Amy Goodman / Democracy Now – 2005-12-02 08:43:41
Background on CPT Hostages in Iraq
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now
The Christian Peacemaker Teams has confirmed that four peace activists working with the group were kidnapped in Baghdad on Saturday. A videotape showing the four men was broadcast on al Jazeera. CPT is a non-missionary organization that has been documenting the abuse of Iraqi detainees.
We speak with Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh about CPT’s work in helping expose the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal and we go to Baghdad to speak with a member of the organization.
See complete transcript at:
We go to Baghdad to speak with a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams.
* Greg Rollins, member of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
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AMY GOODMAN: In the tape, the men identified themselves on the camera.
NORMAN KEMBER: My name is Norman Kember. I am 74, and I’m a member of the Christian Peacemaking Team in Iraq.
HARMEET SINGH SOODEN: My name is Harmeet Sooden. I’m 32, and I’m working – I’m a volunteer for CPT in Iraq.
JAMES LONEY: My name is James Loney. I’m 41 years old. I’m from Canada, and I am part of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq.
TOM FOX: My name is Tom Fox. I’m 54 years old. I’m from the United States, and I’m a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: In a statement that accompanied the video, the four men were accused of being undercover spies working as Christian peace activists. The Christian Peacemakers Teams said in a statement, quote, “We’re angry, because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people.”
The Christian Peacemakers Team is a non-missionary group that has been documenting the abuse of Iraqi detainees and working with their families. They were the first people to publicly denounce the torture of Iraqis at the hands of U.S. forces, long before the media revealed what was happening at Abu Ghraib.
In fact, investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine, who helped expose the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 cited the organization in his articles. We reached Seymour Hersh last night and asked him about the Christian Peacemakers Team.
SEYMOUR HERSH: I ran across them when I was looking into the torture issue at Abu Ghraib, and I remember distinctly that they were on a cutting edge. I talked to people in the organization who had been active for years in total, you know, under the radar of all of us, because they didn’t have photographs.
They were very interested, for example, very early on in the unwarranted use of dogs in interrogations by American troops. And most of the things that I ended up writing about in Abu Ghraib, most of the general concepts, they knew a great deal about earlier, as did Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.
So, these are people toiling, really for the good of Iraqi — the Iraqi people, and often in — as I say, in obscurity, in terms of the mainstream media.
AMY GOODMAN: Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for The New Yorker magazine. We go now to Baghdad to speak with Greg Rollins. He’s a member of the Christian Peacemakers Team. Welcome to Democracy Now!
GREG ROLLINS Thanks for having me on the show.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. What is the latest news you have heard about the four peace activists that you work with?
GREG ROLLINS Well, at this point in time, it’s the same, I think, as what everybody else knows. We saw the footage, and that’s where it’s at. We have not heard anything since that time.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg, you can tell us what you are doing in Iraq?
GREG ROLLINS I work here with the — to document human rights abuses, to put a face on the Iraqi people and to get out their voice. That’s something that, you know, you don’t see a lot in the mainstream media, and that’s — we feel we have that advantage. We’re out on the streets. We talk to the common people on the streets, and so we try and get their voice out. We escort, you know, Iraqis who feel threatened at times. We host [inaudible] that come in, and so people can actually see what’s happening and then go home and tell their home communities what is actually happening in Iraq. These are some of the things that we have been doing here?
AMY GOODMAN: Greg, the statement that came out with the videotape of your four colleagues who were kidnapped said that they are undercover spies that are masquerading at Christian peace activists. Your response?
GREG ROLLINS Well, our response is: No, we’re not spies. I think a lot of people are supporting that we are not spies. A lot of our Iraqi friends have been issuing statements and getting on the news, stating that we are not spies. A lot of Muslim friends of ours from throughout the world and, of course, western groups, peace activist groups, human rights groups, a lot of reporters we have worked with have all stood up and said, no, we are not spies.
And even if you just look at the men on the TV, I mean, Norman does not look like a spy. And if you have ever met Tom Fox, I mean, he’s the last person on earth you would think of as being a spy, because he’s just — he’s just not that kind of person. So, I think these allegations are — I mean, they’re false, and it’s quite distressing, Amy. We’re very worried for our friends and hope that they’re not harmed and that they’re released soon.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg, what are you doing to free your four teammates of the Christian peace team?
