Monday, June 27, 2005

Australian hostage speaks 

"I could heard this commotion outside, a violent noise, yelling and screaming ... Iraqis ... Then the door is unlocked and someone races over to me and whips off my blindfold and throws a blanket over me."

The noise and gunfire raged on, until Mr Wood's blanket was removed and his rescuer revealed himself. "I'm Iraqi," he told Mr Wood. "Well, I'm an Australian," he said back.
So the Australian-American hostage Douglas Wood described his rescue by the Iraqi security forces, in last night's first full-length media interview with Australia's Channel 10.
[Wood] described how he looked at the camera and tried to cry, repeating the words of the insurgent leader. In front of him were his two assistants Faris and Ardel, blindfolded, bound and gagged, forced to their knees with guns at their heads.

"I think my strongest emotion was that of a traitor, even daring to say to the President and the Prime Minister that you should take the troops out," he said. "Emotionally at the time I had trouble saying to President Bush and Prime Minister Howard that you've to get the troops out.

"I also physically had a problem that I had to cry because I'm a male chauvinist, and we don't do that."
The insurgents spent their time reading to Wood the latest Harry Potter book. Ooops, wrong story.
Mr Wood revealed last night that he had witnessed several executions while held in two houses. One Iraqi was killed at his feet.…..

When two other Iraqi hostages were executed, his blindfold prevented him from witnessing their deaths.

The first of the hostages was karate-chopped at night, in the same room in which he was being held.

"He collapsed to the ground -- his head was maybe two inches from my foot -- and bang, bang, bang.

"Even a silenced gun is very consciously a gunshot in an enclosed space," he said.

The next night, another prisoner was executed after the killers -- from the Shura Council of the Mujahidin of Iraq -- turned up the TV to muffle the shots.

"They turned up the volume . . . and then bang, and a minute later another bang," he said.

"And a few minutes later this water (was) being washed in the alley outside the door in front of my foot, which got wet and they broomed it up.

"I'm assuming that the last dead man had blood or urine or something that had dropped, and they were mopping it up."
Meanwhile, Wood's fellow hostage is exhibiting some very un-Scandinavian non-pacifist tendencies:
Swede Ulf Hjertstrom, who was held for several weeks with Mr Wood in Baghdad, was released by his kidnappers on May 30...

"I have now put some people to work to find these bastards," he told the Ten Network today.

"I invested about $50,000 so far and we will get them one by one."
It's a sentiment shared by the Australian. Needless to say, our left has not been very impressed by Wood. In response, let me quote today's editorial from our biggest national daily "The Australian":
If Douglas Wood had emerged from captivity and blamed John Howard, Tony Blair and George W. Bush for his troubles, he would have become an instant hero in some circles. By now he would be have been offered a Chair in Middle Eastern Studies at one of our major universities, and ABC Radio National would have been renamed Radio Doug in his honour. Instead, Mr Wood had the temerity to disparage his captors, praise his liberators and declare our Iraq mission worthwhile. His name has been mud ever since.

According to Fairfax columnist and former Media Watch host Richard Ackland, Mr Wood has sunk to being "the new pin-up boy of the US-Australian alliance". His description of his abductors as "arseholes" was inexcusable and contrasted with his brothers, who "resisted every temptation to be critical of their brother's captors". Odd indeed, to be "critical" of those who have kidnapped you and, as we learned last night, executed your companions. For Ackland's colleague Peter Fitzsimons, the end of the Wood honeymoon began when he declared "God bless America" upon his rescue. Clearly, it would have been better if a freed Mr Wood had kept to the script written for him by his kidnappers. Flogging his story exhausted "what remains of our goodwill towards him" and showed Mr Wood is "an on-the-maker".

But the Douglas Wood we saw on the Ten Network last night was anything but: he was an ordinary, decent Australian with remarkable resilience in dreadful circumstances. Since Mr Wood was deprived of his livelihood by his abductors, and has done nothing wrong, it is hard to see why his decision to sell his story arouses such ire. After all, if there were no interest in that story, he would not receive $400,000 for it. That, coincidentally, is about how much taxpayers were forced to kick in to a fawning and unwatched SBS documentary about Australian Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks. Instructively, Mr Wood's support for the US alliance disqualified him from the sympathy of some commentators, while Mr Hicks's avowed anti-Semitism, along with the fact he trained with al-Qa'ida, flowed off them like water off a duck. Ackland hints darkly that a man like Mr Wood must have had nefarious reasons for being in Iraq. His earlier judgement on Mr Hicks was that he is a "woebegone idealist". Sorry?

Placed in context, the vilification of Mr Wood is the latest in a series of bad calls made on the Left since September 11, 2001. While the leaders of the social-democratic parties in Australia, Britain and the US made the principled decision following 9/11 - to support democracy and civilised values against religious fascism - for many on the Left the idea the US could be the victim rather than the perpetrator of evil was a head-spin. At every step along the road since then, their strategy has been to appease the fascists and castigate the US and its allies. In this upside-down world picture, nobody is too discredited to be fashioned into a hero and nobody too blameless to be set up as a villain.
Don't you wish you could read stuff like that in "The New York Times" from time to time?


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