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2005-12-05

Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy Among 13,000 to Sign Petition Calling for Release of Kidnapped Aid Workers

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More than 13,000 people, including Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy, have signed an online petition urging the release of four peace activists with the Christian Peacemaker Team kidnapped in Baghdad 10 days ago. We speak with a friend of one of the captives and we go to Hebron to speak with a correspondent for Al-Jazeera.net in the Occupied Territories where the CPT has worked for the past decade. [includes rush transcript]

More than a week 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 which is is a non-missionary organization that has been documenting the abuse of Iraqi detainees and working with the families of prisoners. The CPT were the first to publicly denounce the torture of Iraqi people at the hands of U.S. forces, long before the media revealed what was happening at Abu Ghraib.

The hostages first appeared in a video broadcast by Al Jazeera last Tuesday. They have been accused by their captors of being undercover spies working as Christian peace activists. Last Friday, Al-Jazeera broadcast 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.

Calls have come from all over the world calling for the release of the hostages. More than 13,000 people including Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy signed an online petition urging their release. The petition reads in part "They are people who have dedicated their lives to fighting against war and have clearly and publicly opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq." The petition is online at the website freethecpt.org.

Last week, The Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of influential Sunni scholars said that the captives should be granted their freedom. This group has helped mediate the release of kidnapped foreigners in the past. And this weekend Members of the Christian Peace Team working in the West Bank town of Hebron also called for the release of their colleagues.

  • Khalid Amayreh, correspondent for Al-Jazeera.net in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. He knows two of the CPT hostages when they worked in the West Bank.
  • Farid Alan Schintzius, friend of Tom Fox from Richmond, Va.

Website: Christian Peacemaker Teams

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, members of the Christian Peace Team working in the West Bank town of Hebron also called for the release of their colleagues.

KHALID AMAYREH: Make the Islam wing in this battle, not to make most of the people outside feel that Islam is the religion of the terrorists. No, we are the religion of the peace.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Hebron, to talk about what happened this past weekend in the protests for Tom Fox. We are joined now by Khalid in Hebron. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KHALID AMAYREH: Hi.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what happened this weekend and how you are organizing, and how Palestinians there are speaking out on behalf of the Christian Peace Team?

KHALID AMAYREH: Yes. Well, actually, almost everybody in the West Bank knows those people. Those people have been active here for the last ten years. And they have used non-violence; they have tried to help the Palestinians withstand the Israeli army tactics they use. They escort Palestinian kids to their schools, through Israeli check points and roadblocks. So, their work is actually greatly appreciated by all Palestinians. And everybody is really concerned about what is happening in Iraq to those four people. I personally know Tom Fox and James Loney, and I told them several times, they are doing wonderful work [inaudible] to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes.

So the last few day actually, Muslim religious leaders, teachers, ordinary people have been making efforts to appeal to the kidnappers to release those people. Today I understand there was a press conference in Ramallah where the religious leader of the Palestinian Authority has made a passionate appeal to the kidnappers to release those innocent people. So, yes, there is very much concern about this, and the entire community is being mobilized to bring about their safe release.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Khalid Amayreh, I want to thank you for being with us. He is a correspondent for AlJazeera.net in the West Bank, knows two of the Christian Peacemaker Team hostages when they worked in the West Bank.

Michael Ratner, as you listen to this, as we go from the story of the extraordinary rendition — what the U.S. government calls the taking of people from the streets, saying — calling them, when they say they’re terrorism suspects, to other places, to the kidnapping of these people in Iraq, your thoughts?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, I have two thoughts here. One is it just shows what a bankrupt policy, like the United States has of kidnapping and torturing people, results in. It results in the inability of anyone, really, of the United States government, to come forward and say, don’t do this, because now we have no moral and legal authority to do that. And the second thing it results in, which is amazing to me, is here you see Palestinians and other Muslims demonstrating for the freedom of the four Peacemakers, which is a remarkable thing, and yet you don’t see that kind of reaction of Americans and others demonstrating for the freedom or the trial or real due process of people at Guantanamo and in other sites around the world. So, I think we should take a lesson from the fact that Muslims and Palestinians and others are demonstrating for the freedom of these four and say to our own population, just like those four should not be kidnapped, neither should we be kidnapping, we, the United States, people all over the world and putting them in detention camps.

