Missing journalists released unharmed
Some 40 journalists, who were missing and thought to be in serious danger, were released unharmed after being held for nearly a week by Iraqi troops.
According to reports filed by Chris Hedges of the New York Times, one of the 11 Americans captured, the journalists were first held in various locations around Basra, near where they were stopped by Iraqi soldiers, then moved to Baghdad, and from there they were turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Hedges, who had been traveling with National Public Radio's Neal Conan, reported that their Land Rover was stopped by three Iraqi soldiers, who looted the vehicle and drove the two journalists to Basra University, where they were joined by four more journalists who had been similarly captured.
"One by one we were taken upstairs and questioned by two officers in a closed room," Hedges wrote. During his questioning, he "made no effort to defend my unheralded arrival in Iraq, admitting my mistake. I was careful to seem pleasant, even jocose."
Although they were held by about a dozen men over a period of four days, Hedges wrote that the guards' "curiosity and our unceasing efforts to find out about their families and their lives won them over."
The journalists and their guards even played an Arabic game called baat for hours.
However, the episode was hardly fun and games for the journalists and their guards.
"On Tuesday [March 5], when we started north with a convoy, we were ambushed by Shiite rebels," Hedges reported. "We leapt from the vehicles, diving into the mud, and for half an hour we were pinned down."
A Republican Guard major helped the journalists escape from danger.
When Hedges and the others he was traveling with arrived in Baghdad two days later, he said they were astonished to find 34 other journalists and two U.S. soldiers.
During this time, there had been no word from the journalists, who had been traveling unilaterally, without military escorts, from Kuwait into southern Iraq. Various reports indicated they were captured by the Republican Guard, while others said they had been captured by Iraqi opposition forces and that at least one of the journalists had been wounded.
Indications from the Pentagon and news organizations were that the journalists were considered to be in serious danger (E&P, March 9, P. 7).
According to Hedges' report, that feeling was shared by the journalists.
"Until officials in Baghdad announced that we were in their hands, which they did not do until just hours before we were released, we had no guarantees," he wrote.
Phillippe Wojazer, a French journalist working for Reuters, said conditions in captivity were uncomfortable, but the journalists were not mistreated.
"We got chicken once a day and they came twice a day with water, about six liters for all of us. …