Alan Johnston told a press conference after his release yesterday morning, “They did threaten my life a number of times. There was one 24-hour period when they seemed to get very angry and chained me up, but that only lasted 24 hours.”
When you enter that netherworld of captivity, two fears seize you: you will be tortured and you will be killed. Fortunately, Alan Johnston escaped both fates, and emerged from captivity with the dignity that had marked his years as a correspondent in the Gaza Strip. Not all hostages of Islamic militants or American security have been so lucky.
It was never easy to be a western hostage in the
In 1987, when Hizbollah kidnapped me in
Perhaps. I did not know what ordeals Hizbollah prisoners were enduring at Khiam, a notorious interrogation centre in south
Like Alan Johnston, I may have been chained, blindfolded and underfed. But I was not tortured. No one placed a urine-soaked sack over my head, forced me to stand for hours in an agonising crouch or suffocated me with the now-infamous treatment known as water-boarding. (One American, CIA station chief William Buckley, was tortured and murdered.) As an American, I may have been paying taxes to support
After the 2001 assaults on
When captors – Americans if you are a Muslim or Muslims if you are a westerner – pick you up, you disappear. You are vulnerable to whims and caprice. People from your country and the other side are making deals you know nothing about. You are expendable. Whether you die or achieve your liberty is someone else’s decision. Your impotence is total. Except over your thoughts. The Israeli-Palestinian poet and former political prisoner Fouzi al-Asmar wrote: “With all the might of their hatred that tears this life apart/They cannot put my mind in jail.”
You listen for clues – as if a guard’s tone of voice will tell you he is going to kill you or let you go. Your senses are sharpened. You escape in sleep and dreams, remembering your life and imagining your life to come, if it is to come. The injustice of it – of you, an innocent, as Alan Johnston is innocent, being deprived of your freedom – is as galling as it is irrelevant. Who you are is overshadowed by what you are: someone from the other side to be used to gain an advantage.
Your captors do not care about you. They did not care that
Outside your cell, things are happening that you know nothing about. In 1991,
Today, another journalist, Sami al-Hajj of al-Jazeera television, remains in