As kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll remains in captivity in Iraq, we hear the story of another American who was kidnapped in Iraq–Micah Garen. He was held for 10 days in August 2004 before being released. Garen recently published a book about his experience with his partner, Marie-Helene Carleton, who helped secure his release. It’s titled "American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq and the Remarkable Battle to Win His Release." [includes rush transcript]
The family of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll is pleading for her safety while calls for her release come from throughout the Muslim and Arabic world. A deadline set by her captors expires today.
Today, we turn now to the story of another American journalist who was kidnapped in Iraq. His name is Micah Garen.
On Aug. 13, 2004 he was seized in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah where he was making a film on the looting of Iraq’s ancient archeological treasures. He was released 10 days later.
Micah Garen recently published a book about his experience with his partner, Marie-Helene Carleton. The book is titled "American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq and the Remarkable Battle to Win His Release."
- Micah Garen, journalist kidnapped in Iraq. He is the author of the new book "American Hostage" which is a memoir about his experience. He is founder of Four Corners Media
- Marie-Helene Carleton, girlfriend of Micah Garen. She led the efforts to free Micah and co-wrote the book "American Hostage."
- Read Micah’s article on torture and extraordinary rendition: * Kidnapping By Any Other Name*
AMY GOODMAN: Micah Garen recently published a book about his experience with his partner Marie-Helene Carleton. The book is entitled American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq and the Remarkable Battle to Win His Release. Micah and Marie-Helene join us in the Firehouse Studio here in New York City. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!
MICAH GAREN: Thank you.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s very good to have you with us. Let us start, before we talk about your own case, of whether you’re involved with the attempts to have Jill Carroll freed.
MICAH GAREN: Yeah, well, you know, the entire journalist community always gets involved immediately when somebody you know is kidnapped. That’s what happened in my case and in Jill’s case, too, as you see. I mean, journalists all over the world are just immediately springing to action, because journalists have the contacts on the ground. Journalists are the ones who can get in and, you know, build trusted relationships with the society. So, as much as we can, absolutely, we are trying.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you know Jill?
MICAH GAREN: Yes, we both know Jill.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: She was the first person I met in Baghdad, actually, when I arrived.
AMY GOODMAN: Really? When was that?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: That was in May of 2004. We were all staying at the Dulaimi Hotel, which is a budget hotel for journalists out there.
AMY GOODMAN: You were un-embedded.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Right. We were working on our own, our own project.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you describe Jill for us?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: She’s a very dedicated professional person. I was very — she really had an impact on me, because she was as dedicated as she was kind, and that really came across immediately. She was very warm, very welcoming, and I immediately felt welcomed into the group of journalists there because of her.
MICAH GAREN: I think a good example of what kind of a person she is, two examples, actually. One is anytime she would walk by somebody, say, in the hotel lobby, you know, an Iraqi man, Iraqi woman, she would walk up and say hi in Arabic, and so she would test — try out her Arabic and try to connect with people. So she always made an effort to do that, which really kind of was outstanding. Then, you know, at night, a lot of times, after the day you’re just completely exhausted, and people would gather and have dinner, but a lot of times she would skip dinner, and she would just work late into the night sitting on her floor, you know, typing up her stories, because she was so dedicated to actually getting the story out and getting it right.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: I think the word that comes to mind is "respect." She really respected the culture, and because of that, she was respected by people there and by friends that she knew, referred to her as a sister or a daughter. And she really was able to get access to a lot of Iraqis on the ground, because she was so open.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Over the years of seeing all of these various kidnappings, one of the things that’s struck me a lot is that it’s precisely those journalists who are most in touch with the populations, who are not embedded with the U.S. troops, who are perhaps more empathetic to the conditions and the struggles of the Iraqi people, who are the most exposed to being kidnapped. I’m wondering, your thoughts about that in the conversations with the other journalists there, both the embedded and the un-embedded ones.
