How the Christian Peacemakers were freed

The Beeb has the details

Briton Norman Kember and his Canadian colleagues James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden were freed after a multinational military raid acting on information provided by a detainee, the US military says.

The rescue was completed without any shots being fired and with no kidnappers present, suggesting the operation was carefully planned and carried out.

Although rescue experts began work as soon as the three men were captured, the operation sped up in the last few weeks, BBC Security Correspondent Gordon Corera said.

A split occurred between the hostage takers motivated by politics and ideology versus those motivated by money.

When a money-motivated captor was himself captured by US security forces in Iraq on Wednesday night, rescuers were able to find the Baghdad location where the men were held.

“We moved to the location in western Baghdad that was reported for the location of the Christian Peacemaker Team,” said Maj Gen Rick Lynch.

“We conducted an assault on the house and inside the house we found the three hostages, in good condition.

“There were no kidnappers there at the time. The three hostages were by themselves.”

The hostages were bound, he said.

Hostage James Loney reportedly confirmed that one person had led the forces to where they were held.

In a telephone conversation with a friend, Mr Loney is said to have described the kidnappers as a criminal gang.

And, according to the Toronto Star, he told his brother of the moment he, Mr Sooden and Mr Kember were freed: “The door came crashing in and gentlemen with British accents basically unshackled him (Norman Kember) and escorted him out.”

Gen Lynch described the men thought to be responsible as “a kidnapping cell that has been robust over the last several months in conducting these kind of kidnappings”.

And on a related note, here’s a bit more on the Christian Peacemakers themselves:

CPT, which was founded in 1988, has previously operated in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia. It is still active in Colombia.

Full-time CPT members serve a three-year term and are supported by a larger reserve team who work for about eight weeks a year. A team consists of four to six people at any given time.

Members belong to various Christian denominations, but, while they say they are Christian, they emphasise that they are not missionaries.

The group describes its work as “truth telling”, recounting the stories of ordinary individuals in areas of conflict.

Many of these stories are relayed to a wider audience in the members’ home countries via e-mail, newsletters and public appearances. CPT is also active in lobbying government officials.

In Iraq, the group’s work has focused on the issue of Iraqi detainees held by US forces. This has involved taking testimonies from families of detainees and former detainees alleging human rights abuses.

“We were the first to publicly denounce the torture of the Iraqi people held by occupation forces,” CPT co-director Doug Pritchard told the BBC. He said this was months before the Western media reported on abuses at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

None of the CPT members have witnessed the alleged abuse at first hand or have been inside the military prisons.

In an interview with the BBC News website in December 2004, Peggy Gish, a CPT member, described how she spent 13 months on the ground listening to stories of Iraqi men and women who claim they had been wrongfully imprisoned, tortured and beaten by the occupying forces.

“We heard about very violent house raids in the middle of the night, in which US soldiers would storm in, and if the men did not get down immediately, they would knock them down and beat them,” Ms Gish said.

After collating the claims, CPT posted them on US and Canadian websites and urged people to lobby government officials.

CPT members also aim to find out what everyday life is like for ordinary Iraqis. Before his departure to Iraq, Briton Norman Kember – who is being held by a previously unknown militant group, The Swords of Truth – told a Christian radio station that he was hoping to meet ordinary Iraqis of various backgrounds and hear their stories.

According to Mr Pritchard, the team that has been kidnapped in Iraq had recently been meeting authorities responsible for electrical power plants and oil refineries, to find out what difficulties Iraqis face and the reasons for them.

He said they had also met other human rights organisations in the country.

Responding to a question about operating in dangerous situations such as war zones, Mr Pritchard said: “That’s exactly where we work and it comes out of our own faith calling that soldiers take these risks every day and we respect the risks they take.

“We are convinced they are on the wrong track as soldiers, so we are challenging ourselves and asking: ‘Do we not have as much faith and as much courage as soldiers have and are we willing to put our own lives on the line’?”

On its website, the organisation says volunteers are aware of the risks and that “CPT does not advocate the use of violent force to save lives of its workers” even if they are kidnapped or held hostage.

I’ve commented on this already, but I believe it bears repeating: These are not dabblers or naifs, they are committed, informed individuals who have taken it on themselves to ensure that the rest of us are also informed about what really goes on in war zones like Iraq. They serve, in other words, a vital function that the “embedded” major media cannot and will not. Considering that this human-rights group was active in reporting on Abu Ghraib before the mainstream media broke the story–and were probably asking some very sensitive questions on why the vital infrastructure of Iraq has still not been rebuilt since “Mission Accomplished”, it begs some questions that no one else seems to be asking: Why were they kidnapped–really? And why was only the US member of the team killed?

I don’t expect any answers to these soon, but I thought I’d put them out there for you to ponder. I suspect there are more than a few powerful interests out there that don’t want you pondering them.

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