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American Hostage; Negotiate or Not?

Aired January 19, 2006 - 13:34   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: The mother of an American hostage in Iraq is trying to save her daughter's life. A group holding freelance journalist Jill Carroll says she'll be put to death unless the U.S. frees all of its female Iraqi prisoners by early tomorrow. The captors have put out a videotape of Jill Carroll, who was kidnapped January 7th.
Today on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING," Mary Beth Carroll just responded.


MARY BETH CARROLL, JILL CARROLL'S MOTHER: "A video just released gives us hope that Jill is alive, but has also shaken us about her fate. So, I, her father and her sister are appealing directly to her captors to release this young woman who has worked so hard to show the suffering of Iraqis to the world. Jill has always shown the highest respect for the Iraqi people and their customs. We hope that her captors will show Jill the same respect in return. Taking vengeance on my innocent daughter who loves Iraq and its people will not create justice.

"To her captors, I say that Jill's welfare depends upon you. And so we call upon you to ensure that Jill is returned safely home to her family who needs her and loves her. Jill's father, sister and I ask and encourage the persons holding our daughter to work with Jill to find a way to contact us with the honorable intent of discussing her release."


PHILLIPS: Mary Beth Carroll calls her daughter a strong woman with convictions, passion and compassion.

Iraq is asking U.S. authorities to release six female detainees, but there's no indication anyone will be released before the deadline set by Jill Carroll's captors.

CNN's Michael Holmes (sic) has more from Baghdad.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Awaiting word on her fate, Jill Carroll's family and friends grapple with the urgent questions of how to win her release and whether they can do anything at all. A man whose been on her side of that camera believes the official U.S. policy not to give in to hostage-takers is the right one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we knew it was going to stop with negotiations or money paid out, this would be the last time they would ever take a hostage, I'd say yes, let's do that, but it's not going to happen. It's not going to stop. They're going to continue to take hostages.

TODD: But experts we spoke to, including a former FBI hostage negotiator who has dealt with kidnappings in the Middle East, say negotiation doesn't mean concession. U.S. and other officials do sometimes establish dialogue with captors, they say, and it's often very effective.

Giandomenico Picco is a former U.N. hostage negotiator, who in the early 1990s helped win the release of 11 Western captives from Lebanon, including Terry Anderson. Picco went beyond dialogue, even offering himself in trades for hostages. He was captured several times.

In Jill Carroll's case, Picco and other experts say those working for her release can try another back channel option with the help of U.S. officials on the ground.

GIANDOMENICO PICCO, FMR. HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: The local actors in Iraq, either organizations which belong to other Arab countries or other religious groups of sort, may be an avenue.

TODD: Picco and other former negotiators say the use of media by Carroll's family could also help, because it personalizes her to her abductors.

(on camera): In that regard, they say, Jill Carroll should also be speaking to her captors, talking about her family, her life. They say the motivation of these kidnappers is a pivotal factor. If they're purely ideological, not seeking money, and if they're making demands they know can't be met, as one expert says, you don't have a lot of ammunition here.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: Well, the White House says the return of Jill Carroll is a priority, but a top U.S. military commander in Baghdad says America does not negotiate with terrorists and criminals.

Now, as you know, you've been watching CNN, the captors of American journalist Jill Carroll are vowing to kill her unless the U.S. frees all the female Iraqi detainees by early tomorrow.

Orly Halpern well understands the dangers facing journalists in Iraq. She was kidnapped near Fallujah in April 2004 and released the same day. She is now the Middle East. She's the Middle East correspondent for "The Jerusalem Post." She join us now live.

Orly, thanks for being with us. I guess my first question to you is, to Jill Carroll, what would you say to her right now? What would your advice be to her?

ORLY HALPERN, "JERUSALEM POST": I'm sure that whatever I say to her, she's already doing, whatever I would advise. It would be to talk to them, show them what a wonderful person she is, how much she cares about Iraqi society, about Iraqi people, how much respect she has for them, and show her love for Iraqis. And I'm sure she's doing that.

PHILLIPS: And her parents even say that's very much the truth, just within her soul and within her reporting on the story.

Take me back now to your situation. Sort of set the scene for me and tell me what happened.

HALPERN: When I was kidnapped, I was with a fellow journalist. We were driving across Iraq to Baghdad. It was just after rioting -- fighting broke out on two fronts between the Americans and the Sunnis in Fallujah and other areas, and the Americans and the Shiites in the areas where they lived. It was after an attack on American security contractors, if you might remember, in Fallujah, 2004, April, and they were burnt, tied to a bridge and burnt alive. I was going back to Iraq to cover that. And on the way, our -- we were in an armored car, and we were overtaken on the left-hand side by two truckloads of crazed men with guns who just started shooting at us. I ducked, forgetting that we have bullet-proof windows, and we turned around and went back the way we had started to -- that we had come from.