GREG ROLLINS Well, like I said, we have been having a lot of our friends — even asking a lot of our Iraqi friends to stand up and, you know, support the fact that we are not spies, and that we are doing human rights work here and trying to spread — you know, educate people about what is actually happening in Iraq, and what we are trying to do is very positive. And that’s been the first step, is just getting the Iraqis to stand up for us like that, and the second step has been getting other people to do so. And to — I guess just a big part of it is waiting to see what exactly comes next.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you say to those who say, well, this is a Christian missionary group in Iraq?
GREG ROLLINS Not at all. I mean, we’re not a missionary group. We do not proselytize. It’s not what we do. We believe that the best way to display our faith is through actions, and those actions are helping people. We have no desire to convert anybody to Christianity or to take them away from their previous religion. That’s not in our interest. Our interest is to simply help people who are oppressed.
AMY GOODMAN: You have expressed anger at Britain and the United States in a statement you released. Why?
GREG ROLLINS Well, the Britain and the U.S. have stirred up this animosity towards the West. I mean, there’s — I think there was animosity there before that, but they certainly brought that on a lot more by attacking Iraq. I mean, a lot of people throughout the world, if not the Middle East, are furious that Iraq is under occupation right now. And, of course, one of — the reason, I think, that my teammates were kidnapped was because there’s so much animosity right now towards the West. And so, a lot of people are viewed — can be viewed as being spies. And I think that this is one of those cases. I think the fact that so many people are angry at the U.S. and Britain has just made this possible.
AMY GOODMAN: Greg Rollins, I want to thank you for being with us. We will continue to follow this case of your four teammates of the Christian Peacemakers Team kidnapped in Iraq.
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Dahr Jamail’s Iraq Dispatches
(November 29, 2005) — Four members of the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Baghdad have been abducted and taken hostage recently. This event is horribly dismaying for me, as I’ve known members of CPT since before I ever ventured to Iraq.
Back in November of 2003, while sitting in Amman, Jordan waiting to go into Iraq, I met a member of CPT who had been working in Palestine. He told me he was walking with Palestinian children as they went to school, in order to prevent them from being attacked by Israeli settlers.
Later I would learn that this same individual had returned to Palestine and was beaten so severely by Israeli settlers that he was hospitalized for several weeks.
Last Thanksgiving, November 24, 2004 I shared a meal with members of their team in Baghdad, along with several of our Iraqi friends. We gave thanks together for being in Baghdad in solidarity with our Iraqi brothers and sisters. All of us — the CPT members and myself — were then and remain fully committed to getting out the truth about the illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq.
On the website of CPT is a quote of scriptural reference which reads, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This is what the members of CPT do in Baghdad. I’ve seen them do this first-hand. They graciously opened their files of documents to me when I was working on stories about Iraqis who have been in US military detention centers inside Iraq. They have worked extensively on fighting for the rights of Iraqi detainees and supporting their families.
The team documents home raids conducted by the US military, and have worked to assist internally displaced people (refugees) inside of Iraq who are left homeless by heavy-handed US military operations such as those in Fallujah and Al-Qa’im.
In addition, CPT has been instrumental in bringing media attention to villages and towns in Iraq which have suffered collective punishment by the US military.
Each of the members of CPT in Iraq I have met are committed to non-violence and being a truthful witness to the ravages of war and occupation. They have been accused by their captors of being spies or missionaries. This is simply not the case. If there is any group operating in Iraq today who works tirelessly to end the suffering of Iraqis, it is CPT.
Update on Missing Persons in Iraq
The Christian Peacemaker Teams have released more details on the individuals who were kidnapped Saturday. I have added a couple of links at the bottom that feature some of their work.
Update on Missing Persons in Iraq
BAGHDAD (November 30, 2005) — We were very saddened to see the images of our loved ones on Al Jazeera television recently. We were disturbed by seeing the video and believe that repeated showing of it will endanger the lives of our friends. We are deeply disturbed by their abduction. We pray that those who hold them will be merciful and that they will be released soon. We want so much to see their faces in our home again, and we want them to know how much we love them, how much we miss them, and how anxious and concerned we are by what is happening to them.
