Jill Carroll, the Christian Science Monitor reporter who was kidnapped by insurgents in Iraq last January and was released 82 days later, has begun to tell the story of the long days she spent in captivity following her kidnapping. In a series called Hostage: The Jill Carroll Story, Jill provides a first-person account of her kidnapping, the murder of her interpreter, and her initial days in captivity. This is a fascinating look at the thoughts and feelings of a victim in a kidnapping plot, and at the mindset and operational methods of her captors.
Jill describes the odd events on the day of her abduction, where a meeting with Sunni politician Adnan Dulaimi was delayed, then canceled — an event far too suspicious to be coincidence (Dulaimi’s party was instrumental in her release, and she was dropped off at his office after her time as a hostage ended). The murder of her professional partner weighed heavily on Jill’s conscience. Her treatment during capture juxtaposed with his brutal murder was perplexing. Jill was allowed to channel surf, played with the children of the family at the safe house, and was asked what kind of food she preferred.
While embedded in Iraq, I met Jill at Battle Position Hue City, one of three Coalition outposts in the city of Husaybah, which sits directly on the Syrian border. Jill had been in Husaybah for some time, and I knew of her from her writings on Iraq. She was one of the few embeds who in my opinion did a respectable job at covering the war in Anbar province. I had sourced some of her reports in my analysis of the “Anbar Campaign.” We met on November 30, during a transfer of command ceremony. The ceremony was attended by General Casey and then-Defense Minster Dulaimi.
I began to introduce myself to Jill, but she already knew who I was. She said her editor told her to keep an eye out for me. Not too many bloggers willing to cover the war pass through Anbar province, and the community of journalists in Iraq is small to begin with. We discussed the situation in Iraq and other issues. I was interested in Jill’s experiences as an independent journalist. Jill was excited about her planned vacation in the southwestern Pacific.
I asked about Jill’s future plans in Iraq, and if she was going to remain embedded with the U.S. military.
Jill explained she was going to return to Baghdad and operate outside of the U.S. military’s protection. She said she spoke fluent Arabic and took precautions to blend in with the local population, such as wearing the local dress and remaining in the company of an Iraqi stringer.
Jill is a quadruple threat: young, pretty, a journalist, and American. I warned Jill about that, and that disembedding was very dangerous. Journalists have been the intentional target of the insurgency in the past, and the brutal case of Margaret Hassan came to mind (Jill mentions Hassan’s death in her account of her own capture). A captured Western journalist was sure to receive an inordinate amount of airtime, particularly one with Jill’s “credentials.”
My warning was put aside by Jill; she felt she needed to cover the war from all angles, and needed to leave the protection of the military to tell the Iraqis’ side of the story. I didn’t press the issue, as my advice was falling on deaf ears. Jill knew the risks, and felt she could overcome them.
After her capture in January, I felt a strong sense of remorse for not pressing the issue harder with Jill. But I was merely an acquaintance, a novice with but a week in country, while Jill was an experienced reporter with years under her belt in Iraq. No amount of pleading would have changed her mind.
After her capture and subsequent release three months later, the blogosphere was ripe with accusations and assaults on Jill’s character. She was described as an insurgent, terrorist sympathizer, “anti-war” and anti-American. She was savaged for the video taken at Dulaimi’s headquarters on the day of her release, because she wore the hijab and said those who imprisoned her treated her kindly. Those who wrongly criticized Jill fail to realize that she was still in fear for her safety when she made the tape.
During my short time with Jill, nothing she said or did gave the slightest impression that she deserved the slanders attributed to her. Jill was honest, brave, and respected by the Marines who met her. I had the honor of joining the Marines of the 4th Mobile Assault Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and the Iraqi Army on a raid on a small weapons cache on the Euphrates River. Jill joined us. She dismounted and walked the site with us, viewed the weapons cache (which can be dangerous, as the rounds can be “hot” or rigged to detonate) and even returned from the raid with the Iraqi troops on the back of an unarmored Iraqi transport, something quite dangerous with the high roadside bomb threat in Western Iraq. I insisted on traveling in an armored vehicle.
Captain Patrick Kerr, a public-affairs officer from the 2nd Marine Division and a friend of mine, summed up his experiences with Jill Carroll in a letter of support during her capture:
I was a public affairs officer with the Marines in Iraq last year and had the privilege of working with Jill on several occasions. Her professionalism and objectivity were unparalleled within the media community. I saw her in Husaybah, on the Syrian border, in early December shortly before I returned to the States. Aside from being very personable and down-to-earth, what really struck me was Jill’s bravery. She seemed to fit right in with the Marines and Iraqi security forces. It is this attribute, I believe, that will see her through her current ordeal. My family and I will continue to keep Jill in our prayers. I am hopeful for her eventual release.
There is much to criticize of the media’s coverage of the war, and even individual reporters. Jill Carroll is not deserving of this criticism. Read the story of Jill’s capture and captivity, and decide for yourself.
— Bill Roggio is an independent civilian military blogger. He served in the Army from 1991 to 1995, and now writes for the Counterterrorism Blog, where a version of this piece first appeared.