MICAH GAREN: Well, it’s true. I mean, when you’re independent, you make a decision that you want to be out there and really connect with people, and so you don’t travel with security. You just try to blend into society. You learn the language, and you really try to connect, and it helps you really get the story and understand. And the mosque that Jill was visiting, I had visited that before, as well, with a Portuguese journalist, that same mosque, and you know, it’s a bit frightening traveling into these areas, but you have to go out there to talk to people and really connect with them. And it’s true. It’s sad that that’s happening, and it’s because you’re exposed in that way, but it’s also heartening, because it gives me hope that her situation will be resolved peacefully, because her captors will realize that this person is a really good person.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Micah and Marie-Helene, today we’d like you to tell your story, what happened to you in August of 2004. Where were you, Micah? Marie-Helene, you had just left Iraq?
MICAH GAREN: Yeah. I was actually in the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, and it was my last weekend there. And Marie-Helene and I had spent five months doing a documentary about the looting of archeological sites that was going on after the war. And just to put some context in that, shortly after the war, the looting of these sites started on an unprecedented level, and it’s one of the really awful tragic things that’s happened from this war, is that there’s just this immense amount of destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage. And we went out there —- The New York Times actually broke the story, and as soon as I read it in 2003, I bought a ticket to Baghdad that day. And a year later, Marie-Helene and I had -—
AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t that based on the work of the German archaeologist who also was taken captive? She was recently released.
MICAH GAREN: Exactly. That was Suzanne Osthoff, and she had taken the New York Times team to the site of Isin to actually show them what was going on. And so she was incredibly important, I mean, another, again, independent person who’s out there really understanding and connecting with society. So we spent about five months doing this documentary and working with Iraqi archaeologists and our friend and translator Amir, who was then kidnapped with me, as well. And this was my last weekend of filming, and again, a lot of times —- and I don’t know in Jill’s case if this was true, but a lot of times it’s just opportunistic. We were out in a marketplace, in not the safest area, trying to film, and somebody saw my camera, and they thought, 'Who is this? He's a foreigner, a stranger,’ and they got very tense -—
AMY GOODMAN: You were filming weapons?
MICAH GAREN: Yeah. I was actually at a market where they — it’s a weapons market, but it was part of the market. I mean, in the marketplace in Nasiriyah they sell everything. And the reason we were filming there was because the civil guards hired to protect archeological sites in Nasiriyah, this is how they actually buy a gun to go and protect the site. So we were filming what’s called B-roll, which is basically, as you know, it’s just footage you might or might not use in the documentary.
And it was my last weekend, so sometimes you actually put off more dangerous things, you know, until the end, because you don’t know if you really want to do them. So, of course, I was thinking, "Well, I’m leaving in three days, so, you know, why not?" But it ended up — you know, as soon as you pull out a camera, people see that you’re a foreigner. Otherwise, I would blend in, because I wore —- I had a mustache and I just wore local clothing. And people got very upset very quickly, and we ended up being put into a car at gunpoint and taken initially to the Sadr office in Nasiriyah, and then -—
AMY GOODMAN: Moqtada al-Sadr.
MICAH GAREN: Moqtada al-Sadr, and then driven out to the marshes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Were you interviewed in the office by anyone?
MICAH GAREN: It was very chaotic, because this was the time of the worst fighting between the coalition and the Sadr forces. And really what was happening is that they had — you know, the people who had grabbed us took us there and said, basically, "Look, we found spies," and because the fighting was so bad, no one in the Sadr office wanted to deal with us or had time to deal with it. So they basically just said, "Take them away, we’re not interested."
AMY GOODMAN: And Amir Doshi, what was his role in this, your translator and friend?