We are angry because what has happened to our teammates is the result of the actions of the U.S. and U.K. government due to the illegal attack on Iraq and the continuing occupation and oppression of its people. Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) has worked for the rights of Iraqi prisoners who have been illegally detained and abused by the U.S. government.
We were the first people to publicly denounce the torture of Iraqi people at the hands of U.S.forces, long before the western media admitted what was happening at Abu Ghraib. We are some of the few internationals left in Iraq who are telling the truth about what is happening to the Iraqi people We hope that we can continue to do this work and we pray for the speedy release of our beloved teammates.
We can confirm the identities of those who are being held as follows:
Tom Fox, age 54, is from Clearbrook, Virginia and is a dedicated father of two children. For the past two years, Mr. Fox has worked with CPT in partnership with Iraqi human rights organizations to promote peace. Mr. Fox has been faithful in the observance of Quaker practice for 22 years. While in Iraq, he sought a more complete understanding of Islamic cultural richness. He is committed to telling the truth to U.S. citizens about the horrors of war and its effects on ordinary Iraqi civilians and families as a result of U.S. policies and practices.
Mr. Fox is an accomplished musician. He plays the bass clarinet and the recorder and he loves to cook. He has also worked as a professional grocer.
Mr. Fox devotes much of his time to working with children. He has served as an adult leader of youth programs and worked at a Quaker camp for youth. He has facilitated young people’s participation in opposing war and violence.
Mr. Fox is a quiet and peaceful man, respectful of everyone, who believes that “there is that of God in every person” which is why work for peace is so important to him.
Norman Kember, age 74, is from London, England. He and his wife of 45 years have two married daughters and a 3-year old grandson. He has been a pacifist all his life beginning with his work in a hospital instead of National Service at age 18.
Before his retirement he was a professor teaching medical students at St Bartholemew’s Hospital in London. He is well-known as a peace activist, and has been involved in several peace groups. For the past 10 years he has volunteered with a local program providing free food to the homeless. He likes walking, birdwatching, and writing humorous songs and sketches.
In his younger days he enjoyed mountaineering.
James Loney, 41, is a community worker from Toronto, Canada. He has been a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams since August 2000, and is currently the Program Coordinator for CPT Canada. On previous visits to Iraq, his work focused on taking testimonies from families of detainees for CPT’s report on detainee abuse, and making recommendations for securing basic legal rights. James was leading the November 2005 delegation in Iraq when he went missing.
James is a peace activist, writer, trained mediator, and works actively with two Toronto community conflict resolution services. He has spent many years working to provide housing and support for homeless people.
In a personal statement from James to CPT, he writes: “I believe that our actions as a people of peace must be an expression of hope for everyone. My hope in practising non-violence is that I can be a conduit for the transformative power of God’s love acting upon me as much as I hope it will act upon others around me.”
Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32 is a Canadian electrical engineer. He is studying for a masters degree in English literature in Auckland University in New Zealand to prepare for a teaching career. He enjoys art, is active in squash and worked part time as a local squash coach. His family describes him as peaceful and fun-loving and he is known to be passionate about the plight of the underprivileged around the globe. He works tirelessly in his spare time to educate and help others.
Statement of Conviction
In a “Statement of Conviction,” the long-term Team members stated that they “are aware of the many risks both Iraqis and internationals currently face,” and affirmed that the risks did not outweigh their purpose in remaining. They express the hope that “in loving both friends and enemies and by intervening non-violently to aid those who are systematically oppressed, we can contribute in some small way to transforming this volatile situation.”
Christian Peacemaker Teams has been present in Iraq since October 2002, providing first-hand, independent reports from the region, working with detainees of both United States and Iraqi forces, and training others in non-violent intervention and human rights documentation. Iraqi friends and human rights workers have welcomed the team as a nonviolent, independent presence.
CPT teams host regular delegations of committed peace and human rights activists to conflict zones, who join teams in working with civilians to document abuses and develop nonviolent alternatives to armed conflict. The CPT Iraq Team has hosted a total of 120 people on sixteen delegations over the last three years.
