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Authors: James Loney

Captivity (49 page)

BOOK: Captivity
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They stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder. Five muscle-bulging cop-bodied men in civilian clothes, arms folded across their chests, eyes staring hard into the distance. Gordon formally introduces us and we shake each of their hands. Thank you, we say to each man. They nod in reply. A couple smile tightly. Only one looks me in the eye.

“Are they angry at us?” I ask Gordon.

“No, no,” he says. “They’re not angry. Not at all. They probably didn’t look at you because they would’ve burst into tears if they did. We don’t do emotion very well in the RCMP. Tom over there, he always kids us about that.” Gordon points to where, just out of earshot, one of the men we have shaken hands with is leaning on the shoulder of another man, wiping tears from his eyes.

I am astonished to learn that the CPT team never left Baghdad. Harmeet and I are desperate to see them, Norman not so much. They finally come at four-thirty.

“Oh my God! Anita! Maxine!” I say, squeezing each of them. “What are you guys doing here? Have you been here the whole time?” I assumed that if the team had decided to stay they both would’ve gone home for a break and been relieved by someone else.

“Of course!” Anita says, pretending to be offended.

“We weren’t going to leave you here!” Maxine says.

Peggy Gish is there too, whom I’d worked with twice before in Iraq, and a CPTer I’d not met before named Beth Pyles, whom I like instantly. “You’re all so brave,” I tell them.

“We have to have a picture!” Anita cries, thrusting her camera at Gordon and lining everybody up. “Let me get between my men,” she says, squeezing between Harmeet and me.

They present us with our luggage. “Oh, hey, I remember this!” I say, lifting my backpack. I can’t wait to look inside.

We move to the plastic chairs beside the pool. Norman stands at the edges and then discreetly disappears. Gordon presents the CPTers with bowls full of ice cream. Maxine laughs delightedly. “Thank you, Gordon!” she says. “But you know, this time we would’ve come anyway, even without the ice cream!” Maxine explains how they hate making the trip to the Green Zone—it’s probably the most dangerous thing they do in Baghdad. Whenever Gordon called to set up a meeting, they would always try to find a reason not to go. Until Gordon started bribing them with ice cream—then they could hardly refuse. They had searched everywhere; ice cream was impossible to find in Baghdad.

We laugh and talk ravenously as the March afternoon fades into twilight. We need hours—there is so much to learn, so much to tell—but at six o’clock Gordon comes with the sad news: it’s time for the CPTers to go.

Maxine looks surprised. She says they came prepared to stay the night. Gordon says he is sorry but that isn’t possible. Maxine wants to know why—he promised if we ended up in the Green Zone someone from the team could stay with us. He says he is sorry but the Canadian contingent is a guest of the British embassy. If it was up to Gordon, the whole team could stay, but it’s not. He looks uncomfortable. Maxine’s face darkens. But you promised, she says. Gordon apologizes, says it just isn’t possible. Maxine looks betrayed.

I ask if they can come again tomorrow. Yes, sure, not a problem, Gordon says. We’d like to spend the whole day together, I say. That shouldn’t be a problem—we’ll see what we can do, Gordon says.

“We should take a quick press statement before we go,” Anita says, pulling out a notebook and pen. We groan in objection. “Just a couple sentences would be fine. It doesn’t have to be anything profound. We’ve been getting requests all day, from all over the world.”

“Really!” I say.

“You guys have no idea, do you? This is a huge story. People really want to hear from you. Just something quick. It’ll take the pressure off.”

I take a breath. “Okay. How about: We are deeply grateful to all those who worked and prayed for our release. We have no words to describe our feelings of great joy at being free again. Our heads are swirling and when we are ready we will talk to the media.”

“That’s perfect,” Anita says. “Harmeet?”

“I don’t know … I hate this kind of thing. I like what Jim said.”

“This can be from the both of us,” I say.

“Okay, now you guys really have to go. The security gates are shutting down for the night. I’m sorry, but we have to end things here,” Gordon says.

We hug each other goodbye. Gordon confirms that he’ll call the team to work out the arrangements for getting together tomorrow.

We’re worried about Norman, Gordon tells us. We don’t think it’s a good idea for him to be left alone in one of those shipping containers overnight. Arrangements have been made for us to stay with the British ambassador, where, if we want, we can all share one room. Would that be okay?