MICAH GAREN: Well, he was desperately trying to help the situation. From the moment that things started getting out of hand, he put himself sort of in between me and everyone else. And at one point, they actually broke his jaw. They hit him because he was trying to plead our case, and he kept talking, kept trying to plead and, you know, it makes a big difference, though, because he and many other Iraqis — it took three days before the world knew that I had even been kidnapped. So for those three days there was this incredible effort on behalf of our friends in Nasiriyah, you know, the museum director going to the Sadr office, going to politicians, trying to find where I might be and pleading with them, saying that I’m just a journalist and it was a misunderstanding, and that made a difference in the short term.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: And speaking of Amir, our interpreter and friend, it really made a big difference, because when we found out the news, we immediately reached out to his family who we knew, and we heard from them a few days later that he had decided to stay with Micah when Micah was taken. He might have had an opportunity to leave, but because they were friends and because he knew how important it was that he be there because of his ability to speak Arabic, he decided to stay with Micah, and that made a big difference.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you were in the States at this time a couple of days later. You hear the news, and what did you start to do?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Yeah. I had just arrived back in the States. I had left Iraq at the end of July, and then in August I had arrived back in New York, and I was actually expecting Micah home the next day, ironically. And I hadn’t heard from him in a few days and was starting to get worried, because we usually communicate every day if one of us is traveling in a conflict area or working overseas. And I got a phone call early in the morning from Micah’s mom, and she had gotten a phone call from the Associated Press that had picked up news from Al Jazeera that Micah and Amir had been taken hostage or kidnapped.
And it’s really — it’s hard to believe when that happens, and that sounds hard to believe listening to that, but whenever you’re working overseas you’re ready for anything to happen. That’s part of your security. You really keep in your mind anything that might happen, so you’re always prepared and can react. But I had just arrived back home. I’d made it back safely. I was expecting Micah to come home. And so, in a way, that’s really the furthest thing from your mind.
But I felt really lucky that I had been to Iraq, because although most people really don’t know initially how to react in a kidnapping situation or what the best thing to do is, because I had been there, I had a sense of the culture and of people there and my first reaction was: We immediately have to reach out to people on the ground. And I was very lucky that an amazing group of people came together. It was Micah’s family, colleagues and friends, and immediately journalists that we knew on the ground started to contact us. We started to contact them.
And it was really about, 'Well, we don't know what’s happened exactly. Who are the people who can get us information on the ground?’ That’s journalists, because they’re the ones, as Micah was saying, with those trusted relationships, but more importantly, they can get the message across. They can say, 'Micah and Amir are journalists. They're good people,’ and that will be listened to, because they’re the ones with the relationships with the sheikhs and the tribal leaders, and that’s really who you want to reach, and that’s what became our effort.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you make the decision to go public? That seems to be the hardest decision. In Jill Carroll’s case, she was captured — what was it —- on January -—
MICAH GAREN: Seventh.
AMY GOODMAN: Seventh. It has been many days — it took many days until her family came out. How did you make that decision?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: That was one of the hardest decisions, because there’s really two ways of looking at it. One is that media attention can really bring the right facts to light, but it can also put pressure on the right people. Another thought is that if you keep things quiet, then the delicate negotiations that are going on behind the scenes can happen without that public stage, which causes pressure. And so it’s — you have to decide — it’s really case by case, because every situation is so different.
And I think in Micah’s case and in the case of journalists, it’s important that, whether it’s behind the scenes or publicly, that information that they are a journalist gets out there, because particularly in places like Iraq, where the role of a journalist is not always understood and they don’t have a history of free press, it’s important for those — for journalists and other people to vouch for them publicly and say, yes, they are journalists, the work they do is important and it has a big impact. And so, we really decided to go public when there was the video made and the death threat made.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the video. Well, actually, Micah, why don’t you explain that video?
MICAH GAREN: Yeah, and I’ll just take a quick step back. The first decision actually to go public was by Mr. Hamdani, the antiquities inspector in Iraq. And he went to the media about a day after I was kidnapped, because he just couldn’t make any progress on his own, so he felt that he had to bring the story out to get all the help from the international community. So that was the first step, and then the next was the family. When they took us, Amir and I, out to this area in the marshes where they kept us, and they had us blindfolded a lot of the time. I would actually, sort of, take off my blindfold and after a few days they were used to me, and so they didn’t ask me to put it back on.
AMY GOODMAN: Is that —
MICAH GAREN: This is the actual blindfold, yeah. It was kept the whole ten days, and when I was released I just kept it with me, because it’s one of those things that you really want to try to remember what happened to you, because it’s such a difficult thing, that anything that you can hang onto to sort of retain the memory of that event, I think, is very important. But the first five days were really, for me, having Amir there was really important, and together we were — things just seemed to be moving very slowly. They’d say, 'Yes, yes, things are fine, you're innocent, it will all work out.’ But day after day was going by, and there was no change.
