Iraq peace activist abductions: Pentagon “black op”?

Recent reportage raises some disturbing questions about the abduction of the four activists from the Christian Peacemaker Teams now being held hostage in Iraq—Tom Fox, 54, of Virginia; Norman Kember, 74, of London; James Loney, 41, of Toronto; and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, also of Canada. (See our last post on the case.)

On Dec. 2, in a new videotape broadcast by al-Jazeera, the kidnappers said the four would be killed unless all prisoners in US and Iraqi detention centers are released. (AP)

The abductions are certainly impolitic for the Iraqi armed resistance. A representative from the British anti-war movement, Anas Altikriti, is currently in Baghdad to try to persuade the hostage-takers to free Kember, who protested against the war in the country. Altikriti, representing the Muslim Association of Britain, Stop the War and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, has the blessing of Kember’s wife Pat. “If they continue holding him or carry out their threats it will be very damaging for the insurgency, because people will see that this is the very person who campaigned against the occupation of Iraq, and for freedom and democracy,” said a spokesperson for the MAB. “Norman Kember is a true friend of Iraq and there is no justice in holding him.” (New Scotsman, Dec. 3)

New York Newsday notes Dec. 1 curious parallels between the case of the CPT activists and that of Italian journalist Giulana Sgrena, who had written interviews with Abu Ghraib torture survivors for Il Manifesto. (See our last post on the Sgrena affair.) Writes Newsday:

The activists were seized Nov. 26 near Baghdad University. A car blocked their car, gunmen got out, threw the driver and translator out and drove away with the four Westerners, security officials said Thursday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to the media.

The men were kidnapped at the same place where Giuliana Sgrena, a reporter for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, was seized Feb. 4 and held for a month by a group calling itself Mujahedeen Without Borders. That group had not been known before and has not been heard from since, but may be using a different name.

The Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams activists were being held by the Swords of Righteousness Brigade—another unfamiliar name. The group claimed its hostages, shown sitting quietly in a video, were spies. Sgrena also appeared in a video, begging for her life and warning foreigners to leave the country.

Sgrena’s March 4 release touched off a tragic friendly fire incident in which Nicola Calipari, an Italian intelligence agent, was killed by US soldiers when he was escorting Sgrena to Baghdad’s airport.

We have already noted speculation that the “friendly fire” incident wasn’t really so friendly, and that Sgrena had been the actual target. Could the CIA or Pentagon have also had a hand in her actual kidnapping? If, as Newsday implies, the group in the Sgrena and CPT cases are really one and the same, how interesting that they seem to target only people opposed to the occupation.

Others have noted parallels with the case of Irish-born charity worker Margaret Hassan, who had also vocally opposed the sanctions and invasion. A year ago, Robert Fisk wrote of her videotaped death at the hands of (ostensible) Iraqi insurgents (online at Common Dreams):

And now let’s remember the other, earlier videos. Margaret Hassan crying. Margaret Hassan fainting, Margaret Hassan having water thrown over her face to revive her, Margaret Hassan crying again, pleading for the withdrawal of the Black Watch regiment from the Euphrates River.

In the background of these appalling pictures, there were none of the usual Islamic banners. There were none of the usual armed and hooded men. There were no Qur’anic recitations.

And when it percolated through to Fallujah and Ramadi that the mere act of kidnapping Hassan was close to heresy, the combined resistance groups of Fallujah – and the message genuinely came from them – demanded her release.

So, incredibly, did Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda man whom the Americans falsely claimed was leading the Iraqi insurrection, but who has definitely been involved in the kidnappings and beheadings.

Other abducted women were freed when their captors recognised their innocence.

But not Margaret Hassan, even though she spoke fluent Arabic and could explain her work to her captors in their own language.

If anyone doubted the murderous nature of the insurgents, what better way to prove their viciousness than to produce evidence of Margaret Hassan’s murder?

What more ruthless way could there be of demonstrating to the world that the US and Interim Prime Minister Iyad Alawi’s tinpot army were fighting “evil” in Fallujah and the other Iraqi cities?

Even in the topsy-turvy world of Iraq, nobody is suggesting that people associated with the government of Mr Allawi had a hand in Margaret Hassan’s death. Iraq, after all, is awash with up to 20 insurgent groups but also with rival gangs of criminals seeking to extort money from hostage-taking.

But still the question has to be answered: who killed Margaret Hassan?

We wish to make no dogmatic claims such as those of the boringly predictable Kurt Nimmo, who writes that it is “obvious who abducted Kember and his associates and why.” (“Pentagon Black Ops: Abducting Peacemakers in Iraq”) Nimmo sings this same song every time Iraqi insurgents commit some atrocity.

But this time, there is indeed much to raise eyebrows.

See our last post on Iraq.