Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Still Prisoners of War: After Nearly Four Months in Captivity in Baghdad, James Loney of the Christian Peacemaker Teams Realizes Anew the Difficulty of Achieving True Peace

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Still Prisoners of War: After Nearly Four Months in Captivity in Baghdad, James Loney of the Christian Peacemaker Teams Realizes Anew the Difficulty of Achieving True Peace

Article excerpt

For 118 days we lay in a tomb--Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden, and I. Tom Fox, too, for 104 days, until he was murdered in the early morning hours of March 9.

Our tomb was a 10-by-10-foot room. How I came to hate every single detail of it: the paint-peeling walls; the dim light filtered through stained bedsheet "curtains"; the pebble-speckle pattern of the floor tiles; the never-ending hours and days of sitting, sleeping, three-times-a-day eating, handcuffed and chained, except when let free to go to the bathroom.

We were sealed into this tomb on Nov. 26, 2005. It happened in a finger snap, just as we were leaving the headquarters of the Muslim Scholars Association, where we had been meeting with their human rights officer. A white, economy-size car pulled in front of us and forced us to stop. Four men with guns stormed our van with military precision.

They went first for our driver and translator, pulled them from the front seats. One of the men jumped into the driver's seat while the others opened the passenger door and, with guns pointed at our heads, took control of the vehicle--and our lives.

They didn't say a word. They didn't have to. We knew what the score was: Cooperate or die.

With that act of violence we all fell into a pit, captor and captive and rescuer. A trap had been sprung and there seemed to be no way out unless a price was paid.

The captors wanted money to fund their war against the occupation of Iraq. If ransom was negotiated, it would be young American soldiers who paid. If ransom was denied--the policy of both the Canadian government and Christian Peacemaker Teams, the organization I work for--it would be one or all of us hostages who paid. If an attempt was made to rescue us by force, it would be a soldier or a captor or one of us who paid.

Even if our captors decided to just let us go, clearly the best possible scenario, there was still the cost of losing face, something I sensed they were not prepared to accept. In the end it was Tom who paid.

Bleak as they were, I did have options. I could have risked everything in an attempt to escape. I could have stripped off my clothes, refused to eat, told them, "Release me or kill me, either way I will not cooperate with your captivity or your plans for ransom." But the truth was, my desire to live, to be free, was stronger than my principles. I did not want to pay. So I smiled for them, ate their food, held out my hands for handcuffing, accommodated them in a thousand and one ways.

While the prospect of ransom repulsed me and I resolved never to ask for it (my greatest fear was that I would be tortured into pleading for it), I cooperated in the secret hope that it might be the key that opened the door.

I was a prisoner of my own moral cowardice. "Dear God," I prayed, "Let this bitter cup pass me by. Let our freedom be restored with the least amount of suffering possible." Days piled into weeks, and weeks piled into months.

On March 23, at about 7:30 in the morning, our tombstone was rolled way, not by angels garbed in heavenly robes, but by a unit of British Special Forces in full battle gear. There were the sounds of boots on concrete, the door being smashed open, gunfire, voices in English shouting, "Get down! Stay away from the door!" Then a roomful of commotion, soldiers telling us, "You're free, it's OK, it's over. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.