And then, suddenly on the fifth day, without warning — this was on a Tuesday, and I was kidnapped on a Friday — they, at about noon, they came into our enclosure, which was in this marsh area outside and they blindfolded me, tied me up again and led me out. And for the first time, I was being separated from Amir. And they took me into a room, and I could see — you know, the blindfold is very kind of thin gauze, so I could see, actually, a little bit through it, but underneath it, as well. And as soon as you walk into the room, it’s what we’re all very familiar with, a number of men standing around with guns and a video camera on a stool in the middle. And they led me into the back and had me kneel down. And, you know, you have no idea what’s going on. I kept asking in Arabic, "ish?" you know, "What’s going on?" And the only response I got back was just video. So, you know, you just —- at that point it was probably the most terrifying for me, because I just didn’t know what was going to come next and -—
JUAN GONZALEZ: You were worried, as some of the videos that have been shown of Americans being beheaded, as they’re being videotaped, right?
MICAH GAREN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you write in your book about what you’d resolved to do at that point, in case that was the fate that was awaiting you?
MICAH GAREN: Yeah, well, you know, this is the big question, is how do you get yourself out of a situation like this? And a lot of times, in my thinking, I thought, jeez, you know, if this is the end, I’m going to maybe try to fight back. That’s just a thought. But, you know, I don’t — it never came to that. And part of the problem is you don’t have any information. You don’t — no one tells you what’s going to happen next, so you’re left to try to decipher it from bits and clues that are almost impossible. With Amir, what was really important is he kept me focused on the idea of communication and patience and just being — just reaching out and being honest and telling them who you were, and this — this is it. Because this is what was happening on the other side, it’s this reaching out to people and, you know, befriending them as much as possible. We would talk to the guards constantly. We would sit there and talk to them about everything that we could think of just to get a dialogue going.
AMY GOODMAN: Micah, I want to ask who they were and also what you said on this video tape. We have to break for 60 seconds, and then we’ll come back. We’re speaking with Micah Garen and Marie-Helene Carleton. They are both journalists, were in Iraq. Marie-Helene had come back to New York, in the United States, to begin editing the film that they were doing. Micah Garen was in Iraq for a few more days in August of 2004, when he was kidnapped with Amir Doshi, his translator and friend.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guests for this hour are Micah Garen and Marie-Helene Carleton. They have returned from Iraq last year. Micah Garen was kidnapped, held for ten days. They wrote a book together called American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq and the Remarkable Battle to Win His Release. Micah, you are now on the floor. You’re being told just video, and there are men with guns behind you. What then happens?
MICAH GAREN: Well, they asked me to read a — to say my name at that point, and then a man behind me, who was very close, standing right next to me, got up on sort of one knee and read a statement in a very booming voice, and that was the moment. The statement only went on about 15 seconds, but I just — I thought possibly after that, you know, I could be killed. And then it was over. It just ended. You know, they all went away.
AMY GOODMAN: You said nothing?
MICAH GAREN: I said nothing during that first video. And I didn’t even know what the threat was. I assumed there was a deadline, but they never told me. They just led me back to the enclosure. And every time after that, Amir and I would try to ask, you know, what did they say in the video. They said — the guards would say, 'Oh, we weren't there.’
AMY GOODMAN: You saw that video, Marie-Helene?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: I did. And it was absolutely devastating, because up until then, because of the contacts we’d established on the ground and what we were hearing back — and we turned our small studio apartment into a command center, and we had charts on the wall with sheikhs’ names and how to reach them — and we were hearing back that Micah and Amir were alive and they were fine, and things were looking hopeful for release. There’s an Iraqi saying they had found an open thread in the sweater, and so things were looking like they could move forward.
