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Captors Holding Christian Peacemakers Announce 48 Hour Extension


Insurgents holding four members of a Christian Peacemaker Team kidnapped in Iraq had threatened to kill them tomorrow if Iraqi detainees are not released from U.S. custody. The group holding them has just announced that they have extended the deadline to December 10. Please continue to keep all involved in your thoughts and prayers.  May their captors' hearts be softened.   

People and groups from around the world have petitioned for the safe release of these four pacifist men who sought only to help the Iraqi people caught in the crossfire of war.

Many here are not familiar with the CPT and their work, so I thought that it would be appropriate as we kept them in our thoughts and prayers to post some of the reports that they have given during their time in Iraq as observers - who knows?  Perhaps their captors will have a change of heart.

Here is an excerpt from an article today about CPT's work in Iraq:

Christian Peacemaker Teams try to create small zones of peace and reconciliation in the midst of war. The organization was founded in 1988 by a coalition of Christian denominations including the Quakers and the Mennonites. Based in Chicago and Toronto, CPT sends trained volunteers to the most dangerous spots on the planet, including Colombia, the West Bank and the Congo, to act as witnesses and advocates for ordinary people caught in violent conflict. They plan projects based on the needs they see on the ground and the voids they believe they can fill. In Iraq, that means working on behalf of detainees in American custody, many of whom, according to military documents obtained by the ACLU, have turned out to be innocent.

As English-speaking Westerners in Iraq, the Christian Peacemakers are able to navigate the occupation bureaucracy better than locals, and they serve as a crucial go-between for families desperate to find imprisoned relatives caught in coalition military sweeps. They live in an unguarded apartment in an ordinary Baghdad neighborhood, where Iraqis can seek them out when they need help.

"They would come and say, 'We don't know where our family members are, we don 't have any access to them, we don't know if they need medical attention, we don 't know if they have legal support. Can you help us find them?" says Kryss Chupp, CPT's training coordinator in Chicago. "And so CPTers would accompany these families to the different authorities involved to try and gain basic information about where these people were located and get access for the families to their detained family members."

Through that process, Chupp says, "team members began hearing more and more about the kind of abuses that were going on at the hands of coalition forces in U.S.-run prisons." In January 2004, Christian Peacemaker Teams released a report documenting the abuse -- including electrocution, beating and starvation -- suffered by detainees who were later released. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke four months later, many journalists covering the story cited CPT's work.

There were four men captured.  The biographical details below are from the Christian Peacemaker Team website.


Tom Fox, age 54, is from Clearbrook, Virginia and is a dedicated father of two children. For the past two years, Mr. Fox has worked with CPT in partnership with Iraqi human rights organizations to promote peace. Mr. Fox has been faithful in the observance of Quaker practice for 22 years. While in Iraq, he sought a more complete understanding of Islamic cultural richness. He is committed to telling the truth to U.S. citizens about the horrors of war and its effects on ordinary Iraqi civilians and families as a result of U.S. policies and practices.   Mr. Fox is an accomplished musician. He plays the bass clarinet and the recorder and he loves to cook. He has also worked as a professional grocer. Mr. Fox devotes much of his time to working with children. He has served as an adult leader of youth programs and worked at a Quaker camp for youth. He has facilitated young people's participation in opposing war and violence. Mr. Fox is a quiet and peaceful man, respectful of everyone, who believes that "there is that of God in every person" which is why work for peace is so important to him.

Norman Kember, age 74, is from London, England. He and his wife of 45 years have two married daughters and a 3-year old grandson. He has been a pacifist all his life beginning with his work in a hospital instead of National Service at age 18. Before his retirement he was a professor teaching medical students at St Bartholemew's Hospital in London. He is well known as a peace activist, and has been involved in several peace groups. For the past 10 years he has volunteered with a local program providing free food to the homeless. He likes walking, birdwatching, and writing humorous songs and sketches. In his younger days he enjoyed mountaineering.    

James Loney, 41, is a community worker from Toronto, Canada. He has been a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams since August 2000, and is currently the Program Coordinator for CPT Canada. On previous visits to Iraq, his work focused on taking testimonies from families of detainees for CPT's report on detainee abuse, and making recommendations for securing basic legal rights. James was leading the November 2005 delegation in Iraq when he went missing.   James is a peace activist, writer, trained mediator, and works actively with two Toronto community conflict resolution services. He has spent many years working to provide housing and support for homeless people.   In a personal statement from James to CPT, he writes: "I believe that our actions as a people of peace must be an expression of hope for everyone. My hope in practising non-violence is that I can be a conduit for the transformative power of God's love acting upon me as much as I hope it will act upon others around me."  


Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32 is a Canadian electrical engineer from Montreal. He studdied at McGill University and is now working on a masters degree in English literature in Auckland University in New Zealand to prepare for a teaching career. He enjoys art, is active in squash and worked part time as a local squash coach. His family describes him as peaceful and fun-loving and he is known to be passionate about the plight of the underprivileged around the globe. He works tirelessly in his spare time to educate and help others.

On the day before he was captured, Tom Fox wrote the following piece:

November 25th, 2005 -- The Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) Iraq team went through a discernment process, seeking to identify aspects of our work here in Iraq that are compelling enough to continue the project and comparing them with the costs (financial, psychological, physical) that are also aspects of the project. It was a healthy exercise, but it led me to a somewhat larger question: Why are we here?

If I understand the message of God, his response to that question is that we are to take part in the creation of the Peaceable Realm of God. Again, if I understand the message of God, how we take part in the creation of this realm is to love God with all our heart, our mind and our strength and to love our neighbors and enemies as we love God and ourselves. In its essential form, different aspects of love bring about the creation of the realm.

I have read that the word in the Greek Bible that is translated as "love" in the word "agape". Again, I have read that this word is best expressed as a profound respect for all human beings simply for the fact that they are all God's children. I would state that idea in a somewhat different way, as "never thinking or doing anything that would dehumanize one of my fellow human beings."

As I survey the landscape here in Iraq, dehumanization seems to be the operative means of relating to each other. U.S. forces in their quest to hunt down and kill "terrorists" are as a result of this dehumanizing word, not only killing "terrorist", but also killing innocent Iraqis: men, women and children in the various towns and villages.

It seems as if the first step down the road to violence is taken when I dehumanize a person. That violence might stay within my thoughts or find its way into the outer world and become expressed verbally, psychologically, structurally or physically. As soon as I rob a fellow human being of his or her humanity by sticking a dehumanizing label on them, I begin the process that can have, as an end result, torture, injury and death.

"Why are we here?" We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exists within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God's children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.

James Loney wrote the following:

My father is 70 years old. I am 39. I first told him in September [2003] that I was planning to go to Iraq with

a group called Christian Peacemaker Teams to do human rights work. He said, "Well James, I'm not very excited about it," and then, "I wish you'd think of your mother and I when you do these things."

We talked more about it when I went home to Sault Ste. Marie for a Thanksgiving visit. We were on our way to the cottage to patch a leaky roof. I told him I was scared, but that I felt it was something I needed to do. I

talked about how Rick Yuskiw--he was a year behind my brother Ed in grade school--was sent to Afghanistan as part of Canada's war against terrorism, and how one of his closest buddies was killed when a roadside bomb exploded

next to his jeep. If Rick was being asked to risk his life as a soldier then I, as a pacifist Christian who believes that war is not the way to peace, should be prepared to take the same risks.

My father's temper flared. "What can you accomplish by going there?" he demanded. "It's futile. Every westerner is a target. They don't care who you are or why you're there. It's just not worth it." Silence filled the truck.

The memory of a breezy June day when I was fourteen visited me. My father had just purchased land on St. Joseph's Island and I was helping him to cut a clearing in the trees for the house he would eventually build.

My father was bucking a log and I must have been standing too close. I don't remember how it happened, but somehow the chainsaw in my father's hands sliced through my sweatshirt and undershirt and left a foot-long scratch

across my chest that ran directly over my heart. I marvelled at the ragged slash in my clothes, the red, pencil-thin cut. My Dad stepped back, sat down shaking, his eyes wide with horror.

"Jesus Christ! Be careful," he said. I shrugged it off and suggested we go back to work; at that age, I was still unfamiliar with the concept of mortality. My father said he wanted to do something else.

Back in the present, I turned to look at my father sitting behind the wheel. I knew there was nothing I could tell him that would make him feel any better about my decision. We somehow found our way into another conversation.

I called my parents on New Year's Eve to say goodbye. My father launched into a defence of American foreign policy, asked me why I was always criticizing the Americans. I took a deep breath, bit my tongue.

Khadan's father is called Ismael. Ismael is 60 years old. Khadan is 22. He earns three dollars a day as a street cleaner for the municipality of Baghdad.

