Terry Waite is perhaps the most famous hostage of all. Originally working in the Middle East as an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Terry Waite went to Beirut in January 1987 to negotiate the release of several hostages being held there.
But he ended up a hostage himself and was held captive for 1,760 days before being released on 18 November 1991.
He has always been interested in the plight of hostages and has used his experience to set up Hostage UK to provide support for the families during this painful experience.
The following is an edited transcript of an interview he gave to Panorama as part of the making of the film "Hostage".
Can I take you back, oh, it must be a year now, when we obviously had the events in Fallujah and this seemed to be the catalyst for a rash of kidnappings, this time in Iraq. What were your thoughts when you watched those events unfolding, and how did you view them, particularly given your own experience, as both a negotiator and a hostage, yourself, in the Middle East?
Well, naturally, I was upset that this was happening, and immediately, of course, my thoughts went, not only to the hostage, but to their families who were suffering as a result of that. I wasn't surprised, and I wasn't surprised for the following reason: that I don't believe that you can resolve a complex problem of a country like Iraq by going to war as we did, because if you do, and you remove a dictator, who has held down disparate peoples by force, you will in fact release the forces that he's held down, and they will not only start to fight each other, but will also together - and if there's a substantial number of them - have great resentment of those invade their territory. That's very understandable. And one way for them to demonstrate their power, over against massive military might - and they have some military might, but nothing like the military might of the occupying forces - one way to demonstrate that power is to take hostages, because they know that hostages, that will have... by taking hostages, that will have an emotional pull back home, and may aid them towards their eventual goal of getting the occupying forces to withdraw from public pressure back in America and back in the UK.
So it's a strategic move, but, it goes beyond that in a sense. It starts off with primarily political intent - which the initial hostage-taking, in my estimation, was - and then as you see it, in another situation - say, Ireland - it doesn't take too long before it moves into a criminal area, and groups get in on the act, and take hostages primarily for ransom, for money, and then you get the whole business of trading hostages, you know, to... from one group to another, and money changes hands. So, I can understand the dynamics. I can understand the process. And I think it's consequential on the certain course of action, as I say.
Do you think that the Prime Minister, that the British Government, that the other governments, should have understood that this would have been an inevitable consequence of going to war in a country like Iraq?
Well I think, myself, that the politicians that were controlling this policy betrayed an appalling ignorance of the, the mind of the people in that region. Now I say the politicians who were controlling these events, because anybody who had experience of that region, of the Middle East in general, and the Arab mind in particular - leading diplomats, people who'd served out there, soldiers who'd had long experience in that region - all said, "Do not go to war in this war," they said, "that will be disastrous." They forecast this, and they were ignored. I remember looking back on that time and saying, "What is the tearing hurry?" Well, of course, they had to answer that, and the tearing hurry was of course the 45 minute warning, which we know now to be an absolute nonsense, an absolute fabrication. So, as I say, anybody who knew that situation warned against it. But why, why, why the rush? Why, why, why the blindness, or seeming blindness by our politicians who are in control?
But of course, hostage-taking is a particularly unpleasant form of - in this case - warfare, because it targets civilians and it can't just be in justified in any way, can it? It is terrorism of a new type, and a very terrifying kind.
Absolutely. I would never, never seek to justify hostage-taking, and when I was a hostage myself and I would raise that point with my captors, and I said to them, for example, "Does it not say in Islam that you mustn't steal?" They said "Yes". I said, "Then how is it you steal people from their families? Myself, or others?" They said, "Well, we'll have to go and ask the chief about that." So they went away, and they came back a week later, and I said, "Well, what did the chief say?" They said, "We mustn't talk to you any more". But having said that, of course, it's a particularly desperate and miserable means of achieving an objective, but, and you quite rightly say civilians are taken and injured, and in some instances, killed, but so-called 'warfare' we engaged in, how many civilians also have been killed in Iraq?
