LONDON (Reuters) - A year after his release from almost four months of captivity when he was chained to fellow hostages, deprived of daylight and denied contact with the outside world, Norman Kember wants to defend his captors.
The British peace activist, seized in Baghdad with two Canadians and an American in November 2005 and held hostage for 118 days, says he will plead for the lives of the men accused of holding him and killing his American friend Tom Fox even though he fears they could kidnap or murder again.
“It’s certainly part of Christianity and it’s part of other religions, that forgiveness and an attempt to restore people who have done you wrong is the most positive outcome of something like this,” Kember said in a telephone interview.
Kember, 75, speaks now from the safety of his home in London. He says he has recovered well from his hostage ordeal, but often thinks of his friend Fox, who was taken away from his fellow hostages in February 2006, tortured and shot.
Kember, whose account of his kidnap “Hostage in Iraq” is due out this week, says he has been spared nightmares or flashbacks and draws support from regular contact with Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden, who were held with him.
The three are due to talk next week to American prosecutors in Iraq who are pursuing a case against four men arrested late last year on suspicion of holding the four Western hostages.
Kember said he thinks one or two of the four alleged captors “would probably go on to commit similar crimes” if they were released now, but still insisted the death penalty or a long prison sentence would achieve nothing.
He said he would like to give evidence at any future trial, “but only if that is the best way to help them”.
”My preference is to give evidence and plead for clemency,“ he said. ”I wouldn’t like them to be released into the current mayhem (in Iraq) because I think they would add to it.
“But it won’t help us if these men are executed... Iraq needs forgiveness and understanding between the various parties, that’s what they really need -- and any small act of forgiveness that we can do would certainly help.”
Kember said he also fears for the men’s physical well-being in prison. “It’s quite likely these men may have been tortured or subject to unnatural physical stress in prison,” he said. “We were kept under pretty miserable conditions, but I don’t think it would help us to know they are being similarly held.”
Kember, a committed Christian who has worked for the peace movement since his student days, said he was not surprised by a hostile reaction to what some British military officials said was his lack of gratitude to the special forces troops who freed him, and to his unflinching refusal to condemn his captors.
“It didn’t surprise me,” he says. “If you do something unusual, then some people are going to criticise you, and some of that criticism may be justified in some people’s eyes.”
And he still insists that his own sufferings pale into insignificance beside those of Iraqi civilians.
“What happened to me is a minor problem compared with the daily terror and anguish of the ordinary Iraqi people,” he said. It compares “only if you multiply it a million times”.