Of course, we say.

The ambassador, Sir William Patey, is in his early fifties, a bald, vigorous, barrel-chested man bristling with competence and unpretentious charm. He strides towards us, clasps our hands warmly. “Welcome to my humble little abode,” he says with a chuckle. “My house is your house. Come on in! Help yourself to whatever you can find in the fridge.” He instantly puts me at ease.

His “house” is a cavernous mausoleum of marble pillars, vaulted ceilings, interior balconies, grand sweeping stairways, fountainous
chandeliers, heavy brocade draperies—everything in ostentatious excess, utterly lifeless. “It’s a bit much, isn’t it,” he sighs. “It belonged to one of Saddam’s aunties. Unfortunately, this was about all we could find. Everything else had already been claimed.”

He sits us down around the Gertrude Bell Dining Room Table, “the only thing of real value in the place. The map of Iraq was drawn up on this very table.” Stewart, the Canadian chargé d’affaires, is there, as well as Marion, the RCMP officer who will accompany Harmeet home, and Adrian. A butler stands to the side. I can’t take my eyes off him—the smile on his face, the perfect ease and serenity of his eyes, a living Buddha radiating effortless grace. The dinner he has prepared for us is incomparable: chicken breast with a white sauce, broccoli, rice pilaf, an exquisite dessert. “The Green Zone is bad for this,” the ambassador says, patting his waistline. “Sitting at a desk all day, being driven everywhere.”

The ambassador does most of the talking, which is a relief since I’m not in the mood for fielding questions about the captivity. He is the perfect diplomat: funny, urbane, judicious, expansive, discreet. He speaks at great length about the various challenges facing Iraq. His assessments seem frank, well informed, hard-headed. In his hands, the horror and hubris of occupation are transformed into a hopeful and benevolent exercise in nation building where the good intentions of the Western powers (regardless of what their initial purposes might have been for invading Iraq) will eventually carry the day if given half a chance to succeed. If only they could instill an ethic of public service in the nascent Iraqi government, everything else would fall into place. At the end of the meal my head is spinning, and I leave the table wondering, have I somehow got this whole business wrong?

They show us to our rooms on the second floor. Norman is at one end of the building and we at the other. Harmeet and I share an enormous, disorganized room cluttered with miscellaneous wardrobes, chairs, beds and dressing tables that all seem to have come from Ikea.

For the first time today, Harmeet and I have a chance to talk. Harmeet is in crisis. Things aren’t going well at home. His brother-in-law has
signed a contract with one of New Zealand’s national broadcasters giving them exclusive rights to film Harmeet’s reunion with his family. In exchange, the broadcaster is flying his father and brother-in-law wherever they want to meet Harmeet. Harmeet told them he didn’t want that. They said there was nothing they could do, they’d signed the contract and now they were committed. Harmeet doesn’t know what to do.

I ask Harmeet why he said, “We’ll talk about it later,” when I asked at the time of our rescue if that was Medicine Man standing at the door. Harmeet doesn’t think it was a “rescue.” At least, he isn’t sure. It could just as easily have been a “planned release.” Like what happened with Douglas Wood, the Australian who had been kidnapped the year before. At first they said the Iraqi army found him by accident in the course of raiding a house. But then, after researching the story, a reporter uncovered evidence that Wood had been brought to an empty safe house where he could be “found” as part of a pre-arranged release plan. He thinks our “rescue” may have been contrived in the same way. He says maybe the reason I didn’t recognize Medicine Man is because it wasn’t really him, that maybe they brought somebody in to make us think it was him to convince us of their story. He isn’t going to believe anything, one way or the other, until he has proof.

I’m not sure what to make of Harmeet’s suspicions. I am confused, reeling. Now, more than ever, I want to know the truth of what happened. I spend the next day trying to find out, probing with different kinds of questions. All I get are vague generalities and well-rehearsed obscurities. It was an intelligence-led operation, Gordon tells me. “You wouldn’t believe the fabulous resources available to us through the NATO alliance.” By monitoring all the cellphone conversations going in and out of Baghdad, and by tracking different leads, they gradually narrowed in on the group that was holding us, until they were able to catch somebody—Medicine Man—who could lead them to us. It all happened very quickly. They captured him early in the morning, and within a few hours the rescue force was assembled.