But they shot at our wheels and we were forced to stop and they got us. And then it was just a crazy, crazy series of rides and events that took place where we were. This crazy group of people took us in a car. All the other ones followed, and they were nuts.

They had lost -- they had no sense of hierarchy, no control. They were -- they were so high -- I felt like I was a bird that they had just caught. And in the car, in the back of the car that we were in, we had two men on either side.

The leader was on my left. Both of them had weapons. They were screaming. The leader was screaming like a maniac. He was giving directions. The guy in the front seat, passenger seat had his gun pointing at me. And they were taking us to a house. I speak Arabic so I understood, and I speak Iraqi because I had been already in Iraq for a long time. I was responding to the other male.

PHILLIPS: Were you talking to them? Did you say anything to them?

HALPERN: Absolutely. I was talking to them, I was saying -- I was talking in a very calm voice, telling them, we're journalists, we write about Iraq. We're helping the Iraqi people, we're telling the Iraqi story. I was talking in a very calm voice.

And he -- the man who was the leader, he had lost control. And so I tried to show him that we were people. So I pretended that I was ill so that he would have compassion for me and I pretended that I was -- you know, I made awful noises and I held my stomach and then at some point -- and I think this is something which could give hope -- he -- for in the case of Jill, was that he went for my waist.

And these group of crazy people, they were -- I think they're normally -- they're not the normal types of hostage takers, these are criminals. And he went for my waist, probably knowing that that's where people hide their money belts.

And when he did that, I know as a Muslim like he shouldn't be touching me. And so instead of pushing away his hands, I did like this and I covered myself like how could you touch me and I moved back.

And he immediately respond responded as I had hoped and he moved back and he said we are Muslims. We will not hurt you -- well, he said, we are Muslims, we will not kill you but we will kill him because he's a man and you're a woman so we will not.

PHILLIPS: Now, this is interesting. Do you think that could save Jill Carroll's life, the fact that she's a woman?

HALPERN: Well, the fact she's a woman and not a soldier definitely is great help for her case. And if you look at the whole issue, they're trying to exchange her for female hostages, because the issue of women is so important in Arab, and especially in Iraqi society, which is so traditional. The fact that it really, really bothers Iraqis greatly, deeply, that there are Iraqi females in U.S. prisons. They ...

PHILLIPS: So how did you finally get released?

HALPERN: ... the idea that there are American men there. Well, luckily, we got kidnapped from our kidnappers. And the people that kidnapped us were people that were actually fighting the Americans. They were very hierarchal. They had found out through their own intelligence that was happening.

When we were brought to a house, they came, they said to the guys who had us, who -- what are you doing? These two are journalists. They saw that my colleague had his badge on. And they said, you leave them alone. They're coming with us.

And there was a big debate over it, but it was clear that there was a hierarchy and these young men that came to take us had a lot more power. They had a walkie-talkie, so they were obviously involved in their own military operations against the Americans, that were going on not far away.

So these guys took us. And then they brought us to the village leader of wherever we were, somewhere near Fallujah. And this village leader, as in Arab custom, the village leader decides -- solves problems. So they dropped us off there and let him decide what to do with us, if we were OK, if we were not okay.

But in the meanwhile, the head of the Iraqi resistance, insurgency, terrorism -- whatever you want to call it -- for that area, he came. He was very -- an elderly man, 60 years old. He said, I've just come from shooting at the Americans. Who are you and what do you want?

And we said, we're journalists, we're just passing through. And he said, how do I know you're not CIA? How do I know you're not spies? And we said, well, we have no weapons. We are not.

And in the case of Jill, obviously, it's the same thing and there are enough Iraqis around to vouch for that, including Al-Jazeera news, which said that on television, if you're aware, when they announced with -- showing her video that she was kidnapped, they said that they asked the captors to release her because she's a journalist.

So these people were rational people that we could talk to, these people that were fighting the Americans. And when they were convinced -- I mean, I spoke to them in Arabic and I speak the Iraqi dialect. When they were sincerely convinced, they let us go.

