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SITE In The News
Video of hostages delivers mixed message
By Michelle Shepard
Published in: Toronto Star
March 8, 2006

There are videos that prompt action and those that elicit nothing but disgust and horror.Or, as is seemingly the case with the videos released by the kidnappers of four Christian peace activists in Iraq, including Toronto's James Loney, there are videos that serve as press releases.Another such video showing Loney, and two of the three others kidnapped with him 102 days ago, aired yesterday. There was no sound broadcast from the tape dated Feb. 28, but Arab television station Al Jazeera reported that the hostages were asking their governments and Arab leaders to help free them. The kidnappers have said in past videos that the hostages' freedom will come only with the release of all Iraqi prisoners.It's an unrealistic demand but the message, which is relayed each time the media reports on a new video, brings attention to the detainees and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and that's part of the public relations battle, says Rita Katz of Washington's SITE Institute. "The use of videos like this are good examples of the psychological warfare and the pressure that these groups use in an attempt to change public opinion in the international community," says Katz, whose organization tracks militant activity on the Internet. SITE is now working under a U.S. government contract to investigate fundamentalist groups.The sad irony in the kidnapping of the Christian peace activists, is that the group was in Iraq to try to ease the plight of Iraqi detainees and their families and oppose the actions of the United States. The kidnappers and the hostages in this case seem to share the same views, if not the methods of expressing them. Katz believes there's also the possibility the kidnappers are holding out for ransom, although there is no indication that financial demands have been made.In Ottawa, Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed his concern for the fate of the hostages yesterday but conceded there might be little Canada can do to win their freedom. "We don't have a lot of power in this particular circumstance, but we'll do what we can to get the best result," he told reporters."We understand the terrible ordeal this must be putting their families through," Harper added."We want to see the release of the hostages. We want to see them returned safely, but beyond that, I think we have to be very careful in what we say."Loney, 41, former Montrealer Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, American Tom Fox, 54 and Briton Norman Kember, 74, were abducted Nov. 26 in Baghdad. Canadian officials are part of an international group in Iraq trying to secure their release. A previously unknown group who call themselves the Swords of the Righteous Brigade released their first video of the hostages shortly after their capture.The next aired five days later, and that video came with a deadline. But the deadline passed and more videos have followed in the weeks since Loney and his fellow members of Christian Peacemaker Teams were captured.The message has remained the same but the images vary. In one video, Kember and Fox were dressed in orange jumpsuits, seen as a menacing comparison between these captives and the prisoners shown in notorious photos of abuse at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. Loney and Sooden have never donned the suits in videos, leading some to speculate the kidnappers were giving the Canadians preferential treatment due to Canada's refusal to join the U.S. and Britain in invading Iraq.In yesterday's video, American Fox is absent.For Canadian Allan Slater, who went to Iraq in January as a new team of Christian Peacemakers attempts to carry on the work the hostages started, yesterday's video caused mixed emotions."It's bittersweet. I think that's the best way to describe it," Slater said in a telephone interview from Baghdad."Certainly, our hopes renewed because we saw three of our four friends, but we certainly are dismayed as well because Tom Fox was not shown with the rest of them and we know that must make it doubly hard for his family."Slater is quick to point out that while he's concerned about the hostages, he's now dedicating his work to the detained Iraqis - which the group estimates now number about 14,600.WITH FILES FROM BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH


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