Christian Peacemaker Teams is a violence reduction program.
Teams of trained peacemakers work in areas of lethal conflict around the world. In addition to the Iraq Team, teams of CPT workers are currently serving in Barrancabermeja, Colombia; Hebron and At-Tuwani, Palestine; Kenora, Ontario, Canada; and on the Mexico-United States border.
Some media reports of events involving CPT members contain inaccurate information and quotations. We urge the public and the media to refer to CPT releases for a basic account of events, and we encourage reporters to contact CPTers directly for comment. Our offices can direct reporters to CPTers: call 416-423-5525 in Canada or 773-277-0253 in the US.
• CPT in Iraq
• Waiting in the Light
• Letter from Iraq: Tom Fox
• CPT in Iraq
• CPT in Iraq: Shifting Sands for Peacemakers
http://www.cpt.org/iraq/projectoverview.php for an overview of CPT program work in Iraq.
• CPT Iraq in Baghdad: 07901-339-537
CPT in Canada: Doug Pritchard 416-423-5525
• CPT in the News
Click to Search the Web for CPT in the News
• CPTnet – CPT’s email network – Over 10 Years of On-the-Ground Email Reporting
• Peter Lems
American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia PA 19102
Tel: 215/241-7170 / Fax:215/241-7177
• Timothy Baer
Organizer, Bloomington Peace Action Coalition. (812) 988-1917
HEBRON: Palestinians seek release of CPTers missing in Iraq
On 30 November 2005 the National and Islamic Forces in Hebron held a press conference to ask for the release of four CPTers being held by an Iraqi armed group. They released a joint statement expressing their “sorrow at the [disappearance] of four of the peace advocates from the CPT in Iraq.”
The first speaker was Sheikh Najib Al Ja’abri, who hosted the press conference at the Ali Baka’a Mosque in the Haret e-Sheikh neighborhood of Hebron. He spoke of his warm feelings about working together with CPTers over the years. The second speaker was Abdul ‘Alim Dana of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, followed by Fahmi Shahin, Coordinator of the National and Islamic Forces in Hebron, representing the Palestine People’s Party.
Naim Daour, Public Relations Director for Hebron University, talked about repeated closures of the university and CPT’s work to help to re-open it. “Sometimes it is hard to tell who is working for us and who is against us, but really Christian Peacemaker Teams helps us – whoever is holding the CPTers has made a mistake.”
Fariel Abu Haikal, Headmistress of Qurtuba Girls’ School, emphasized the difference between CPTers and the American government. “Saif al-Haq (‘Sword of Justice,’ the Iraqi armed group holding the CPTers) I don’t know, but these problems in Iraq, they come from George Bush. He is the problem, not CPT.” She described the accompaniment that CPTers have provided for teachers and students at her school, who are often assaulted by Israeli settlers from the nearby settlement of Beit Hadassah.
The last Palestinian to speak was Jamal Miqbal of Beit Ummar. Jamal and his family live in the shadow of the Israeli settlement of Karme Tzur, and the Israeli military issued a demolition order on their home. Many CPTers have stayed at their home, both in tense times when the Miqbals feared that the bulldozer would come, and in more relaxed seasons.
At the conclusion of the press conference, CPTers read this message: “We are very worried about our four friends. We fear that whoever is holding them has made a mistake. They are four men who went to Iraq to work for peace. They oppose the occupation. They are not spies.”
CPT Hebron feels deep gratitude for the efforts of these speakers, and for the organizers who worked so hard on behalf of the CPTers missing in Iraq. As the participants left, one after another stopped to express their sympathy, and their hope that the four peace activists will soon be free.
Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) seeks to enlist the whole church in organized, nonviolent alternatives to war and places teams of trained, peacemakers in regions of lethal conflict. Originally a violence-reduction initiative of the historic peace churches (Mennonite, Church of the Brethren and Quaker), CPT now enjoys support and membership from a wide range of Christian denominations.
To receive news or discussion of CPT issues by e-mail, fill out the form found on our WEB page at http://www.cpt.org/subscribe.php
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