How many hundreds of innocent people died, and are still dying as a result of that conflict. It adds up into... into thousands now, and the principle victims of warfare these days are women and children- and not only that, but it's the long-term consequences. Even if you're not actually physically injured or killed by warfare, the psychological trauma in the long-term is devastating, devastating. I'm still active with colleagues in Kosovo, where we have programs for women and children who have been traumatised by war. There are hundreds of them - and what is there for them? Nothing. The army go in, OK, you say we have a victory, we have some form of settlement, and we begin to see new buildings going up. What we don't see is the fact that there are young kids who are, for a lifetime, unless they get some help, totally traumatised by this experience. So it is a two-way affair.
Now, you talked a little bit about the consequence of going to war and the removal of a dictator. Tell me a little bit more about that, in the Iraqi context, because you obviously had a strong man there and in a way, I know you've explained it to me before, is creating a vacuum into which all these elements poured. How do you see the removal of Saddam and the conditions that that created for this hostage-taking phenomenon to become so prevalent?
Saddam Hussein, unquestionably was a dictator - how to put it in a very simple term? He was not a good man. He was someone who held disparate groups together by brute force, and by dreadful means, and was responsible, as we all know, for the deaths of many, many innocent people. He is not, in the first instance to say this, he is not the only dictator in the world. There are many people who are in positions of power, who are pretty reprehensible, and the first question you ask is, "What, if anything, do you do about those situations?" How would you choose, how do you determine which one you're going to deal with? Which sends you all back to the question, that if you're going to try and deal with this type of problem, you're going to have to have some international mechanism, agreed international mechanism, and you're going to have to agree together on a legal way of dealing with these problems. That's the first thing.
Well, we all know the arguments about that. We all know what we did, and what we didn't do. Having said that, the consequences of entering into a situation like that, and removing a dictator by force, mean that you will bring to the surface the dynamics that he has previously suppressed. They will emerge and the various groups who are vying for power will begin to actually enter into conflict one with another - and we've seen in recent months how exceptionally difficult it has been for them to get together to even begin to form some coalition interim government - exceptionally difficult task, which is still far from accomplished, and we're still miles away from having what we might call a lively, healthy, so-called democracy in that country - miles away from it. I think you see, what we have to recognise is that you cannot just plant a system of Western democracy on a country such as Iraq, or on anywhere else. You can't do it like that.
Democracy comes to fruition through a long period of interaction, of education of the population, and there may be many stages through which countries have to go before they reach that stage of blossoming democracy. We come in like that and say, "Right, you know, out with one, democracy tomorrow." Absolute total nonsense. I never even got to stop... to sit back and think for a moment to say, "What a silly way of behaving. What a foolish way of behaving." It just doesn't work, as we've seen.
How does the hostage-taking that we've seen in Iraq, differ, and in what ways is it similar to the experience you went through? Because it has become not only an industry, but a very cruel and unpleasant one. And it seems a very, very hard-hearted one. I mean, just tell us a little bit about the way that you view the spate of kidnappings in Iraq, and how it does differ to what you went through.
In my experience in... well, let me look back just on three different situations, very briefly. First of all, the time of the Iranian revolution when I had a responsibility for assisting some people who were taken to be freed from their revolutionary guards. Whilst I have always said, and still make it clear, I have no truck with hostage-taking, I do believe it's wrong, nevertheless, I have to say about the Iranians, the believe... behaved with reasonable compassion, reasonable compassion towards their captives. In Libya, well that was highly internal political situation, and that was resolved by trying to deal with the root causes in Libya, and unpick them, and enable people to come out there.