Who was he? What was his name? He can’t tell me. If a deal was made to let him go in exchange for certain kinds of information, he doesn’t
want to put him in jeopardy by revealing his name. He says they have to protect their methods so they can be used again in the future.

Who was the group that kidnapped us? He says they called themselves Swords of Righteousness Brigade. No one had heard of them before.

Was there a process of negotiation? No, they only made contact with our captors in the last few days. That was the video they took of Harmeet and me holding up a newspaper on March 19.

What about the video they took of Norman, and the three questions he was asked to answer? They didn’t know anything about that, Gordon says. They only established direct contact five days ago.

What about Tom? They have no information about who might have done it.

What else can you tell me? I ask. What else would you like to know? he says.

Everything, I answer. He says he’s told me just about everything he can. I feel like I’m trying to scale a wall that keeps getting higher and higher.

Gordon probes with questions of his own. Did they move us? How did they treat us? How many were there? What did we know about what happened to Tom? Did we have any sense of where we were or what was going on in the outside world? Did we see or hear anything that suggested there were other hostages? This is just for his own information, he says. They aren’t going to debrief or interrogate us. They don’t do that kind of thing.

I am conflicted. Part of me wants to tell him everything, as a way to honour all the work they’ve done to secure our release. And for the most part I do, hoping I might be able to get more information out of him in turn. But always I am on my guard. I don’t know how this information is going to be used. While I have no interest in protecting the captors from the consequences of their actions, there is no way I want them to be executed or sentenced to life in prison. I don’t tell him anything that will enable the police or the army to identify the captors. I feel as if we’re playing cat and mouse.

Decisions decisions. I sit on my bed, staring into space, trying to decide whether or not to change my socks and underwear. It has not even been a day. It seems like an outrageous luxury to change them so soon, after having worn the same things for days and weeks on end. I gather the socks and underwear I was given yesterday with what was in my backpack. It’s overwhelming—eight pairs of socks and six pieces of underwear—all in different colours and styles!

Then the decision of whether or not to take a shower. This one is easier. No! It’s a crime to use water frivolously. If nothing else, the past four months have shown me how little water it is possible to use.

And then there’s breakfast. The butler hands us an embossed menu. There are several kinds of cold cereal; milk or juice; tea—regular or herbal; coffee—regular or decaf; hot cereal; toast with butter or toast without; toast with several kinds of jam; eggs scrambled, sunny side, over easy, poached; eggs in omelette; potatoes mashed or crisp; bacon or sausage or ham; French toast or pancakes. Harmeet and I look at each other and laugh. It is impossible to decide. “Very well, then,” the butler says, taking back the menus. “We’ll have a little bit of everything.”

Gordon stops in after breakfast to see how we’re doing. He tells us that Norman is leaving in the afternoon, on a two-thirty flight out of the Baghdad airport. He will have to leave the embassy right after lunch. Gordon asks about our travel arrangements. When do we want to go? Any time after we debrief with the team, I say. Tomorrow would be fine. Harmeet doesn’t know. He says he has to work some things out with his family before he can decide. And where would you like to go? he asks us. We’ll fly you anywhere you want to go. Toronto, I say. Auckland, Harmeet says.

I ask Gordon if it would be possible for us to see Medicine Man. “No,” he says, “he’s in American custody. I can’t even see him. But we have pictures.”

Can we see them? we ask, excited. This is an opportunity to verify if it was indeed Medicine Man standing at the door.

Yes, he can arrange that, he says. He wasn’t going to mention it, but since we’ve asked, he’ll show them to us. But it won’t be him—it’ll be a couple of the guys from the investigative side. I look at him quizzically. He explains that the operation is divided into a negotiating side and an investigative side. He’s in charge of negotiation, which involves trying to talk with the kidnappers. He says his goal was much like ours: he wanted to negotiate a non-violent resolution. They’ll do anything that doesn’t involve a political solution, or what he calls an Unreasonable Demand. So, for example, if the group has a particular message they want communicated, he’ll get it out there for them. But if they want the release of all political prisoners, or for a particular country to withdraw its troops from Iraq, anything like that, they can’t do it. That’s outside their power.

BOOK: Captivity
7.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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