And when we saw that video, it was really hard because we thought that maybe they had been passed to another group. Not knowing is the worst thing. And we had opened such dialogue with the one group that if they had been passed to another group, what can you do? And it was really the most terrifying moment, and we broke down. And that was probably good, because we could get all the fear out of us. That’s the worst thing to have in a situation like that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what was the threat in the actual video?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: It was that the U.S. or the coalition forces should pull out of Najaf, where the U.S. was fighting Sadr and the Mehdi Army, or the American would be killed in 48 hours. And it just redoubles your efforts, though, because once you get the fear out of your system, you think to yourself, "Well, I have 48 hours, and I’m going to use every second of that."
And the grassroots effort that was in motion, I think they were energized, as well, by it, and that’s really what you need. And the conversations with people on the ground just redoubled, and what we decided to do was to reach out to Sadr, because this was a Shiite group, or at least that’s what we were hearing from people on the ground. And because Micah and Amir were taken in Nasiriyah, we assumed it was a Shiite group.
AMY GOODMAN: And you talked to Terry Anderson, who had been held hostage in Lebanon, the A.P. reporter?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Yeah. And he really advised that we should find out who the group is, because everything starts from there. Then you can really decide who you reach out to. And, in a way, the fact that it was a Shiite group made it a little easier, because the way that the Shiite religious structure is built, it’s very hierarchical. And so, if you can reach people at the top, whether it’s a Grand Ayatollah like Sistani or someone like Sadr, who’s not a Grand Ayatollah, but who has a lot of sway over Shiites, if they were to make a statement, that would have a lot of influence over the events.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in a situation like this, there’s obviously the people-to-people effort that is going on here.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Right.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Any ambivalence about the government effort? In other words, the United States government, its involvement with the family and with you, in terms of getting him free, whether that was good or bad?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Right. Well, you never know how really to think about it, because although you know that they have the interest of a U.S. citizen at heart, they also — there’s a lot of other political things that are going on that you fear that that’s going to be their interest instead. And so, we had an F.B.I. team that was assigned to us, and I think that we were lucky with the team we got, because they had experience in these situations and they were very competent. But what they understood mostly — and this was really through spending time with us — that what really mattered were the discussions that were going on on the ground, and they even said that to us. You know, they said, 'You know, we can help, particularly with logistics,' — they found a hotel room for us — 'but we know that what matters are these conversations that are going on on the ground and the grassroots effort.' And so, that — in a way, they were hands off on that.
AMY GOODMAN: And one of the F.B.I. there had worked on the Daniel Pearl case, right? The Wall Street Journal reporter who had been beheaded.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Yeah, and that was — it’s good to know that someone has experience, but at the same time to be reminded of that outcome was also very terrifying for us.
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us about your sister, your soon to be sister-in-law?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Yeah, Eva. She’s great. And we had heard that Sadr wanted to make a statement. The difficulty is we decided we wanted to reach Sadr, but how to reach him, because of the fighting in Najaf. He was under siege in the shrine or maybe even on the run, and so there was probably a willingness on his part to make a statement, but because of the fighting, we were afraid that he wouldn’t be able to. And we had journalist friends who were in the shrine and who, at great risk to themselves because of the fighting, were trying to reach him. So we did hear in the background that he would like to make a statement, so what we decided to do is have Eva’s sister make a statement and directly to the Arab media —
AMY GOODMAN: Eva, Micah’s sister?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Micah’s sister, Eva, yeah. Micah’s sister. Directly to the Arab media, so through Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya — and we thought that the medium was just as important as the message, because those stations are respected and listened to in the Arab world — that she would make a statement saying — thanking Sadr for his help and for his work on behalf of Micah and Amir, and that that would set things into motion, and it did. Once the statement was released, then it allowed other Sadr clerics, who were working behind the scenes, to come forward and release statements saying the journalists should not be harmed, Micah and Amir should be released, and then Sadr himself released a statement. And that was at the very end of the 48 hours. And, you know, you never know whether the 48 hours is a fixed deadline or whether it’s fluid, and I think it depends. But for us, the fact that it came right at the end of the 48 hours was a really big incentive.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And so, all this time, you were not aware that this deadline had been imposed?
