Thoughts on the release of the Canadian-American Boyle family held hostage in Afghanistan
By Nate Thayer
October 15, 2017
My excellent friend, the retired American diplomat and now novelist James Bruno, wrote today his thoughts on the curious case of the Canadian-American Boyle family who were released this week after five years held hostage in Afghanistan. It was a thoughtful piece by Bruno. Mr. Bruno knows of what he writes, having served in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Cuba, and elsewhere as a U.S. diplomat and been held hostage himself. Please read his comments on the Boyle family here: JamesLBruno.blogspot.com.
This sparked thoughts I passed on to him in an email.
I read your excellent post on the Canadian-American couple just released from Afghanistan/Pakistan.
I had a couple of thoughts.
You cited the remarkable successful case of the 1994 release of Melissa Himes (although not by name) which you were directly involved with when you were the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in Cambodia at the time. I remember that case vividly and I remember why Ms. Himes is alive today and not dead like every one of the other many foreigners captured by the Khmer Rouge (and their bandit derivatives) in the 1990’s.
At least 10 foreigners were taken hostage and later killed by the Khmer Rouge in 1994 and shortly after.
Only one, American Melissa Himes, was released unharmed. It is my distinct memory that she is alive specifically and unequivocally because of the personal efforts of yourself, Cambodian-American foreign service officer Kem Sos, and another embassy official. You three understood the nuances of Cambodia, sought the intervention and mediation of local village monks and effected an out of the box, non-confrontational strategy which resulted in water wells supplied to the local villages and the release of Himes. This was against the back drop of corrupt and self-interested high level elements of the Cambodian government and military seeking to make money off the high-profile kidnappings or powerful government elements more than willing to launch military assaults to gain political points knowing that her murder would have been guaranteed by such tactics.
I remember this because I, too, was involved as an intermediary for more than a dozen foreigners taken hostage during this time–contacted by their loved ones who were encouraged by their governments to seek me out as they had no contact with the Khmer Rouge.
These remain among my most painful memories. Each and every one of them were killed–most already before hostage negotiations began. I will never forget the anguish on the faces of the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands who I met with as they begged me for help and answers desperately trying to wrap their heads around why this was happening to their loved ones.
I think it important to remember that most governments–including ours–routinely fuck up and drag their feet, caught up in protocol and bureaucracy and indifference, clueless as to how things work in the real world, on the ground, in cultures different from ours, and a result is most hostages end up dead.
That is what separates your involvement in the Himes case and those of her unfortunate fellow hostages in Cambodia in the 1990’s.
I was involved in negotiating with the Khmer Rouge (and others) for release of, or information of the fate of, Belgians, Germans, Kiwis, Brits, French, Australians, Canadians, and others. All of them died–every one. This haunts me to this day.
I found it remarkable the incompetence of many representatives of governments from the properly organized world–the Canadians, the French, and the Aussies in particular. The back story details of most all the cases of now dead and innocent hostages was and is scandalous.
If I was a hostage, I would not rely on my government.
And as you know I, too, have been held against my will or targeted for assassination by the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian government (and others).
I have always had a foreboding acceptance that one day I would be taken hostage for doing my duty as a good journalist, taking the inherent risks that requires, and killed. I knew the Monday morning quarterbacking and spectator sport of the uninformed peanut gallery would gather like vultures and say “he pushed his luck”, “he had it coming”, “he was reckless” etc etc, and that pisses me off.
I also knew that, within days, I would be forgotten. I knew this to be true and accepted it as worth it. But that doesn’t make it right.
The snarky victim blaming of Canadian Joshua Boyle, his American wife, Caitlin Coleman, and their three children is offensive. Just like the victim blaming of former U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan. Just like the victim blaming of those who travelled as tourists to, swiped propaganda poster art from their tourist hotel walls, or even those who intentionally left bibles in public places, in North Korea; like those who were captured hiking when they strayed over the border into Iran; like so many journalists who have given their lives to report on unspeakable barbarity in Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The bottom line is free people should be able to travel and work and speak and write and opine and believe and, yes, make mistakes, without fear of being murdered or terrorized or taken hostage for doing those things.
And that those who push the envelope doing things that would, at most, get them spanked in a free society, deserve unqualified support.
That is what demands being defended.
All people everywhere, regardless of citizenship or political belief or religious allegiance, want this for themselves, although too many do not accord those freedoms to those who they differ with. Or find excuses for the perpetrators of barbarity who they find common, fleeting, tactical alliance with because they disagree with someone’s religious or political beliefs, or just find a self-righteous platform to second guess the decisions of adventurous youth exploring the world.
I sympathize with the Canadian-American Boyle couple. I do not know them, of course, or why they went to Afghanistan. But I do not care. They may well be or were Taliban sympathizers. This is irrelevant. One is allowed to believe whatever goofy or righteous political or religious doctrine they want to.
No one is alleging they did anything other than act on their religious or political sympathies.
That is the point. And that should be the focus. Full stop.
I do not think that the inevitable, vindictive anti-Muslim or uncorroborated speculation about the Canadian-American couple should be encouraged or allowed to go un-countered regarding the Boyle family.
It should be denounced.
There is no evidence I have seen that suggests they were involved in treason under Canadian or American law. The Boyle family were pushing the limits of free speech and religion–which is exactly when those essential concepts need to be defended, because it is these freedoms that protect all of us from becoming the victims of intolerance and bigotry.
There but for the grace of God go I.
That is my two cents.
Keep up the excellent work.