After the extraordinary release of Jill Carroll, many people wondered what she would say about her time in captivity. When she started issuing statements about how well she had been treated by her captors, seemingly forgetful about the murder of her translator, many reacted in understandable dismay and anger. That criticism crescendoed when her kidnappers released a video of Carroll giving what looked to be her opinions about the war, George Bush, and the American military.
However, her editors explain that the statement and the video were preconditions for saving her own life:
The night before journalist Jill Carroll’s release, her captors said they had one final demand as the price of her freedom: She would have to make a video praising her captors and attacking the United States, according to Jim Carroll.
In a long phone conversation with his daughter on Friday, Mr. Carroll says that Jill was “under her captor’s control.”
Ms. Carroll had been their captive for three months and even the smallest details of her life – what she ate and when, what she wore, when she could speak – were at her captors’ whim. They had murdered her friend and colleague Allan Enwiya, “she had been taught to fear them,” he says. And before making one last video the day before her release, she was told that they had already killed another American hostage.
That video appeared Thursday on a jihadist website that carries videos of beheadings and attacks on American forces. In it, Carroll told her father she felt compelled to make statements strongly critical of President Bush and his policy in Iraq.
Her remarks are now making the rounds of the Internet, attracting heavy criticism from conservative bloggers and commentators.
In fact, Carroll did what many hostage experts and past captives would have urged her to do: Give the men who held the power of life and death over her what they wanted.
I too wondered about Carroll’s initial statements after terrorists dumped her in a Sunni neighborhood close to the Green Zone. Most of us have listened to similar opinions from reporters and pundits about the US effort in Iraq, and perhaps that’s why many believed her statements to reflect her true opinions. Certainly the press has not built a reservoir of goodwill among their readers or the military.
It’s good to remember than anytime a hostage gets released by their captors instead of escaping or being freed by authorities, it’s usually to send a message. Having been a captive for three months, fighting to stay alive and relatively unharmed every moment of the time, the promise of release for a few minutes of meaningless babble in a video and an initial statement would sound like a terrific bargain to any civilian.
Not long ago, the US acknowledged that even its POWs had to make these kinds of bargains with captors to avoid torture and murder. Many brave men died at the hands of the North Vietnamese trying valiantly to remain defiant through years of captivity because of the prevailing orders at the time that forbade American servicemen from acting in their own defense, losses that inspire us to acts of courage but also in the end did nothing to prevent the enemy from using POWs as propaganda tools. By the time of the Gulf War, the American public had developed the sophistication to understand that programmatic answers videotaped by agents of tyranny meant nothing.
I wonder why we forgot it in this instance. Jill Carroll will have plenty of time to tell us her story, but I think we would all benefit by taking a deep breath and holding our fire until she’s safely home and in a clearer mental state. The Christian Science Monitor’s explanation makes sense; if it’s untrue, we’ll know soon enough, but for the moment I think we can all give Carroll the benefit of the doubt.
UPDATE: Jim Geraghty at TKS agrees, and has more thoughts on the subject.