[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 30 June, 2005, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Ty Hensley interview

The following is an edited transcript of Panorama's interview with Ty Hensley, whose brother Jack was taken hostage with Ken Bigley and Eugene Armstrong.

Perhaps I could start by asking you about your relationship with Jack, how long you've known him, how close you were, and also what kind of a man he was.

Well my earliest memory of Jack was about when I was 5 years old and at that point he was just starting college, so he was a good bit older, and he actually loved me and trusted me enough to take me to college with him on some of his classes, he'd approved it with the professor beforehand. I remember Jack when I was started first grade and he was the one that picked me up from school about half the time and took me and my friends to go and get a hotdog. I remember Jack not long after he was my T ball coach, my baseball coach, he was the one that when I came home after a bad day at school I said teach me how to fight, and he was the one that always that I'd call later on in life if I came into a tough situation whether it be in college or afterwards and needed to be able to confide in someone and find out what's the best thing to do.

And I understand that here in Atlanta you were very close to him and to his wife and that he became very close to you when you decided to get married.

Yes Jane, I lived with him for a few months after college, he helped me get on my feet and get my first job and then once I started working he brought me into his family and his society and his friends and his softball team at his work and I'd get to know all his friends that way. Even when I was married he was my best man and he was so shocked and almost teary eyed when I asked him to be my best man. And I told him: "Who else would there be?" and but he was so happy, and through that... I mean I've kind modelled raising my children after the way he's raised his daughter Sarah. Never in our family had a¿ has the man been so close to their children and been a very act part in their upbringing. Usually the man's out working and staying business but... you know....

Now what was his working background, what was his skill and why did he decide to go to Iraq?

Jack's background, he graduated college, had a degree in mathematics and that was before computer science was the recognised degree. He went into the field of computers, spent many years with a computer company called YM Computers which when it went bankrupt maybe 15 years ago Jack was kind of left with a skill set that wasn't valid in the market and at that point he was almost 40 years old and it was hard to learn a new trade. So he spent many years.... we have actually owned a business together and it didn't do well so he started working several part-time jobs to feed his family, substitute teacher, working in a convenience store and also delivering the mail, all part-time jobs with no benefits and not the kind of money that he was used to making for his family. He took.... he considered, going to Iraq a little over a year ago, just a few months before my wedding he mentioned to me he was looking going to Iraq and last February 28 was when he started his one year contract in Iraq.

Was he aware of the risks, the dangers? I mean it seems crazy an American, a civilian going to a war zone.

Well Jane, at the time however, when Jack was going, the military was extraordinarily strong, the insurgence were not grouped or formed yet, there had been no hostage taking, no beheading or anything like that. The Nicholas Berg case had not happened yet. So when Jack signed up to go, it looked reasonably safe and he was going to be working in safe zones with the Iraqi war crews, he wasn't going to be working with the military installation or any hostile environment we thought, so at the time it didn't appear quite as hostile as it does now.

Was he in effect cashing in on the war because a lot of westerners went there to make money and some criticised them for that?

You know I like the question. The cashing in as far as my brother, I guess... you know... it was extraordinary... Some would say well westerners going there in a war zone to make money, they were cashing in on the situation and that's what he was doing.

He went there for employment. Perhaps the job opportunity was better there. I learned what he was making and it was not a significant amount, I'm sure many people had a dollar amount that they would take to put their life in jeopardy, but it is the independent contractor, the civilian, that is cleaning up the mess and going to rebuild the country.

We've done all we can do, I believe, with M62s and grenades but we've got to go in and rebuild. So these people are providing a very valid service and almost humanitarian, getting that country back on its feet, it can't be done with the military at this point.

So he went to Iraq, he started work. In what conditions was he living and how was he living, and tell us about the two men that he was with.

Well the two men he was with, Jack Armstrong and Ken Bigley, he became very good friends with them, and they had probably been together for 3 or 4 months before they were taken hostage. They had all worked for the same company. They spent usually 3 day weekends in a house in a private location, the Mansour district in Baghdad. But during the week they would travel sometimes up to six hours, sometimes two hours, to a nearby area where they would do their work.

And their services, although deemed engineers, taking the case of my brother, he was more of a project co-ordinator, he helped make sure that the proper materials showed up on time to wherever it is that they were rebuilding. And what they were doing, they were working on the power grid, they were working on water systems, they were also building housing for the Iraqi people, the workers that is, and also they rebuilt the museum while they were there.

How close was the relationship? Did Jack email.... contact you, did he talk about the other two, did he talk about their life there and how they were as a group?