PHILLIPS: Orly, you have a fascinating story. And I have a couple more questions for you, so we just want to ask you to stay with us here for a minutes. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to talk more with Orly Halpern when she was kidnapped in Iraq and how she got set free. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: You're looking at the picture there of Jill Carroll. As you know, she's the freelance journalist with the "Christian Science Monitor" that is being held captive in Iraq.

And we've been trying to look for all different ways to cover this story, and even airing the statement of -- by Jill's mother, pleading to the captors to let her go, just talking about what an honest journalist she is and that she's just trying to get the Iraqi side out.

Orly Halpern well understands the dangers facing journalists in Iraq, as well. She was kidnapped near Fallujah in April 2004, released that day. And we're going to continue our conversation now with Orly. And we got to the point of when you went before the village leader and he decided to release you. Why do you think that decision was made to release you?

HALPERN: It wasn't only the decision of the village leader. It was also the decision of this Iraqi resistance insurgency general, who came to the house and interrogated us first. He came very quickly. I mean, he was notified by the men probably that brought us there. And he showed up and he started the interrogation and he questioned us and he felt that -- you know, that we were really journalists.

But meanwhile, we weren't released immediately. Then we started being interrogated by -- well, it was very polite at this point. We were inside their home and as per Arab culture, we were -- we were -- there was hospitality, there was no -- I mean, I was punched numerous times before...

PHILLIPS: Let me ask you about that. From when you were punched and beaten prior to this point, do you think that there is actually some sanity in this war? And I guess what I'm asking is we see insurgents that don't seem to care about anything, but just to kill and be violent. Yet what I'm hearing from you is there was some type of rational discussion going on with the same type of enemy, quote, unquote "enemy" -- of course that's how the U.S. military -- the technical word. Do you think there is a difference among these fighters?

HALPERN: Well, that's -- I mean, that's exactly -- it's exactly as you're saying. There is a difference. And I realize that and it really affected my reporting after that because I understood how -- the differences within Iraqi society. The first group, they were nuts. They would have killed me -- I mean, even though they said that they wouldn't have, they would certainly have killed my colleague, my male colleague. And with me, it wouldn't have been pleasant, let's say.

And they were the criminal types. Afterwards, the second group, which was the people that kidnapped us from them and that were definitely -- I mean, they told us they were involved in fighting the Americans, they had just gotten back from shooting some rockets at the Americans that were -- the marines that were in Fallujah, they had just begun the first big operation if you remember. They were very rational. They were like you're journalists...

PHILLIPS: What's the point?

HALPERN: If you're journalists, we're letting you go.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it's not going to help our cause.

HALPERN: That was -- well, not only that, I think they had principles. I mean, they were like -- they said, it could also -- I don't know if it would help or harm, but it -- maybe it wouldn't have mattered at all. But as they saw it, it wasn't right. And that was what he said to the first group. He's like no.

And when he took -- these three men, there were only three young men in the second group that took us -- when they took us from these 30 crazed men, who all were armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket- propelled grenades, they were only three and they obviously had more power. As we walked away, they told me, obviously in Arabic, they said to me -- and I knew they were Iraqis because of their accent -- the dialect. They said, don't be scared, we won't hurt you.

PHILLIPS: Orly Halpern...

HALPERN: And I wasn't scared.

PHILLIPS: it's amazing. It's amazing just hearing the different points that you've made, actually bringing -- shedding some new light on the fact, even on the issue of you being a female and if they are true men of Islam, they wouldn't hurt a woman. It gives just a new sign of hope with regard to Jill Carroll. Orly, amazing story. Sure appreciate your time and your testimony. We're glad you're...

HALPERN: You're welcome. PHILLIPS: We're glad you're here. Orly Halpern.

Well, we're going to stay on this story of course. You're going to hear more of CNN's exclusive interview with Jill Carroll's mother in the next hour of LIVE FROM.

The news keeps coming. We'll keep bringing it to you. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: Miles O'Brien, what's happen with the rocket to Pluto?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Inside four minutes, Kyra. Matter of fact, it will be 2:00 and about 6 seconds when this launch should happen, assuming no technical glitches.

PHILLIPS: Give me the Zulu time.

O'BRIEN: The weather is now green.

PHILLIPS: Give me the Zulu time.

O'BRIEN: Which doesn't mean the sky is green. The sky is blue, blue enough and thus, it looks like things are going to go well. I haven't heard of a single technical issue, so we'll get back with you shortly.

PHILLIPS: All right, so it's good news.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

PHILLIPS: All right, we'll be talking very soon. The news keeps coming. We'll keep bringing it to you. More on the launch and other stories on the next hour of LIVE FROM. It begins after a quick break.