There has been no word on the fate of four Christian peace activists kidnapped two weeks ago in Baghdad. Their kidnappers had threatened to kill them by Saturday if Iraq and U.S. didn’t release all prisoners in Iraq. We hear from family members of the kidnapped activists and others calling for their release. [includes rush transcript]
We turn to the situation of the kidnapped humanitarian aid workers in Iraq. More than two weeks ago, Tom Fox of Clearbrook Virginia, James Loney of Toronto, Harmeet Singh Sooden of Canada and Norman Kember of Britain were taken captive in Iraq by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.
The kidnapped are members of the humanitarian group The Christian Peacemaker Teams, a non-missionary organization that has been documenting the abuse of Iraqi detainees, working with the families of prisoners and promoting peace. They have been operating in Iraq since 2002, and have had a presence in Gaza and the West Bank for the past decade. It has previously operated in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Bosnia.
More than 35,000 people have signed an online petition urging their release and support from Muslim activists has been especially significant. Recently, the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of influential Sunni scholars said that the captives should be granted their freedom.
Moazzam Begg, a British citizen, who was detained at Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba for nearly three years also called for their release.
- Moazzam Begg, former Guantanamo detainee.
The four hostages first appeared in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera. The station then aired another video in which the kidnappers threatened to kill the four unless all prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centers were released by December 8th. The deadline was extended by 48 hours. That deadline has now passed. There has been no word of their fate. Last Wednesday, a video was released of two of the captives, Tom Fox and Norman Kember, making this plea.
- Tom Fox and Norman Kember, video broadcast.
For more on the latest, we are joined by two guests.
- Ali Abunimah, founder of Electronic Intifada and Electronic Iraq.
- Ed Loney, brother of Jim Loney–one of the kidnapped men in Iraq who work for the Christian Peacemaker Teams–on the phone from Canada
- Catharine Fox, daughter of Tom Fox,–one of the kidnapped men in Iraq who work for the Christian Peacemaker Teams–video statement.
AMY GOODMAN: Moazzam Begg, the British citizen who was detained at Guantanamo in Cuba for nearly three years, also called for their release.
MOAZZAM BEGG: From the former British Guantanamo detainees to our brothers in Islam, Swords of Truth, Assalaamu Aleikum [inaudible]. When we were first granted release by our Lord’s mercy, we came home to find that there were people who opposed the government in their brutal war waged against Afghanistan and Iraq and stood on the side of justice, and they were not Muslims. It is our sincerest belief that Norman Kember, the 74-year-old Briton and those with him, are amongst those people, the many people who opposed this war from the beginning and were only in Iraq to promote human rights for the oppressed.
Just like Sheikh Abu Qatada, we also hope that our words may encourage you to show mercy to these men and let them free. When we saw these men in orange suits, it rekindled the haunting memories of humiliation and degradation of our lives in Bagram, in Kandahar, and in Guantanamo by the Americans. It reminded us also of our brothers still held there in Guantanamo, and this is why we make this appeal. We ask Allah to guide us all to the truth and that He will relieve the suffering of all of those people that are in the occupied lands. And our last prayer is: Hamdallaye [inaudible] means praise be to Allah. From your brothers in Islam, Moazzam, Shafiq, Asif, Ruhal, Feroz, Jamal, [inaudible], Tarek, and Jamal, the former Guantanamo detainees of Britain.
AMY GOODMAN: Former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg, speaking from Britain. The four hostages first appeared in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera. The station then aired another video in which the kidnappers threatened to kill the four unless all prisoners in U.S. and Iraqi detention centers were released by December 8 in Iraq. The deadline was extended by 48 hours. That deadline has now passed. There’s been no word of the prisoners’ fate. Last Wednesday, a video was released of two of the captives, Tom Fox and Norman Kember, making this plea.
TOM FOX: [inaudible] for my plea to the people of America, not to the government of America, a plea for my release from captivity and also a plea for a release from captivity of all of the people of Iraq. We are all suffering from the same fate, and that is the occupation of the American troops and the British troops, which have brought me to this condition and has brought the Iraqi people to the condition they’re in. So I would ask the people of America to do what they can to free us all from this captivity.