In Beirut, things were hardening up a bit. Whilst many of Western hostages came out with their lives, a number did die. Those who died, primarily were working from a military or an intelligence base. Those who came out tended to be civilians who had no direct military of intelligence contacts. Coming now, it's hardened considerably. I mean, we all, in this country, are dreadfully familiar with the terrible Bigley case, and we have all been appalled by the fact that these dreadful scenes of executions were video-taped. I mean a form of extreme pressure. And you say, well, "Why? Why, what has changed? Why do people harden?" And it is because... I'm trying to think on my feet here. There are probably a number of contributing factors. It could be the reaction to massive military force, and the fact that many innocent Iraqis were being killed. It could be increased determination to say, "Right, you punch us, and we'll punch you back doubly hard," on the emotional level. Could be a number of reasons. But it has, there is no doubt about it, with hostage-taking, has hardened, and I have said myself, I am not at all convinced now that the strategies that I followed a number of years ago in seeking face-to-face contact with hostage-takers, and being able to reason with them, I am not at all sure that they would have worked with some of the very extreme groups that we have seen operating in Iraq.
I mean, we cannot understand, can we, in the West why these people do it, in the way that they do it? The executions- we just can't comprehend the end-game that they're playing towards.
It's very difficult. Very difficult for us to appreciate that, and they would turn it round and say that can, you know, a child who was bombed in a house, or a mother who has lost her life, that too is a very hard way of trying to win democracy. So I mean, you turn it round. I'm not expressing, you know, sympathy for those brutal murders. I'm not expressing sympathy for that. I think that it is appalling, but I just try, every time I see that, I do in my own mind try and turn it round and say, "How would I perceive things from a family who has had their house destroyed, had their living destroyed, had their children maimed, and wounded by enemy fire, as they say, enemy bombing?" I just try and turn it round and say these are the absolute, horrible, bloody-sided conflict, and it's a war, it's a war, of course it is, and one side is using weapons of war, and the other side is using what weapons it has, and the weapons happen to be people.
Should you negotiate, do you think in the Iraqi context, it is possible to negotiate for governments to try to speak to these people and to find a way out? Is that the right way to approach it?
I would like to think that. I'm not in any way, I have to admit this, not in any way an expert on Iraq, I haven't been there. I can only speak broadly about the dynamics of these situations. But having said that, I think in the long term, what has to happen, is that the Americans and the British do have to leave. The problem is, of course, they've got themselves caught, and they can't leave prematurely without leaving one awful mess behind them. Well having said that, I think it will have to go back into the hands of the United Nations. I think the United Nations will have to be able to provide a so-called peace keeping force, primarily made up of Islamic people. That's the best, I would have thought option before us. And I would have thought that on that front, there may be a slight possibility of having some negotiating movement, an area of negotiation on that front, but the question is: how willing would the United States be to back out, and to move away? Because it's highly possible, is it not, that the United States went in there in the first place, for it's own economic strategic reasons, and is not necessarily going to give up that easily.
And when it comes to hostage-taking, do you think Government should negotiate to free their citizens?
Well, governments always do negotiate. They always say they don't, but they negotiate at a distance, by the intelligence groups that are associated with government, which government of course, can easily deny, are busy on the ground making all sorts of contacts and trying to work... find all sorts of ways of dealing with the situation. I mean, of course the Government will say on... to the general public, and of course directly, "Of course we're not going to negotiate," and I think it's probably right that they should say that, because I don't think you can be seen to - from an official Government standpoint - to be actually dealing directly with a terrorist.
What about the question of ransom, and particularly now in the Iraqi context? There is the suspicion that the Italian Government and the French Government may have paid ransoms to secure the release of their hostages. Is that the right way to go about it?
Yes, well, unquestionably, ransoms have been paid in the past. And I don't... I cannot provide you with chapter and verse in absolute detail, of course I can't. But I mean, very, very strong suggestions that going back, right across the years, various governments have at times given way, and paid ransom, and it secured, apparently, the release of some people. I personally stand opposed to the paying of ransom, because, when you get into that business, you are moving into the criminal area, and ransom paying actually does lead to further hostage-taking, and I think the prime example of that is Columbia, where hostage-taking has become big business, and where companies who had an executive taken have paid literally millions for the release of that man or that woman. I've said this, it's a very difficult thing actually, I mean I had a lot of dealings with families, and it's a very difficult thing to approach a family, to say to a family "If money is asked, I can't be a conduit for that." And I can only say it myself because before I was finally captured, I did actually leave a message that said, "If am captured, no ransom's to be paid," because I don't believe I should say that for other people unless I was prepared to stand by it myself.
Does it lead to more hostage-taking?
I think it leads to more hostage-taking. I really do. In most instances. It's a short-term solution. What you've got to do... hostage-taking is symptomatic. Hostage-taking is not a root issue in itself, and in just... When you are dealing with hostage-release, when you're dealing with hostage-taking, you're actually dealing with symptoms. What you've got to get to is the situation that leas to hostage-taking. What is the root of the issue? And that's where the politicians have a real job to do- and the diplomats have a real job to do, to get to that issue, and to begin to resolve that before it manifests itself in all the unpleasant symptoms hostage-taking which is why.
What about Hostage UK? Tell us a bit about the group. What you're trying to do, and why you set up, why the need for it, and what the aim will be?
Hostage UK is a little group that I, frankly, ought to have set up years ago. I didn't because I've, well so many other things to do. It's a little group of people - some of whom have been taken hostage themselves, some of whom, have had relatives who've been taken hostage, some of whom who are professionally engaged through the police force, family support units, or through trauma after care, and so on - who we are bringing together to give help, advice and support to hostage families in the first instance. Because when a family suffers as a result of a family member being taken hostage, they're thrown into a quandary. Who do they trust? How do they deal with the media? How do they relate to the authorities? What should they do? What stand should they take?
Now, we've an awful lot of experience - this little group - has an awful lot of experience in dealing with all of those questions, and then of course, there is also the other issue: in some instances in the past, families have been thrown into tremendous financial problems as a result of losing the breadwinner. That's something which, again, we might well have to address. So we are there, in this first instance, to be a support group - entirely independent, entirely impartial - to give advice from people, who've have themselves, direct experience. And anybody who's had anything to do with that, know there's nothing like sitting with somebody who's actually been through it - and unless you've been through it yourself, you might know it academically, but you don't necessarily know it in your... in your heart - and that's the difference. The second thing we want to try and do is, through very good contacts, and people who are with us from the aftercare and trauma field, to try and life the standards of aftercare and training for people who are involved in this field. So we should be holding another level a series of seminars in different parts of the UK initially - and probably beyond that - to help in that particular field.
What is it about hostage-taking that really strikes fear into ordinary people's hearts? Why is it when they see hostage-taking, it brings war home to them?
I think it's because people feel that when they see an ordinary person, such as you an I, suddenly brought into focus in this focus in this horrific way, they say, "That could be me, of that could be my neighbour." And I remember going to see that remarkably brave lady, Mrs Bigley, in Liverpool, in her terraced house in Liverpool - there with the family and there were the neighbour. When I left the house, you know, the neighbours came up to me and it was clear, you know, that this had radically effected them, because, yes, though it was someone just someone down the street - or although they didn't know Ken, some of them didn't know Ken - they knew the family, and it touched them in that deeply emotional way. As it touches people beyond that immediate circle. It is that powerful weapon that tugs at the heartstrings and that brings the reality of war home to people. You know, somehow seeing a bomb, or seeing a devastated area, we tend to forget - or not, doesn't register - that women and kids have been in those places, but it registers when you see a man on camera pleading for his life. Then it registers, and hostage-takers know that. They play on that.
And the videos are a whole new dimension in the Iraq context, aren't they, to hostage-taking?
Yes... they are.
And likely to continue.
They're a whole new dimension. They are an added sort of weapon to give it further punch. Although, I have to say, I recollect being videoed, there is trying, one looks back with horror in these things, but I remember being videoed and I was asked to relay the story of my life and I thought to myself, "Right, I'll give you the story of my life." And my interrogator was sitting behind me, and I went on, and on, and on, and on. Then I heard a most peculiar noise, and it was, "Snore." (laughs) My interrogator had fallen asleep! Shows you how boring I can be. But that's just one of the lighter moments, but of course, it's got much grimmer that that. The reason I laugh is also because even in the grimmest of times, somehow you've got to be able to keep some humanity, keep some perspective - I am talking now from the perspective of a captive - and keep some humour, even at the grimmest of times. But there is no doubt it's awful.
What about the videos then? What are they trying to achieve in the use of these videos which seems to be quite sophisticated.
They are trying to utilise the media by using these videos. They're trying to make an impact on the constituency back in America and back in the United Kingdom. They're trying to win political points and by doing that they are actually being very successful because they know that by portraying a poor innocent person captured in that way that they're going to tug at the heartstrings of people back at home and it's going hopefully to lead them further towards the achievement of their ultimate goal which is the withdrawal of occupying forces, so it is a strategic tactical weapon that's being used, and one has to say it is a very effective weapon because it has affected and does affect public opinion.
There are other videos of course which these hostage takers are released and you wonder why the purpose of those are, and that is of course the execution videos. I mean what is the purpose? Is it the spreading of terror? Is it showing their power? Why do they release these videos?
That is a difficult question and it's one that I'm not sure I could really understand fully to be honest with you. I think it is in part a demonstration to the public at large to say: "We are even more determined than you and we will actually show you what power we have over this one poor innocent person." I think that's part of it. I think also another part of it is that hostage groups not infrequently do attract into their midst individuals who are psychopathic by nature, who have little or no feeling for life, and it could be - I can't say definitely - but it could be that some of those people who have perpetrated those dreadful events and shown them on video belong to that grouping of people, are particularly psychopathic by nature with no conscience, no feeling, and just go¿. pschhhh like that. That could be that.
Of course our rumours have Al Zarqawi as the person that springs to mind in the Iraqi context of carrying out these videoed scenes. What are your views about him?
Well an extremely determined man, an extremely determined man, a man who is in his own way working very strategically to promote his religious and economic and cultural and ethnic goals, working, as he sees it, against enormous military might, enormous economic power, and therefore knowing full well that he can never match that military and economic power but he will match it by, one might say, gathering together what power he can, and showing.. you know.. a bit like David and Goliath, how he can run rings round those whom he perceives as the enemy. And the more that happens, the greater the polarisation grows, which leaves me to say.. you know.. let's go beyond that and get to the point this.. why does this happen?
Now I can't give you complete answers to that but those are the questions that we need to explore. Why is it that people like that are allowed to¿ or not allowed, let me put it another way, why is it that people like that do get into that position that lead them to behave in that particular way? In other worlds root causes. I'll give you one example of what I mean. I was in a refugee camp recently in Beirut, when I went back to Beirut. Third generation refugees. No possibility of return to the place from which their grandfathers came. Young people engaging in educational classes for which I have a responsibility, and when I sat down with them, I said: "What future do you have?" And a young man turned to me, he said: "Not much." He said¿ "We can't go back to our homeland, we can't get jobs in Beirut because the first jobs go to Lebanese, we're refugees, we can't travel. There's nothing for us."
Now when you get that degree of hopelessness and you've got that in loads of situations around the world, situations that are not really being tackled adequately by our political leaders, is it surprising you get resentment, you get people resenting the West, you get people full of anger. They congregate together and then you get a man who comes out and stands as a leader and say: "I will be your deliverer" you know.. "I will lead you out of this misery." Now he may be doing it for a variety of motives, I mean who knows motives? He may be have a variety of motives, but is it surprising? And while we have those situations around the world, I will guarantee you we shall have problems of hostage taking, we shall have problems of violence. Violence will always be with us, of course it will, it's somehow part of the human construct, human nature, but we can do much to deal with root causes and there's a lamentable failure, in my view, by our political leaders to deal with those root issues.
Because of course the pressures from the media are intense on the family of a hostage victim.
Yes, and this is often one of the reasons why some hostage families at a later stage are not necessarily willing to talk to the media. I remember in my own instance, when I was captured, of course it was very, very high profile story, and my wife was left at home with our children, four children. In those days there was no police support unit and there was contact with Lambeth Palace, there was contact with the Foreign Office, limited, but she was very much on her own and the press were actually camping on the doorstep, the phone was going incessantly, and that sort of experience said¿ it was rather hard. And I quite understand why, after that experience was over, my wife (laugh) said: "I'm having nothing more to do with the media." But.. you know.. as anybody whose had anything to do with the media knows, there's media, media and media. But sometimes hostage families do, quite understandably, feel they've had so much and they've been through so much, no just leave us alone, let's be quiet to grieve ourselves and to be quiet and away from it all.
We saw within a couple of days of the seizure of Ken Bigley and the two American engineers, the Americans were dead, they'd been executed. Do you think that this was a deliberate eking out and do you think that the hostage takers knew the value of the remaining Britain to them and kept him alive because they could make political capital out of that?
I think that is highly possible, that they played out the situation, the two Americans died first and then they kept the British hostage alive, they played it out because for political advantage, and when they then got to the point where they'd probably taken what they could from it strategically and bang, that was the end, on they go to something else. Yes, I think that's highly likely. I think that's highly likely the way things went.
And they understood that, they understood the value of that sole individual to them in their political quest.
Yes, you see there are two sets of like of hostage takers. There are those who are working to these strategic ends, highly political, highly savvy, understanding of pressure points and where to apply pressure, when to apply pressure, when to use the extreme measure of murdering a hostage. And then there were other gangs who will come in and take hostages, one might say the psychopaths who don't necessarily have the same sharpness of political motive but begin to deteriorate - if you could use the word deteriorate in this context - deteriorate into your criminal motive for ransom for money and so on, whose strategic aims are somewhat different.
Now the Foreign Office did advise the family to keep a low profile. Was that good advice do you think? Because in other examples, for example in France and in Italy, the hostage takers' families organised huge shows of public demonstration and support in the streets to keep the memory of those people fresh in people's mind. In other words in France and in Italy they chose to take their hostage case to the streets and to get public opinion on their side and to have massive demonstrations, whereas here in Britain we didn't really have those kind of demonstrations in favour of Ken Bigley. Do you think that that was a mistake looking back on it?
Generally speaking, because the Foreign Office have always tended to say to hostage families: "Keep quiet (laugh) don't say too much, you know.. just.. just leave it into our hands, we can deal with the situation." In this particular case it could be speculation on my part, I don't have inside knowledge, it's speculation on my part, it could be that one of the reasons for saying keep quiet in the Bigley case was because if there had been large demonstrations, massive demonstrations, in a sense that would be seen to be serving the aims of the hostage takers who wished Britain and the United States to be out of the country and out of it, and because we have, rightly or wrongly, politically committed ourselves to being in Iraq and to staying there, it's not in our political interest to have a demonstration from the general public which doesn't serve our political interest. And this is where¿ an interesting example of where the politics of the situation get intimately entwined and entangled with the humanitarian issues surrounding the fate of the hostage.
But of course in Italy where the government was committed to the war, there were huge public demonstrations in favour of the Italian hostage and she was later released, partly because her case had touched the hostages takers. They understood that the public were in favour of her stance on the war. It seemed to work in that case.
It did seem to work in that case, didn't it, and of course you could argue try and stop the Italians demonstrating (laugh) you know, I mean that is almost part of the Italian nature.. characteristic, I mean having lived in it for 7 years myself, I can understand that. And as you say, it did have that effect.
We then, shortly after your visit to.. or around the time when you visited Lil, what were you able to tell Mrs Bigley? What did you talk about, what could you say to a family in those circumstances?
Well I said many things, and my recollection is first of all not saying too much, but listening.. listening to her and listening to other members of the family. That was my first recollection of that. And I think secondly I did say this, I said you always, from the outside, when one of your family members has been taken hostage, you always imagine the absolute worst, and there is no doubt that it's difficult. But speaking from my experience, from the other side, of actually being a hostage, in a strange sort of way, you find that when you are in captivity you somehow draw on a strength, and on an inner resource that you didn't know you had, and most people are able to do that, and although they would feel afraid, and when you see people on the TV screen, I mean you see fear in their eyes, pleading for their lives, they're pleading for their lives because they've been told of course to plead for their lives. I mean that's a written script virtually. But I would say don't think it's absolutely totally completely desolate for that person. It is bad but he will have resources that he'll be drawing on and take some comfort in that fact. [pause]
In the case of the Bigley family we had these videos of course at the scene of Ken in a cage, in an orange jumpsuit, and that must have been very hard for the family to see those pictures and to know that he was pleading for his life.
I think the family here, the Bigley family, rallied round and Lil, the mother. They didn't convey a lot of that information to her, very sensibly. I¿. she didn't see those pictures, she didn't see some of the more hard things that were shown. It raises, doesn't it, the very interesting question as to how much of that ought to be shown on TV. I've often thought about that, or on the.. you know.. on the media generally, how much do you convey? I mean one part of me says you show it because that's the reality, and once you start to sensor, where do you stop? And on the other hand, you say by showing it, are you serving the interests of those who are holding captives, and promoting their political cause. Pretty difficult. On balance, I say to myself show it but I draw the line at showing executions. I don't think there's any need, any necessity to show that. But I would say on the whole we've got to have open reporting.
You might though argue don't show any of it because this is part of the game that the hostage takers play. They have the earlier videos shown and then the later ones, and there's a sort of build in the level of horror, and all of this is carefully calibrated and calculated by them to put pressure on governments and families back home.
You're absolutely right, but on the other hand, then, where does censorship stop? Do you show anything of the conflict at all in the country, you know, from the other side so to speak, from the warfare side, where do you stop? Where do you draw the line? Because this is a battle between people who have military might on the one hand and people who don't have necessarily great military might but have different weapons. Appalling, we're fighting, no question, but where do you draw the line with censorship and where do you say by showing A, B or C we are promoting political cause A, B or C. It's a real ethical dilemma for those who are obliged to cover the war. It also raises the other issue, doesn't it of course, about embedding journalists with forces, by embedding a journalist with a military force, by putting a journalist in a position where his or her reporting to a sense is controlled, how much is that serving the interests of the so-called occupying forces. You see it raises all these very, very difficult ethical questions which leads me to say on the whole.. you know.. be pretty careful about what you censor, but draw the line at the absolute brutality, the absolute execution.
Tony Blair came under enormous pressure, particularly around the time of the Labour Party conference. What did you think, seeing this strain that the Prime Minister was under and obviously the way that he took it all very personally? How did you view what he was going through and his own responsibility or otherwise for the situation?
Well I would be¿ I would be inhuman if I didn't have a degree of sympathy for anybody who was put under appalling pressure like that. I mean when you take a job, I assume when you take the job of Prime Minister you know you're going to have to face appalling pressures, and you know you're going to be in the firing line, and there are times when it is far from funny. I mean you've only got to look at Tony Blair's face to see how the whole responsibility of the last years has aged him, and you'd be a pretty hardhearted individual if you didn't have any sympathy for that. That's one side. The other side is this - why, why, why did the Prime Minister not listen more carefully to two million people marching through the streets of London, to senior advisers or senior people, perhaps they were no in the position of advisers but senior people with knowledge of the Middle East who warned him against premature involvement in Iraq, very senior people were making those comments at the time. It did seem to me as though.. I'm sorry to say it, and I mean no disrespect, that he was almost mesmerised by George Bush, almost mesmerised and taken into this come what may, and once he'd committed himself, he said right, off we go, no turning back, I'm not going to listen to anybody. Now the question I ask is who really was calling the shots at that point in No.10? I don't know the answer to that. Who was calling the shots and why was he so absolutely determined to follow Bush at all costs? Those are questions which we may know the answer to one day, we may not know the answer to one day but they puzzle me.
I think when we discussed it before, I asked you could Blair have done anything about the Bigley situation and you said we couldn't have done. It was his decision to go to war and if you make the mistake you take the consequences. Perhaps I can ask you that question again. Could Tony Blair have done anything in the case of Ken Bigley? He was almost trapped in a web of the hostage takers making.
I think in the case of Ken Bigley there was very, very, very little that Tony Blair could have done. At that point he totally committed himself. He was committed and he had to go forward regardless of the casualties that were falling to the left and falling to the right. It was victory now, you know.. do or die - forward. And to turn back at that point for him would probably have meant personal political suicide.
Hostage taking was one of the consequences of course.
Definitely. And that was forecast. I remember myself saying.. I think I went into print at the time saying that if the war goes ahead, hostage taking will be one of the consequences we shall see.
Then we came to the final days of Ken Bigley. You'd been to see the family, you left again, you spoke to the media on the steps. They had some hope, I know, at the end that he was going to be alright. The hope was dashed. They'd received some videos and things privately. What do you think it was like for the family when that final moment came? They'd held out for three weeks, the hopes, the swings, the seesaws. I mean what is it like for a family in that situation?
Well, it's frankly quite terrible, of course it is. I mean suddenly you've held out hope and then you have the final proof that hope has gone, and I remember speaking to Mrs Bigley about this, to the old lady, and I said to her something that I really firmly believe, I said this is a terrible tragedy, of course it is, it's dreadful, and there was bound to be a wound and a scar if you like in your life which will last across life, you can't forget it. But there is one thing I can say with absolute conviction and certainty, that whilst suffering, and appalling suffering, is never easy, it is always extremely painful, it didn't destroy because often you find out of situations of acute suffering something quite unexpected emerges, something creative comes from it. We don't know what it is at the time, it may not be seen at that moment, it may be seen at a later stage. Who can tell? But hold on to that belief. But at the same time, of course, you go through the process of deep grief and you go through the process of knowing that you'll always somewhere within you carry that wound.
Do you think the Foreign Office did make an attempt to find a go-between, that there was movement in those final days, and do you know what went wrong?
I don't. I¿ my true guess is yes, there were people on the ground, yes there were people even probably make¿ who made some contact with significant people. What went wrong I don't know and I've not been involved intimately with those details. I don't know.
Do you think that hostage taking is here to stay, not just in Iraq but in other wars yet to come?
Unfortunately I do. Unfortunately it's going to be around for a long time and we're going to have to deal with it, but more importantly we're going to have to really have politicians who are willing¿.. Let me rephrase that¿.
Do you think that hostage taking as a tactic is here to stay, not just in Iraq but in other wars yet to come?
I think it is. I think hostage taking is with us and it's going to be used as a tactical weapon for a long time to come, and I can only hope and pray that our politicians will have the commonsense to deal with the root questions which in part will help prevent more innocent families going through the type of suffering that the Bigley family and others have passed through.
Is hostage taking here to stay as a tactic not only in the Iraqi context but in other wars yet to come?
Unfortunately I think it is. I think it's going to be used in future wars as a tactical weapon, and I can only hope that in the future we shall have politicians who are able to deal effectively with the root questions, the root issues, that actually lead to hostage taking. If they can deal with some of the root questions they may well prevent other families suffering in the way that the Bigley family and others have suffered.