MICAH GAREN: No. I mean, I figured that there was a deadline. I just didn’t know what it was. And I find out finally from the guards — the video was made on Tuesday at about noon my time. And then Wednesday evening. we finally — one of the guards said — you know, we said, "Can you please tell us what is the demand?" And he said, "Well, you know, if the U.S. doesn’t pull out of Najaf in 48 hours, you’ll be killed." And he just said it very casually, and I said — he said, "Don’t worry, it’s just a demand." And I said, "Well, what happens? You know, what do you mean it’s just a demand?" And he said, "Yeah, well, you know, I thought they should ask for something else." You know, because it almost seemed like — you know, I couldn’t quite tell reality from — and I said, "Well, what happens if they don’t meet the deadline?" And he sort of shrugged. And so, it seemed the best we could tell there was kind of a split in the group. And as we heard from one of the guards, half felt one way, and half felt another.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the role of a report that you had done right before you were captured, right before you were kidnapped, on the Italian military in Iraq?
MICAH GAREN: Yeah. This is very important, and again, this gets to the heart of, you know, journalists and why their job is important and respected out there. A week before I was kidnapped, the Italians had gotten into regular skirmishes with the Mehdi Army in Nasiriyah. And one night, late at night during some of the fighting, they had reported that there had been a car bomb attempt against one of their positions, and then four people were killed. And when I read the Italian report, I thought, "That’s strange. Since when is a car bomb stuffed with people?" So I went out to investigate, and I found out that it had been an ambulance that was shot, and five Iraqi civilians, including a pregnant woman, had been killed. And I reported it with RAI2, which is an Italian news agency, and that got us into a lot of trouble. The Italians were extremely angry with us. And I basically had to leave, and I had been staying at the base as a place to stay in Nasiriyah, and they kicked me out. And it was just a — it was a really awful situation.
And then, when I was kidnapped, the kidnappers became aware that I had reported this story, because everyone in Nasiriyah knew that I had reported the story. And that really made a difference in the case. They realized that I wasn’t somebody who was — as they thought every reporter is a tool of the coalition, they realized that I’m actually there because I am concerned about Iraqis and their situation. And, you know, we actually managed to talk to one of the guards at one point about this story, and he was — at first he didn’t believe it. He said, "Why would a Western reporter report that?" And then, they checked on it, and they said, "Oh, this is really interesting." And I think that’s what’s so important, is there’s so much distrust. And I think, you know, as much as people can do to bridge that gap is very important.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But the distrust is not based on nothing, obviously.
MICAH GAREN: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: There are many journalists who have distorted reality in Iraq, and therefore there’s a basis for a lot of that questioning of the Iraqi people.
MICAH GAREN: There is. And that’s the challenge, but I think within the journalist community, particularly the people who are un-embedded, the people who are out on the ground, you know, that’s why they’re going out on the ground is because they want to know the real story.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us when you learned that you were being released? You were held for ten days. The 48-hour deadline was passed.
MICAH GAREN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What day was that?
MICAH GAREN: That was, let’s see, that was Thursday was the 48-hour deadline, and then I wasn’t released until Sunday. And from Thursday to Sunday, it became very surreal in a way, because I began — they started moving me around, and I could tell that things were moving, because there were fewer and fewer guards, but I was being moved to an even sort of more dangerous remote location, and I couldn’t really tell what was going on until the Saturday night. They finally moved us to a house. And for the first time, one of my kidnappers came up to me, and he said, "I saw your sister on TV. And this is Eva, who had made this plea, and, you know, I could tell he was smiling. He was wearing a kaffiyeh, but I could see that he was smiling. And it made a big impact on him.
AMY GOODMAN: You and Amir had been debating whether to try to escape.
MICAH GAREN: Yes. And mostly it was me, and Amir talking me out of it.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you going to do? Just make a run for it?