AMY GOODMAN: You signed a petition for their release online?

MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, I did. I think it’s crucial, and it’s a statement that we, as Americans, we Americans who have been fighting against Guantanamo, who have been fighting against the extraordinary renditions in Europe, who have been fighting to defend rights, whether they’re Muslim rights or anyone else’s rights, think that these people, as well, ought to have their rights and not be kidnapped.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined on the line by Farid Alan Schintzius, who is a friend of Tom Fox, one of the four people kidnapped in Baghdad. And by the way, this morning as we went to air, a French engineer was kidnapped and a German archaeologist also remains kidnapped. These are the Westerners that we know of. Many more Iraqis have been kidnapped, as well. Farid Alan Schintzius, welcome to Democracy Now!

FARID ALAN SCHINTZIUS: Glad to be with you, Amy, and with your listeners around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us about Tom Fox, one of the four?

FARID ALAN SCHINTZIUS: I have known Tom Fox for over a decade. We first met as we worked with the youth of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, which is the mid-Atlantic Quaker organization. Tom had really been through those years probably the number one adult. They called him friendly adult presence because Quaker youth are self-governing. Tom, basically had made himself completely available to the youth organization in supporting them in their work, growing and understanding who they were and the stuff of the world. And Tom’s values led him to go deeper and deeper into his own commitment to peacemaking. And even though working with young people and helping them to understand their own inner values of peace and how to apply that in life, he felt moved after September 11 to become part of the Christian Peacemaker Team.

Destiny is something that I think every listener, every human understands and knows. Some of us create bunkers and concrete walls and things to hunker down in their own little space in life. Tom recognized his destiny, and it’s as if he walked out on the end of a diving board, wrapped his arms around it and dove into it. He completely allowed himself to follow his inner guidance, which led him to meet these men who have now abducted him. And I believe that, you know, these things you’ve talked about already are signs that this is very high calling on his part, that we have Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority, if I hear the news correctly, calling for the release of an American. This is unheard of and unthinkable. You know, if you had asked me when I first heard he was abducted that — what would I expect to be hearing and seeing in the papers here in Richmond, Virginia, I’m seeing pictures of protests in Palestine in demand for Tom’s release. He really knew what he was getting into when he went, and the work that he chose to do is one that speaks volumes about who he is.

AMY GOODMAN: You are a Quaker. You know him from the Quaker community in Virginia, Tom was a Quaker for many years?

FARID ALAN SCHINTZIUS: Yes. I’m a member of Richmond Friends Meeting, and Tom is a member of a Northern Virginia — I’m not sure exactly which one — I’m also a [inaudible] initiate.

AMY GOODMAN: And how are people organizing in Richmond, and what has been the response of the Richmond paper?

FARID ALAN SCHINTZIUS: The Richmond paper, surprisingly, because it has quite a different history back in the 1960s of being the organizer and supporter of massive resistance. So, most of the activists and clear-thinking people have disdain for the local newspaper, which is one of the most conservative and right-wing in the nation. And yet, on the front page of the morning paper last week, they had pictures of the Palestinians protesting and demanding Tom’s release, and they have written very thorough, complete, and accurate portrayals of who Tom is. I mean, it’s really remarkable, not anything that I would have expected to see. So, his work and his actions and predicament have really, I think, touched the hearts of people who ordinarily don’t start out there. And my firm belief and hope is that, you know, these men who have abducted him, you know, their heart — I’m firmly hoping and believing that, you know, in time, being in Tom’s presence will change their hearts.

AMY GOODMAN: Farid Alan Schintzius, I want to thank you for being with us, friend of Tom Fox, one of the four CPT members, Christian Peace Team members, who are being held captive in Iraq. Their kidnappers say they have until Thursday, and they want their demands met of the freeing of Iraqi prisoners. I want to thank you for being with us and Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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