I interviewed Ismael at Baghdad's Abu Hanifa Shrine where he sings the call to prayer five times a day. The corneas of his eyes were a smoky white colour and noticeably without pupils. Ismael was blind.

He explained that his son and a friend were swimming in the Tigris River on October 19, 2003 when they heard an explosion--an everyday occurrence in

Baghdad. It was only when they heard gunfire close by that they became scared and got out of the water. They were both shot by American soldiers--Khadan in the right foot--and then swept up into the U.S. Army's massive security detainee system.

According to Ismael, the Americans charged him with being in possession of a rocket propelled grenade. "This is impossible," he said. "My son was excused from the army because of a head injury he received in 1997. He does not

know how to use these weapons. He is innocent."

Fifteen days later, Ismael learned that his son was being held in a nearby hospital but he was not allowed to visit. Khadhan was transferred to Abu Ghraib Prison in November and, after repeated requests, "they had pity on my

situation" and allowed him to visit his son at the end of December.

"My son said the food is sometimes good and sometimes not. Sometimes they get diarrhea. The guards don't allow the detainees to receive clothes from visitors." During his second visit, Ismael wore a track suit under his

tunic and successfully smuggled it to Khadhan.

At the end of the interview, Ismael let go of his cane and extended his arms towards me with his palms facing upwards. "I just want my son back," he said, eyes staring lifelessly in an open, pleading face. "Can you help to

get my son released?"

Several days later my family called. My father's voice was tentative, nervous. "How are you, James? Are you okay?" I told him that I was fine, feeling much better after spending the day in bed with a fever two days before. "Oh--are you sure you're okay?" Yes, I'm really fine. "What kind of food do you have to eat?" I told him. "Well, make sure you get enough to eat." Okay. "You be careful now," he said.

When the call was done, I closed my eyes and saw my father, his arms reaching helplessly across an ocean and pleading for the return of his son. I saw Ismael and Patrick, searching blindly for their sons, united--if in no other way--by their vulnerability. First grief, and then strength poured out of my heart into my arms. I had work to do.

Here's another piece written by Tom Fox in October:

11 October 2005

IRAQ REFLECTION: They're afraid

by Tom Fox

My teammate, Sheila Provencher, and I had traversed the myriad of checkpoints, searches, questions about whom we were seeing and walkie-talkie exchanges. We were finally in a meeting with the Director of Public Affairs of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, inside the fortress complex of the "Green Zone."

At the conclusion of our meeting, Sheila brought up a concern from our neighbors. For several months now, Iraqi Army forces and U.S. trainers have been conducting street patrol and house search trainings in our neighborhood. Sheila noted that the military activity in a neighborhood

that is mostly quite peaceful upsets our neighbors. They have told Sheila that the presence of the troops makes them fearful. I asked if it would be possible for the Iraqi soldiers to hand out some kind of notice explaining

what they were doing in the neighborhood to allay some of their concerns.

The director said, "The troops are afraid of the people." In other words, the troops assume everyone is a potential threat to their safety. The citizens are afraid of the soldiers and the soldiers are afraid of the citizens. Perhaps CPT would say that eliminating troops from the equation would eliminate the fear. I can visualize a world without armies, but I can't visualize a world without some form of police force, even if the officers just made out accident reports for car wrecks or help parents find

a child that wandered off.

But as we in the United States have seen all too recently in New Orleans if trust does not exist between the police and the citizens, then the presence of a police force that acts oppressively toward the citizenry will lead to

an increase in violence, not a decline.

What is the connection between our neighbors in Baghdad and the thousands of marginalized citizens of New Orleans? Trust comes from communication. Fear comes from assuming the worst about a person or a group of people and

refusing to communicate with them. Trust may be the scarcest thing in Iraq right now--more scarce than even electricity or jobs. Building trust can only come when the citizens feel that governmental institutions like the

police are there to serve them, not to oppress them. I believe that there is an inverse relationship between the level of trust and the need for a police force. Perhaps the road to peace starts with building a foundation

of trust and then developing creative, nonviolent ways of resolving conflict.

Iraq is becoming so factionalized and fearful that it might be too late to create such a foundation of trust. I pray that is not true. I pray that we in CPT can in a small way do some construction on this foundation of trust

so that a road to peace can be built upon it.


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...with another grandson, I'm going to press for any combination of all the following names for him: Tom Norman James Harmeet.

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