MICAH GAREN: Well, pretty much. And Amir used to — you know, just, he would say, "Are you crazy? There’s no chance. This is terrible. What you really need to do is have patience, be calm." And I really think that that was very sound advice. I mean, I just figured if they were going to kill me, that was the only condition under which I was going to run. And I could never tell if that was true. You just never know.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Throughout this ordeal you were being identified everywhere as his fiancée, right?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But you weren’t at the time.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Right. No.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Tell us about that.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Yeah, it was a decision that I made early on, when I first learned of the news, because I thought at some point I might be called upon or I would need to speak out on Micah’s behalf, and I knew that my target audience was going to be Iraq and the Arab world, and I thought, well, I tried to explain myself as, well, we’ve been partners in business and in life for five years, and that’s just very difficult to explain. And so, to be better understood in the Arab world, I just picked a word which made it a little easier: fiancee. And so, that’s how I was identified.
MICAH GAREN: And, you know, it was interesting, because my second day of captivity, I turned to Amir and I said, "If we make it out of this, the first thing I’m going to do is take a shower, but the second thing is propose to Marie-Helene. So, it was sort of happening in parallel on both sides.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happened? How did you get out?
MICAH GAREN: Well, they finally — you know, they take you —- it was very late at night again on Sunday, and they blindfolded you and moved us from car to car, three different cars, and finally took us back to the Sadr office, and that’s when there was sort of an Arab press conference going on, and we were just released. And, literally, you don’t know you’re released until you remove the blindfold, and there you are. And eventually I found my way back to the Italian base, which again, you know, the story goes -—
JUAN GONZALEZ: Did the Italians let you in then?
MICAH GAREN: Well, the Italians, you know, they used me as a piece of propaganda again for them. They had said that there was going to be this big party. And there was no party. They led me kind of to the general’s office, and then they made me kind of shake hands and do these photo opportunity and —
AMY GOODMAN: With the military that had kicked you out and that you had reported on and exposed?
MICAH GAREN: With the military that kicked me out. Exactly. And finally an American team sort of broke in, pushed their way into the Italian compound and pulled me out of there. And, you know, it was just incredibly confusing, but they said, you know, we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.
AMY GOODMAN: So you made your first calls to your family?
MICAH GAREN: Yeah. I made my first call, actually. And that was scary, because I didn’t know what had happened to my family, but when I finally, after three different tries, I finally by satellite phone got in touch with Marie-Helene and my sister.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: I think you were surprised to know that everyone had gathered together in New York. The whole family was there. They had been working together, and I think first you called your mom at your mom’s house and your dad at your dad’s house, and you were really surprised that everyone was working there.
MICAH GAREN: I know. I mean, it was really wonderful. And the first thing I did, of course, was I did propose by satellite phone, so that was a fantastic thing.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Well, that was very unexpected. And, you know, all we had wanted to do was hear Micah’s voice, and this was a whole other —
AMY GOODMAN: So, you were surprised?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: I was, yeah. I thought as long as Micah makes it back, that’s all I want. We just want to hear his voice and see him again.
AMY GOODMAN: So, have you married?
MICAH GAREN: We’re still engaged. We’re trying to figure out whether we get married in France or America. You know, all sorts of decisions.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: And we’ve been so busy working on the book and that — you know, we’ve been focusing on these projects, that we haven’t had time. But we will.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what happened with the original film?
MICAH GAREN: Well, that’s — we’re starting to edit that next week, actually. We have all the footage, and this is very important to us, because it really tells the story of these Iraqi archaeologists struggling to protect their own heritage. So, that should hopefully come out in about six months.
AMY GOODMAN: And Amir Doshi, what has happened to him?
MICAH GAREN: Amir is great. We talk regularly, probably every other day by email. And he’s remarried, and he has a child on the way whose name is actually Helen.
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: Yeah. That was a great honor.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much for being with us. A message to the families of kidnapped Americans and kidnapped Iraqis, since there are also many of them?
MARIE-HELENE CARLETON: I think patience and momentum. I think you have to have both at the same time. You have to keep working, and you have to be patient and wait.
MICAH GAREN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, people from around the world who have also been kidnapped. We thank you very much. Micah Garen and Marie-Helene Carleton have been our guests, and they have written the story of their ordeal, called American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq and the Remarkable Battle to Win His Release. Thanks for joining us.