I believe he did a little bit more with Patti, for example, Jack was able to come back, part of negotiating his contract, because he wanted to return home for a week on his daughter's birthday and surprise her and Jean. And when Jack came back to surprise her, he actually had presents from Jack Armstrong and Ken Bigley to give to his daughter Sarah, although she had not met them, they'd also sent letters and things like that. I don't know that Patti had ever talked to them on the phone but certainly she knew a good bit about them.

The phrase "Three Musketeers" I think was used. Was that you that heard Jack talk?

Probably, they know... they coined the "one for all and all for one" and they felt to get out of there they were going to come out together on this¿ or unfortunately go down together. But they did understand some of the risks and they knew that each others lives depended on the other one to keep watch and keep alert.

Now the summer progressed, he went back after that June visit here, and things of course got worse and more difficult. What happened to them and what difficulties did they face at that point?

I believe the risk had started to elevate even before Jack got back in June, I believe the Nicholas Berg situation had already taken place. Patti really begged Jack not to go back. She said... you know... "We can work things out, we've kind of gotten saved up, we're getting caught up on our bills, we'll figure this out." Jack still wanted to go back, again the three musketeers. Jack felt that he needed to be with his other buddies and they were going to take care of each other.

The situations there had been either right before or right after he went back, there had been a few other hostile situations, or I should say near misses where that he was in a checkpoint that possibly was being held by insurgents but they decided to pass on my brother on that one time. They started having problems keeping the guards, they were supposed to have a guard posted in their home in the Mansour District in Baghdad.

That guard suddenly stopped showing up, and even one of the guards came to them said look, I've been threatened with my life and my family's life if I continue to work here, I'm just... I'm taking a chance by even telling you this, but I want you to know that. And the reason is my brother is a very hospitable person, and he made great friends over there and the Iraqi people love him, and they didn't want to see harm to him either.

So the situation was more and more fraught, the summer went on, and we came to September. Now how did you hear about what had happened to him?

I have always been a big watcher of the news, and for some reason over that couple of days, right preceding, I wasn't paying as much attention, and I received an email from Patti, Jack's wife, late in the afternoon on a Thursday. The email said something like this: "Urgent, Patti, call me" and it had her cell phone number.

When I opened the email it said: "Jack's been taken hostage" and I had briefly heard of a hostage situation, but I didn't hear the demographics, that is two Americans and one Brit because that... that pinpoints us immediately, that it was my brother and his friends. Patti had heard the same news, two Americans one Brit, on the news. She immediately started making phone calls. Didn't get any answers at first, just calling Jack's employment, the Gulf Services. Then finally it was confirmed later, yes, it is our Jack, and she'd had a complete confirmation by the time I talked to her.

And what was your reaction at that point?

My heart was broken because I knew the group pretty quickly who claimed responsibility and that's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and I know¿ I know what he does, and I just assumed from the beginning I was never going to see my brother again and that he was going to be killed.

And how did you know of him? Obviously you are a person, that, as you say, is interested in the news, but were there other cases? How did you sort of put that name together with your worst fears?

Oh I followed him and I knew about his radical organisation that he had and so I was very aware that he was one of the big threats out there, and I know how he works, I know he's got plenty of funding so he does not need money, he is not going to trade my brother's life for money, he just wants to¿ you know... get on the news.

So the news came out and then of course shortly followed by a video. Now did you see that video? What did you react when you saw it?

Yes, Jane, I did see the video, and that is the video of his making a plea for his life and with just a... some sort of just I guess show and tell of look what I have, I've got some hostages. I saw that, you know, I noticed how my brother was holding his head, I noticed different things and elements of the video and it hurt, you know... to hear my brother's voice. It hurt knowing that he's under someone else's control, that he's done nothing wrong and he's under someone else's control. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will be the one to determine whether he lives or dies, not anything else, and it is heartbreaking, it really is.

Do you think such videos should be shown on the media?

No I don't, and I believe that UK can be commended for reducing that type of exposure. It does do nothing other than play to what the terrorists want, and that is just to sensationalise a killing and try to rally... you know... rally whatever support they can in their own home turf, but absolutely I don't believe it needs to be shown.

To me it's a little bit of invasion of privacy, that's my brother. I'd like to keep it private, that's his life, everybody... the whole world is going to watch him die. I don't care for that. Just because the terrorists want to release that to the world doesn't mean that we have to take it and help telegraph their message anymore.

Of course some families would say at least it helped them to know that it was their relative, it was the person that they¿ you know... they had certainty then that it was their relative that was taken. Do you understand that at all?

Well I believe that can be done internally, and not be watching on NBC or anything like that, but yeah, I'm sure that plenty of authorities could show me the video or... you know... and that's fine at that point.

What was the reaction from the American government at this point and were you in touch with them?

Yes ma'am. What I wanted to know, or let my government know was that this is something that I don't want swept under the rug, you know... this is during a political... an election year. I don't want them to have the mentality let's just make this go away and get this election done.

I will be holding my government accountable as to what they did and how well they respond, and I believe that they did do, they had a very valid response, a very valid investigation, a continuing investigation, I don't feel that they're just trying to do something for Ty Hensley, I do believe they realise the importance of stopping this for other lives and stopping it, you know... so this does not happen¿ there's not another Hensley family or Bigley family or Armstrong family suffering out there.

The American government's reaction was to express sympathy but to make it clear there would be no negotiation. Do you agree with that?

Absolutely. No matter how bad it hurts to the bone, but I do not... even if it was in my hands, because I know if I negotiated with that, then there will be another Hensley, another Bigley, another Armstrong family, and this will continue going on and on. This particular case, Jane, there was never anything to negotiate.

The demands that were made were nothing that could be satisfied. It was not a demand for money, there was never open communication. The terrorists never tried to communicate. All they did was show videos and show videos of them killing people. In this case there was nothing that could be done. They wanted to kill these people and sensationalise it. That's what they did.

So in that context there could be no response from government, and yet the government of both America and of Britain came under enormous pressure.

They did. I believe the British government came under much more pressure than the American Government. You know... everyone wants my brother and Mr Armstrong, Mr Bigley to return and in this situation it was absolutely nothing to be done, all Zarqawi wanted to do was to get attention and kill these people, and kill my T ball coach is what he did.

Now there then ensued a period of time, it was quite short, before the horrible events unfolded, and your family had to live through this, through obviously the death of the first American and then the second. I mean... I know it's really very hard to talk about it, but how on earth do you cope, how do you live through that, and you¿ especially you, knowing as you did, that the worst was likely to happen?

Probably I had come to terms with it immediately. Like I said, I had... actually had spoken my brother in past tense from the beginning before he was actually killed, just because I assumed maybe they'd already killed him, and would just show the videos later when they wanted to. You know the words: "There is a site that is gone up, it's when you think really it hurts¿ it hurts. You asked the question, it was a real good point.

No, I think it was just the difficulty of living through that, as it turned out, less than 48 hours because obviously the way that these terrorists put the pressure on, there was... the killing of one person and then another, and obviously you¿ as you say, you had realise what we happen because you almost felt your brother was¿ or you talked about him in the past tense but how did you and the family live through those revelations as they unfolded?

Well the sickening words of: "There's a site that has gone up" those are the words you hear, and I think we heard it from Nicholas Berg's case that that's usually they're going to upload the video and in the case of Mr Armstrong, they said they killed... I believe it was either one of the Jacks or one of the Americans, was the news that was first released before the video came up, and it hurt.

I just for some reason had a hunch my brother wasn't the first one, so I got through that one okay, but the second one, which was my brother Jack, my T ball coach, we were just sitting around and just taking our last few minutes, I was wondering if this was the second he was being killed or not.

And it was sickening. It does nothing more than desecrate my family in the manner they were killed. The world has already pretty much forgotten about it, the passion is no longer there, the hurt is gone from the world, but this is something that'll carry and resonate in my family for generations. I mean Jack's daughter, you know... this is how her daddy was killed, and for no reason.

The Bigley family too of course.


Now again what could the government do? Did they help you? Did they try to provide some counselling or to talk to you, or the state department or whoever those government officials would be?

Pretty much they stayed in contact, and to me I felt that Paddy, Jack's wife, should be the centre person that's taken care of and the gatekeeper on the information. So I quit. I just told them keep up with her and keep her informed and then I'll learn through her, and they have been. There's still ongoing investigations so we're learning things gradually, but they're still trying to understand how¿ how my brother was found and all these different things that actually come into play.

I just wondered if you then... the video was followed up with the discovery of the bodies, it seems almost as if Zarqawi was saying... you know... I have the power to kill but then also to reveal the evidence of that, to make the bodies available, because it seems strange that... you know... Ken Bigley's body was never found but the bodies of your brother and Mr Armstrong were.

Right. I have not thought of that. I just¿ but you're right, the bodies were pretty much delivered back to everyone, they were brought back somewhere near the Mansour district I believe and dropped off. You know all I can say is, as bad as it is, I'm at least thankful we have my brother's body. I don't know what it would be like to not have it, and yes, I guess I've not thought of that.

Now just to go back to the period when they were taken, was there any attempt by the military or the authorities there to try and find them? Obviously it's like a honeycomb of different buildings and houses and streets, but was there an attempt to try and find them and what happened as far as you know?

Well in this case right after the abduction of my brother and his comrades and buddies, it was determined very quickly after they were taken and it was known very quickly so perhaps there was a better trail than if suddenly my brother didn't show up for work a day later. He was immediately... it was known when he was taken. It was leaked by the US military. I had known about it a little bit and they leaked it probably about five months ago that they had a number of good leads and they had tried and had been on the trail of the terrorists and had made a couple of rescue attempts but which... all which came up with nothing.

The didn't find the men, they'd been moved.

Yes, they didn't find anything.

Because of course these hostage groups often move them on. They often even sell them from one to the other.

Right. Do you have any evidence that perhaps your brother was taken by one group and sold on to Zarqawi?

I believe he was. I believe he was.

You think that that's very likely?

(nods affirmatively)

Now just to go back the media again, you've explained your reasons on the videos that... do you think that somehow this whole crisis of hostage taking, and your brother's case came if you like at the wave of the majority of cases, they suddenly, starting with Berg, and then there were a great deal of taking of western hostages.

Do you think wave of hostage taking was fed in a way by the way the media used these videos and the way the media was prepared to put out the statements of the hostage takers? Has the media, in a way, been complicit with this hostage taking?

I believe at first that we didn't know how to handle it, and it was new. And I believe the media had certainly good intentions on this type of situation, I always say this, I was treated very well by the media. There wasn't anything they could do. They put me on specifically at my request to... whatever interview, whatever plea that I make on TV there were two tapes that was supposed to be generated for the Al-Arabia and Al-Jazeera networks.

So my only purpose for going on was to make a plea that I was instructed would help increase my brother's chances of being released or... you know... his life being spared. I believe at first the media didn't know, I believe now that taking this and loud... the sensationalising will allow the terrorists to do that, showing the videos... live videos of pleas being made, and even Nicholas Berg's case, I believe they showed some of the video of the beheading even. They perhaps blurred it a little bit, but I believe now that we've learned that's going to do more harm than good.

So do you think the media should be on a blackout effectively, certainly on the pictures of these hostage taking situations?

I believe we're going to have to do that, I believe that that may... it's worth a chance... it's worth a shot. I mean perhaps these people were going to be killed anyway, but just try and see if that does help reduce some of the hostage taking.

Now what now for the families? I mean obviously it's a painful time, it's 9 months now, getting on for nine to ten months. Has the hurt lessened at all? How is wife, his daughter, how are you now?

Well when you're in my shoes I've see my parents die at a young age for me and I've seen a lot of awful things already in my life. I will say that the loss of my brother feels to me probably not much different from any other loss. He could have been killed going to the community store to get a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread.

But I feel empty because I just can't talk to him and he was such a very generous and loving person for me and he was... you know... the person I went to, to confide in anything, so I have that emptiness in me and the... as far as for Paddy and Sarah, it's too much for a 13 year old daughter to comprehend just the loss of that, let alone how it happened.

I believe that her life is... we all know her life has been changed, that she's going to have to struggle for the rest of her life over something like this, not only how it happened but the fact that everybody knows how it happened and what happened. It's just something that she's going to have in her face and she's not going to be able to block it off. For Paddy her mother, it's a situation where you have a young daughter, 13 years old, the whole world just... you know... you can feel it on your shoulders, Paddy doesn't know how to handle, no one knows how to handle something like this. I'm sorry, I...

Ty, has it changed your view of the war in Iraq? What is your view of that war now?

Well we're there, there's a war going on. There's... you know... innocent people have been dying, not just my brother was not the first innocent person to die over there. All we can do is learn from it and in the future realise that this is what happens when you go to war, it's not about the bad guys, it's about the innocent guys that... people that are being killed.

The verdict is not out whether it will be a success or what a success will even be, you know... I don't even know how to measure that at this point. Maybe it wont be as bad as it was. I don't know what we're going to see. I don't know that the country is not going to just slip right back in the same evil tyranny that was taking place before, but this is part of the cost of going to war.

I try not to use hindsight when I look at this. I just try to look at well we're there, we've got to make the decisions from this day forward, and if we shouldn't be there, then this... let's look at it from this day forward, let's worry about the past later, but let's make the corrections if we should not be there from this day forward.

Is it your fear that hostage taking is such an effective weapon for the insurgents, for the terrorists that it will continue and it will continue to claim the lives of many innocent people both Iraqis and westerners.

I believe it will. I believe it will. When you're a terrorist that is probably the most biggest bang for the buck is taking hostages and parading them around, whether you want money or to make a political statement. They've learned that is how they get attention, or how they've been able to get attention.

Ty, thank you.


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific