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2006-03-13

Tom Fox Remembered Around the World as Dedicated Activist Who Devoted His Life to Peace

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The body of American peace activist Tom Fox has been found in Baghdad, over three months after he was kidnapped along with three other members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. The whereabouts of the other three hostages remains unknown. We speak with one of his close friends and colleagues and hear from mourners around the world. [includes rush transcript]

Tom Fox, the lone American among the four Christian Peacemaker Team members kidnapped in Iraq, has been found dead. Iraqi police said his body was discovered in Baghdad on Thursday with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. There were conflicting reports over whether he also showed signs of having been tortured. Police officials quoted by several news agencies said bruises on his body appeared to be inflicted by electrical cables. But an anonymous police official told the Washington Post that Fox showed no signs of torture.

Tom Fox was 54 years old. He came to Iraq with 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. 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.

Fox and three others —- Harmeet Sooden and Jim Loney, both of Canada, and Norman Kember, of Britain -—- were abducted in November. Last week, Al Jazeera broadcast the first video of the hostages seen in a month. The footage included the three others but not Tom Fox. The kidnappers have made repeated threats on the Peacemakers’ lives unless all prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centers are released.

According to Newsweek, 45 kidnapped foreigners, including 14 US citizens, remain missing in Iraq. 430 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq since the US-led invasion. At least 54 of them have been executed by their captors. Meanwhile, Newsweek reports Iraqis are kidnapped at a rate of 10 to 30 people per day.

From the United States to Iraq, Tom Fox was remembered as a dedicated Christian pacifist who devoted his life to peace.

  • Donna Hicks, Christian Peacemaker Teams.
  • Kryss Chupp, Christian Peacemakers Teams.
  • Abu Hasaneen Al-Qaissi, Baghdad resident.

Tom Fox’s longtime friend, Isabella Bates, was among those who gathered this weekend at Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean, the Quaker community in Virginia where Fox had been a member for many years. Bates read aloud words Fox wrote about his mission in Iraq.

  • Isabella Bates, longtime friend of Tom Fox, speaking in McLean, Virginia.

Here to help us remember the life of Tom Fox is Michele Naar-Obed. She’s a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, and a friend and colleague of Tom Fox. She joins us on the line from Duluth, Minnesota, where she has just returned after two months in Iraq.

  • Michele Naar-Obed, member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. Friend and colleague of Tom Fox. She speaks to us from Duluth, Minnesota, where she has just returned from a two-month stay in Iraq.

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Christian Peacemaker Teams member Donna Hicks.

DONNA HICKS: Another way than violence and war, Tom stood for a way of getting to know people that was nonviolent. He loved his friends, he loved his enemies. He reached out to the light and the humanity of everyone. And that’s very important.

AMY GOODMAN: Donna Hicks, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams. Kryss Chupp, Christian Peacemakers coordinator, also addressed the loss.

KRYSS CHUPP: As an organization and as friends of Tom, with those Iraqi families who have suffered this kind of loss on a daily basis for three years, and before.

AMY GOODMAN: In Iraq mourners gathered in Baghdad after the announcement of Tom Fox’s death. This is one Baghdad resident.

ABU HASANEEN AL-QAISSI: As an Iraqi people, we totally reject all the justification given for the killing of those people who are here for purely humanitarian reasons. Therefore, we reject the killings of those people from a humanitarian point of view, and as Muslims , too, we reject this heinous act.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Abu Hasaneen Al-Qaissi in Baghdad. Tom Fox’s longtime friend, Isabella Bates, was among those who gathered at Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean, the Quaker community in Virginia, where Fox had been a member for many years. Bates read aloud words Tom Fox wrote about his mission in Iraq.

ISABELLA BATES: Tom wrote this statement, along with another member of the Christian Peacemakers Team, Matthew Chandler. I can only hope that Tom knew in some measure in his heart that this statement that he made as a solitary human being ignited the prayers of literally millions of people around the world who have been praying with him and for him during these hundred days. Just even today, we have received messages of prayers from Australia, from Germany, from England. The amplification of his work goes forward, but here’s where it began.

“October 7, 2004. Statement of conviction. We members of Christian Peacemakers Teams in Iraq are aware of the many risks both Iraqis and internationals currently face. However, we are convinced at this time that the risks, while significant, do not outweigh our purpose in remaining. Many Iraqi friends and human rights workers have welcomed us as nonviolent independent presence. During the previous year, they asked us to tell their stories, since they could not easily be heard, nor could most flee to a safer country. We continue to act as a resource to connect citizens of Iraq with human rights organizations, both local and international, as well as accompanying them as they interact with the multinational military personnel and Iraqi provisional government officials.

