Mr. Ingwerson fielded a steady stream of inquiries.

“We’d prefer you not write,” he told callers. “Most of your colleagues are respecting this blackout.”

That was true – most did. Some helped enforce it, alerting the Monitor to isolated stories popping up on the Web.

But Jill wasn’t quickly released. And after two days had passed, editors around the world began to grumble. The executive editor of the Associated Press contacted Ingwerson to argue it was time to go public.

Finally, the Monitor agreed. It issued a statement identifying Jill as a “freelance reporter.” Her work for foreign publications, rather than her US clients, was emphasized. The point, again, was to lower her perceived value.

The blackout taught editors something about the degree of cooperation they could expect from media colleagues. Some hadn’t expected it to last five minutes, yet it had lasted for days. Monitor editors began to formulate a plan – something strategic – for shaping Jill’s image in the Middle East.

(J.C.) Monday afternoon the kidnappers called me into the sitting room. Sitting against a wall was a man wearing a kaffiyeh – the traditional Arab men’s headdress, made of checked fabric – wrapped around his head and face. All I could see were his ink-black eyes.

Ink Eyes addressed me in English. His voice had a familiar, gravelly quality.

“Are you happy here?” he asked. “Is everything OK?”

I knew that voice – it was the interpreter, the man who’d grilled me about my background in the initial hours of my captivity. I soon learned that he was more than an interpreter; he was their leader.

He went on to say that his group had kidnapped a French journalist a year earlier, and that she’d asked why she was treated so well. “So you’ll say you were treated well when you go home,” he’d told her.

Another shock – these were the men who’d taken Florence Aubenas. A French foreign correspondent for the paper Liberation, she was kidnapped in Baghdad in January 2005.
(See story | Graphic | Interactive map.)

Well, at least she’d been released, though at the time I didn’t know it was after a five-month ordeal.

Ink Eyes kept talking. “We need to make a video of you,” he said. “We want your family to see this. We want to make them see you in a bad way so that they want to move quickly.”

A vision flashed through my head: I was going to be one of those hostages surrounded by men with guns in a video broadcast on Al Jazeera. I’d always worried about becoming one of them.

Seeing my alarm, they said I didn’t have to make the video if I didn’t want to. I assured them I did want to. They were armed, I didn’t want to know the consequences if I said no.

Then the man with the black eyes said, “Jill, where is your mobile [phone]? Yesterday, the American soldiers came very close, very close to this place where you were. Why did they do that?”

Again, they were accusing me of communicating with the US military. This was bad.

“I am the leader of this little group, and I’m a little more sophisticated than my friends here,” he continued. “Do you have something in your body, something to send a signal to your government?”

Then he told me a story: He’d had a friend held at the US prison at Abu Ghraib. This friend claimed that Marines had given him medicine that put him to sleep, many times. After he got out, he went to the doctor, had an X-ray, and they’d found an electronic tracking device implanted in his body.

“If you have this in your body, tell me now and we’ll go and take it out,” Ink Eyes said, making a plucking gesture with his hand.

“No, I don’t have this! I don’t have this!” I nearly shouted through tears. “Bring a woman. We’ll go in the bathroom right now, and I’ll take all my clothes off and she can look at me and see that I don’t have anything.”

He waved his hand and said that wouldn’t prove I didn’t have a transmitter implanted in my body. Then he changed the subject, apparently letting go of the issue. Eventually, dinner for the men arrived – fish, an expensive treat in Iraq, in honor of me.

I left the room to go eat with the women and children. But it was clear that this suspicion was not going away.

After dinner they told me to put on a track suit they’d given me two days earlier and remove my head scarf. I wanted to wear my hijab if they were going to film me; they said no, they wanted to make my hair messy, make me look bad.

They brought me back into the sitting room, and men began filing in, carrying AK-47s and RPGs. They were cavalier about their weapons; one AK was lying on the ground, pointed right at me. I thought, “If that thing goes off, it’s going to blow off my leg.”

They were holding up a sheet, moving it here and there, trying to find the best light. There were maybe 10 men in the room, and each had an opinion; it was “no, no, no, here,” and then “no, no, no, over here.”

Ink Eyes had written up a short speech, but he wasn’t going to deliver it. Abu Rasha, the man who’d fought soldiers the day before in Baghdad, was going to do it instead. He kept practicing it aloud; I didn’t understand most of it, except for when he said “CIA.”

(Photograph)
ACTION: The first video was made Jan. 9 with Abu Rasha, the man in the middle, reading a speech in Arabic. About 30 seconds of the four-minute video were aired, without sound, on Al Jazeera Jan. 17.

Then the leader turned and coached me intently. I was to say that they were mujahideen fighting to defend their country, that they wanted women freed from Abu Ghraib prison, and the US military, particularly the Marines, were killing and arresting their women and destroying their houses.

And I must cry, on cue.

Abu Rasha donned a jumpsuit and wrapped his head in a kaffiyeh. Two others did the same. I sat down in front of them and the camera rolled.

I started to give my speech. Abu Ali standing behind the camera ran his fingers down his cheeks, to signal that I needed to cry.

It took me a while to work up to the crying part. But I had a lot of pent-up emotion and stress, and by the time we finished, I was crying for real. (Later, I learned that Al Jazeera only aired about 30 seconds – without audio – of that first four-minute tape. The tears were never broadcast.)

As the taping ended, I put my head down and I just kept crying. I heard Abu Rasha sigh behind me in a sympathetic way, like he felt bad, and some of the other men were making little noises like they felt bad that I was sitting there crying in front of them.

Ink Eye’s reaction was different. He showed no sympathy. And I knew his opinion of me – my personal character – might make the difference in whether I lived or died.

He said, “We have to do this again.”

He wanted me to cry more and talk longer, and say how the Marines were destroying things, destroying their homes.

(Photograph)
EMBEDDED: Jill is shown in western Iraq in November 2005 with members of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Regiment.
JILL CARROLL COLLECTION

They had a special enmity for the US Marines. What they didn’t know – and I hoped they would never find out – was that I had been embedded with the Marines for five weeks in November and December.

Back then, the lieutenant of the platoon I was with had said that if anyone ever kidnapped me, a platoon of Marines would come to my rescue.

So, in the retake of the video I made a point of emphasizing the word “Marines.” I said, “Their government isn’t of the Iraqi people. It is a government brought by the American government and by the MARINES…”

I wanted them to know I was thinking of them. Come get me, guys. Please, come save me.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts