Three Christian peace activists held hostage 118 days after abduction late last year in Iraq say they forgive their captives and have no desire to see them punished.
“We unconditionally forgive our captors for abducting and holding us. We have no desire to punish them,” 74-year-old Norman Kember, a British Baptist, and two Canadians, James Loney and Harmet Singh Sooden, said at a Dec. 8 press conference organized by the UK-based religious think tank and news service Ekklesia. “Punishment can never restore what was taken from us.”
The three men were part of a Canadian-based international Christian Peacemaker Team freed by British and American forces March 23. A fourth member of the team, American Quaker Tom Fox, was shot to death and left on a Baghdad street March 9.
“What our captors did was wrong,” the three former hostages said in a statement issued year to the day after a previously unknown group called Swords of Righteousness Brigade threatened to kill them unless all Iraqis detained by U.S. or British forces were released.
“They caused us, our families and our friends great suffering,” the trio said. “Yet we bear no malice towards them and have no wish for retribution. Should those who have been charged with holding us hostage be brought to trial and convicted, we ask that they be granted all possible leniency. We categorically lay aside any rights we may have over them.”
Kidnapping is a capital offense in Iraq, and some of the captors to could be sentenced to death. The three former captives said they “categorically oppose” the death penalty.
“The death penalty is an irrevocable judgment,” they said. “It erases all possibility that those who have harmed others, even seriously, can yet turn to good.”
They said they haven’t yet decided whether to testify in their alleged kidnappers’ trial next year, because they haven’t learned enough about the Iraqi court system to know if they can best help the suspects by refusing to testify or asking for clemency at the trial.
Kember, a 40-year-member at Harrow Baptist Church in northwest London, wrote a recent column in the London Telegraph describing his first meeting with Loney and Sooden since their time together in a Baghdad cell.
“I was asked recently in a radio interview if I considered myself lucky to be alive,” Kember wrote. “No, I am not lucky. Our release was not due to luck but to the painstaking investigative work done by police and Foreign Office staff in Iraq and in Britain, and to the bravery of the Special Forces rescue team who, acting on that intelligence, were able to burst into our cell and release us.”
News of Kember’s release was marred by controversy when media reports indicated he did not thank the troops who rescued him.
“At the time, people doubted the warmth of my gratitude,” Kember said last week. “They felt I offered only qualified thanks to my rescuers as, still bewildered by freedom, I touched down on British soil. Far from it. I paid tribute to their courage as best I could and I am constantly thankful to all those people. My feelings today are exactly the same as when I emerged at Heathrow on a grey British spring morning and said that armed force would never achieve lasting peace.”
Kember said the experience “makes me more convinced than ever that Christians should abandon the outdated ‘just war’ theory and try to find new ways of bringing about reconciliation without resort to armed violence.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.