“As Peacemaking Team, we need to cross boundaries, help soldiers and other armed actors be humane, and invite them to refuse unjust orders. We need to help preserve what is human in all of us and so offer glimpses of hope in a dark time.

“We reject kidnapping and hostage-taking wholesale. If any of us are taken hostage, absolutely no ransom will be paid. In such an event, C.P.T. will attempt to communicate with the hostage takers or their sponsors and work against journalists’ inclinations to vilify and demonize the offenders. We will try to understand the motives of these actions and to articulate them, while maintaining a firm stance that such actions are wrong. If appropriate, C.P.T. will work with diplomatic officials from our representative governments to avoid a violent outcome. We reject the use of violent force to save our lives, should we be kidnapped, held hostage or caught in the middle of violent conflict situation.

“We also reject violence to punish anyone who harms us. We ask for equal justice in the arrest and trial of anyone, soldier or civilian, who commits an act of violence, and we ask that there be no retaliation on their relatives or property. We forgive those who consider us their enemies. Therefore, any penalty should be in the spirit of restorative justice, rather than in the form of violent retribution. We hope that in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening nonviolently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.

" — Tom Fox and Matthew Chandler."

AMY GOODMAN: Isabella Bates, long time friend of Tom Fox, in Virginia this weekend. We are going to break, and when we come back, we’ll be joined by Michele Naar-Obed, a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team. She just recently returned from two months in Iraq.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We remember the life of Tom Fox with Michele Naar-Obed. She’s a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a friend and colleague of Tom Fox. She just returned from two months in Iraq. She joins us on the line from Duluth, Minnesota. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michele.

MICHELE NAAR-OBED: Thank you, Amy. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: First of all, our condolences on your loss and the loss of the Christian Peacemakers Team on the death of Tom Fox.

MICHELE NAAR-OBED: Thank you. It’s a big loss to the whole world, his life.

AMY GOODMAN: We received your email this weekend, that said, "We mourn and we carry on." Can you talk about Tom?

MICHELE NAAR-OBED: Sure, I met Tom the first time in 2004. And he was training to be a C.P.T. fulltime member. And part of the training involved doing some nonviolent actions, one of which was at the Navy ELF site in Wisconsin. So Tom and I were arrested together at that training, and he was an incredible presence, you know, very soft-spoken, but his spirit just exuded strength and centeredness, and he was committed to nonviolence. He was committed to trying to create a world in which violence would not dominate, as it does right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about your two months in Iraq? This was the period that your four colleagues had been kidnapped, what you were doing each day. Three of them we have seen on a videotape, of course, desperately hope they are still alive. Can you talk about what you were doing in Iraq?

MICHELE NAAR-OBED: Sure. I went back to Iraq. This was my fourth trip. I got there just about a month after they had been taken. I got there early January. So, at the time, during the two months that I had been there, we did quite a few different projects, one of which is that we would try to have some forms of communication with those that were holding our friends, and we did that through our appeals that we sent out over our website. We put out press releases in the Arab media. We had lots of Iraqi friends and friends throughout the Muslim community that would help put out these appeals, in hopes that we would reach the hearts and minds of those that are holding the three now, that were holding the four at the time. It was often a — well, it was a one-way kind of monologue. We never really were able to make contact — they never made contact with us. But we continued in putting out those appeals . That was one thing that we did in relation to our four colleagues.

In terms of other projects there, we had a number of things going on, including continuing the following up of detainees, particularly now as detainees are being shifted from the multinational force prisons into the Iraqi prisons, but still with the Americans, the U.S. military advisors very much behind the scenes controlling the movement of prisoners. But the very scary thing is is that there are no oversights in the Iraqi prison, like I have spoken with somebody from the International Red Cross who says they have no access right now to the Iraqi prisons. We spoke with somebody from the Red Crescent. They also have no access to the Iraqi prisons, and we have all heard of reports of death squads and torture happening within these prisons, and we also know that there were two U.S. military advisors working within the Ministry of Interior that are very well trained in counterinsurgency and had worked a very long time in Central and South America. So they are behind the scenes. But there aren’t any of these oversights. So, we would actually try to go to prisons as team members. We would go — we would never get very far. We would get basically as far as security commander and at least try to find out if people were held there, whose family members asked us to look for their loved ones. And so, we did projects like that.

Right now, the Palestinians are experiencing a lot of violence and pressure, and we have heard reports that they have been —–are being asked to — or are being told to leave the country en masse. And so, we’ve been trying to connect them with people within the U.N., some of the other embassies, and people are organizing to leave the country and asking for C.P.T. to accompany them to a border where they have a shot of maybe getting out of the country. So that project was in the making.

The biggest project, I think, was probably — we were developing and being part of the development of coalition of human rights — Iraqi human rights groups that were across the sectarian divide, to include Kurds and Iraqi Christians and Sunni and Shia. And we’re trying to build this so that everybody would be included, that there’s a desperate groundswell of people to develop a decent and good country that would be part of the world community. And these people are the ones that are doing this, and we have been working with them. And that’s just incredibly inspiring, that under these horrendous conditions, that people would come out to do that and work with each other. So C.P.T. was part of that, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Michele Naar-Obed, a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, knew Tom Fox. His body was revealed to the public, that he was killed on Friday night. But I understand that you all knew on Thursday. There is a dispute over whether his body showed signs of torture, Michele. We know he was shot repeatedly in the head, some reports of electrical cord — that he was — of marks of electrical cords. The Washington Post quoting a police official, saying that wasn’t true. What do you know?

MICHELE NAAR-OBED: I don’t really know anything in terms of definitive answers to that. I have heard the same conflicting reports. We had asked repeatedly that in the event that any of them were killed and their bodies were found and they went — and they were taken into the government’s custody, that C.P.T. would be allowed to view the body and accompany their bodies back home. And we were totally excluded from that when Tom’s body was discovered. We tried to get them to stand with the decision that they would allow one of our members to accompany his body home. One of our Team members actually got to the point of where his casket was being loaded onto the plane, but she was denied the ability to fly home with Tom. So, none of us got to see his body. None of us — we’ve all got the same conflicting reports.

There are two people that are waiting for Tom’s body in Dover. They’ll be standing vigil, Anne Montgomery and Rich Meyer are standing vigil, waiting for his body to come in. And in terms of the autopsy reports that’s come out, it will be, I think, up to the family to — you know, to ask for those reports. I don’t think that C.P.T. has the ability to do that. So, that’s as much as I know.

I do know that his body — his casket was lined up right next to an Iraqi detainee casket on the plane. And Doug Pritchard, our Team coordinator, wrote a beautiful reflection on Tom’s — the beginning of Tom’s journey home. And he has described it as accompanying an Iraqi detainee with caskets next to each other.

AMY GOODMAN: An Iraqi detainee who died in custody?

MICHELE NAAR-OBED: I think, yes, if they were part of the Iraqi police or the Iraqi National Guard, their bodies might be — I don’t know where their body was being transferred to, but some of the Iraqi National Guards, when they’re injured, are treated with the multinational force injuries — injured fighters.

AMY GOODMAN: And now, Michele, what are you doing? What is the Christian Peacemaker Teams doing about the three men who were left? We just came back from our week’s broadcast in London, and there was a lot of attention on Norman Kember, the man from Britain, who is part of C.P.T. It was the 100-days anniversary. There were vigils, much more so than in this country. We saw all day on television the friends and the colleagues of Norman Kember talking about their work in prisons, this, of course, before the body of Tom Fox turned up. What are you doing at this point? And is there any word?

MICHELE NAAR-OBED: Yeah, in terms of what people are doing for our three colleagues that are still missing, again, it’s a continuous appeal via our website and via the Arab and Muslim communities, appealing to the sanity and compassion and decency that exists in every single human being, including those that are holding the three. They have the same human compassionate heart that we all have, and to appeal to that, for them to release them to their families and friends. And so, those appeals will continue out over the airwaves and the written word throughout Iraq.

And in terms of different vigils and gatherings here, there are an incredible amount of vigils and gatherings. It’s just that we don’t have the same — except for media representatives like you and some of the other independent media, we don’t have the same kind of attention, drawing that together and letting the world see that — what we still stand — the values that we still stand for, the values that Tom stood for, the values that the three that are still — Jim and Norman and Harmeet — that they still stand for. We don’t have the same kind of media coverage of that, but believe me, it’s going on all over the world, and it will —- and we will have one here in Duluth. Gene Stoltzfus, who used to be the director of C.P.T., has called, and he and his wife will definitely want to be part of something here in Duluth. They’re only a couple of hours away north of us, so -—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Michele Naar-Obed, we want to thank you very much for being with us. And, of course, on our website, DemocracyNow.org, we have the reading of Tom’s last letter, about why he is in Iraq, and we will link to the C.P.T. website and other relevant information at DemocracyNow.org. And, of course, for our radio listeners, you can see the images of Tom Fox, the pictures and the people remembering him at DemocracyNow.org. Michele Naar-Obed, speaking to us from Duluth.

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