NORMAN KEMBER: I’m a Christian peacemaker, I’m a friend of Iraq. I have been opposed to this war, Mr. Blair’s war, since the very beginning. But I ask him now and the British government to do all that they can to work for our release and the release of the Iraqi people from oppression.
AMY GOODMAN: Videotape of two of the four prisoners being held in Iraq of the Christian Peace Team. We’re joined on the phone by Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, Electronic Iraq. We’re also joined by Ed Loney, brother of Jim Loney, one of the kidnapped men. Ali Abunimah, you have on your website at Electronic Intifada, "Release Our Friends." Can you talk about the Muslim and Arab support for the kidnapped Christian Peacemakers?
ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes. It’s been very widespread and very overwhelming, and I hope and pray that the message has gotten through to whoever is holding our friends, that they don’t have support among Arabs and Muslims around the world, and I think it sends a message — I hope it sends a message that, first and foremost, the support for our friends and [inaudible] help — takes direct recognition for the work that they have been doing for many, many years in Palestine and Iraq and other parts of the world.
And I think that [inaudible] support also gives the lie to the claim that has been pushed by some people, by the Bush administration, and increasingly Islamophobic claims that we are engaged in some sort of war of civilizations, the broad widespread and deep recognition [inaudible] sends a sign that there is no war of civilization, there is no religious [inaudible]. What there is is people trying to stand together against war, against occupation, trying to take the right stances and [inaudible] has tried to do that. Has stood at [inaudible] —
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, we’re going to have to move away from you, because we’re having trouble understanding, as you’re on a cell phone in a car, founder of Electronic Intifada. We’re also joined by Ed Loney, brother of Jim Loney, but before we go to him, we wanted to go to the videotape of the Loney family pleading for the kidnapped men to be released.
KATHLEEN WEIR: He has great respect for the culture and hospitality of your country. He has told us some stories of — especially when he was in a motor vehicle accident in the Baghdad area and had received and been cared for by the Iraqi people in, I guess, their hospital. He said that he and his colleagues were very well cared for, and he just —- he really has a vested interest in the country. He feels that he needs to be there to promote peace and to help with the Iraqi detainees getting information for their families and helping them to restore their lives. He has a very strong feeling about unjust war, and he has a real genuineness and openness towards all people. I just really would like my older brother, Jim, to come home and to be released so that he can continue his work. He -—
CLAUDETTE LONEY: Please release him. We miss him. We love him.
KATHLEEN WEIR: And we —
CLAUDETTE LONEY: And we want him home.
KATHLEEN WEIR: And we want him to be able to continue the work that is just so important to him with the Iraqi people and all people who are in need of aid, humanitarian aid.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Loney’s sister and mother, speaking on videotape, pleading for his release. On the phone with us, Ed Loney, the brother of Jim. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ed.
ED LONEY: Good morning. Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the latest information you have?
ED LONEY: The latest information I have is exactly what you know, and that’s pretty much that there’s been no word or no contact with the people who are holding my brother and his fellow CPT workers captive.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you’re doing now, how you’re trying to — would you say you are — is there any negotiation taking place? Have you — has anyone on the families’ behalf been able to contact the kidnappers?
ED LONEY: No. Nobody has been able to contact, as far as I know, the captors, and, you know, we just — we really know as much as the media does in that sense.
AMY GOODMAN: The last videotape we saw was Tom Fox of Virginia and Norman Kember of Britain in orange jumpsuits, blindfolded. What do you understand about this videotape and what was said?
ED LONEY: Well, to me, it shows that the people who have my brother in captivity and the others have a real political goal here, and that they really want to show the Americans, especially, that people in Iraq are not going to stand for being snatched up in the middle of the night and held against their will for whatever reasons, whether it’s security reasons or political reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: What was Jim doing in Iraq with Christian Peacemakers Team? Why did he go?
ED LONEY: Well, he was on the ground attempting to collect information and testimonials from family members who had their family members picked up by occupation forces and detained against their will in places like Abu Ghraib and in other facilities that exist in Iraq, military facilities, and he wanted to make sure that the rest of the world got a sense of these stories and how those were affecting how these incidences were affecting their lives, as they affect my life now.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you been in contact with the other family members, and what about the member of the Islamic Association from Canada making his way to Iraq now? How significant is that, and what is he going to do there?
ED LONEY: Well, to answer the first part of the question, my parents have been in contact with Harmeet Sooden’s family in Canada, but that was quite some time ago, maybe 10 or 12 days ago. So we haven’t had any real contact with other families from the CPT members. What was the other part of your question? I can’t remember.
AMY GOODMAN: The representative going to Iraq from Canada —
ED LONEY: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s incredible the amount of support that the CPT is getting from the Muslim community, and I think it shows that the work that CPT is doing and my brother is doing in Iraq and other places in the Middle East is having a real impact on the way people are perceiving the West, hopefully. And to me, it just proves that there are people of goodwill out there who want a way to get stories out about human rights abuses, and that they realize that to have somebody from the West, a team from the West come and expose the occupying forces for what they’re actually doing and what they’re perpetrating against people that they’re trying to help, apparently, is really ironic, and that it’s important for those stories, those little stories, to get out, because it happens to be important, but at the same time, too — just because my brother is from the West, and he is part of a group doesn’t mean that he is anybody special. There are so many stories like this that are happening to common Iraqi families that we don’t hear about and just because, you know, somebody from the West gets picked up and is threatened on television, all of a sudden that’s newsworthy, so the world takes a look at that. It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this, that people are actually starting to talk about it, when it’s been a huge issue right from the get-go, right from the beginning of this unjust war.
AMY GOODMAN: Ed Loney, I want to thank you very much for being with us, brother of Jim Loney. We will end this segment with Catharine Fox, the daughter of Tom Fox, also one of the kidnapped Christian Peacemakers.
CATHARINE FOX: My father has made a choice to travel to Iraq and listen to those who are not heard. He meets with families that are missing loved ones. He has spent most of his time in Iraq trying to free detainees. I did not want my father to travel to a country where his American citizenship might overshadow his peaceful reasons for being there, but this is who my father is. He is deeply committed to a peaceful resolution to these issues. He is there because the Iraqi people are not being heard and so often not supported. I feel as if there has to be a mistake that he has been taken. He is there only to shed light on the experiences of each Iraqi that he meets. He is there to help, peacefully, respectfully and completely.
He tells me of how well he has been welcomed by the families that he meets. The graciousness, mercy and compassion he has experienced in the country is something he mentions often when we speak. Neighbors come to visit and bring food and kindness. He is moved by the warmth of the people he has met. In pictures and in video my dad looks so tired right now, and I don’t care to imagine just how tired. I struggle even to find the space to experience my own emotions.
I want to be able to communicate just how loved my father is, but more than that, I just want to hug him, I want to find a way to give back the strength he has given to me. I want to show him just how much peace in his heart has inspired me and helped me to find a way in my own life.
My dad has always been a wanderer. He believes that the purpose of travel is to experience environments different than our own. When my brother and I were little, our family would visit a different city each year. We’d check [inaudible] and buses and [inaudible], and then traveled by foot as often as possible. We tried new food. We went to museums. We got lost on purpose so we would have to find a new way back. As children, my brother and I did not always see the value in this, but my father was teaching us to see opportunity in every step, planned or otherwise.
My dad loves the outdoors. When we traveled as a family, we would always visit parks. On the weekends, he takes us hiking in the mountains. Each time my father returns from Iraq, he visits the same mountain in Virginia. This is his way to center himself and rejuvenate to find the common peace that he hopes to impart to others.
My dad wasn’t a marine. He was a musician. He politely refuses military discounts. He practices clarinet every day, and once my brother and I began to play instruments, he encouraged us to do the same. He still carries with him the rhythm of that life. He still enjoys the music of language. As he travels, he brings a recorder so he can always express the music that is in his heart.
Above all else, my father is a listener, even when no one is speaking. He values the honesty of silence, and when he speaks, there is a respect and kindness in his voice and a strength that stands in quiet testimony to the life he has chosen to lead.
I love my father. I’m thankful to have been raised by such an honest, kind and loving gentle man. He continues to teach me the importance of living by my principles. He is my support and my guide, and I need him safe with me again. I will continue to hold him and everyone that he is with in the light and pray for a peaceful resolution. Please let him go.
AMY GOODMAN: Catharine Fox, the daughter of Tom Fox of Virginia, one of the four Christian Peacemakers who are now in Iraq, kidnapped, being held, as their family awaits word.