A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Islamic militants increasingly favor kidnapping as a weapon of war. In Iraq alone, 57 journalists have been taken hostage since 2003. So when New York Times reporter David Rohde decided to interview a Taliban commander outside Kabul two years ago, he had reason to be nervous. Islamist militants abducted him, along with an Afghan journalist and their driver, taking them deep into the tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan. Rohde’s wife, together with his family and his employer appealed to Washington for help and managed to keep his abduction secret for months. One couple’s account of a kidnapping – and insights it provides about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
- Kristen Mulvihill painter and illustrator
- David Rohde reporter, New York Times
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Journalist David Rohde was imprisoned for ten days in 1995 while covering the war in Bosnia. Once freed, he promised his family, friends and editors he would never put them through such an ordeal again, but after agreeing to interview a Taliban commander in Afghanistan two years ago, Rohde was kidnapped once more.
MS. DIANE REHMThis time, he was held for seven months. His wife of two months was thrown into the anguish of hostage negotiations. The couple has written a book about their experience. It's titled "A Rope and a Prayer." David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill join me in the studio. We will take your calls, 800-433-8850. David Rohde is a reporter for The New York Times. He's the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes in journalism. His wife, Kristen Mulvihill, has been a fashion and photography editor for several women's magazines. She's also a painter and illustrator. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Good morning to both of you.
MS. KRISTEN MULVIHILLGood morning.
MR. DAVID ROHDEGood morning, thanks so much for having us here.
REHMDavid Rohde, I want you to tell us what happened on the day you were abducted.
ROHDEI was invited to an interview by a Taliban commander who had given interviews to two other foreign journalists and I thought it would be safe. I met with one of those foreign journalists the night before we departed for the meeting and she said, you are American -- he was a European journalist, that's more dangerous -- but I don't think he'll kidnap you.
ROHDEInstead, what happened when we drove to the meeting point the next morning was that the Taliban gunmen blocked the road with cars. We were driving towards the meeting point. They then jumped on our car with Kalashnikov rifles. One got behind the steering wheel, one in the front passenger seat and myself and my Afghan colleagues were in the backseat. And they sort of sped off down the road. A second car had been waiting for us with more gunmen in it. That followed us as a chase car. We thought about maybe trying to overpower the two men, but we really didn't think there was any chance. And that was the beginning of our seven months and 10 days in captivity.
REHMSo they clearly knew you were coming?
ROHDEYes. The -- the commander who invited me to the interview you know set me up and in hindsight, I think the previous two interviews may have been part of an effort to kind of win the trust of journalists. He may have been sort of plotting this for, you know, it was at least a year beforehand and he was waiting for the right target to come along and unfortunately, that was me.
REHMYou had been married for just two months?
REHMKristen, he didn't even tell you?
MULVIHILLHe didn't tell me about the interview, no And initially, I was -- I was really upset. I was angry that he hadn't told me. I realized quickly it was you know the kidnapper's responsibility, the blame was on them for kidnapping him, but I was surprised he hadn't consulted me.
REHMSurprised is a kind word.
ROHDEI knew, I was convinced -- I mean, look it was obviously a mistake and a lapse on my part and I deeply regret it.
REHMWhy did you not tell her?
ROHDEI -- first of all, I thought she would say no. I thought she would order me and say, do not go to this interview. And, you know, in a kind of classic and, you know, embarrassing mistake, I avoided the confrontation because if she had said no, I wouldn't have gone to the interview. I would have obeyed the wishes of my new wife, I would not have, you know, contested it and I had lost perspective. I talk in the book about competitiveness getting the best of me. I was working on a book that I hoped would be the culmination of seven years of reporting in Afghanistan since 2001.
ROHDEDozens of journalists have safely interviewed the Taliban. Again, this guy had done two previous interviews and I felt like the book wouldn't be complete, you know, and I would be falling behind other journalists if I didn't have a Taliban interview. I had been down in Helmand Province in the south for two weeks before doing the interview and the Taliban had a tremendous resurgence there. They had a tremendous amount of popular support and I really felt I needed to get that side of the story. But, you know, it was a mistake and I regret it.
REHMHow did you learn, Kristen, of his kidnapping?
MULVIHILLI had actually just started a new job as photography director at Cosmopolitan Magazine. I was in my office. It was a Monday afternoon. I was putting the finishing touches on some of our upcoming shoots, which at Cosmo, you know, they celebrate women's sexuality, so it was bachelors in their boxer shorts. I got a call from my brother-in-law, Lee, who had always been the point of contact in case of a mishap on David's reporting trips. And we were newly married, so we hadn't switched the contact information, actually, at The Times and Lee was contacted by the FBI and then contacted me.
MULVIHILLYou know, I -- it was shocking. I just remember everything kind of standing still, feeling numb initially and then thinking, you know, here it is, this is my worse fear come true.
REHMWere you told not to say anything?
MULVIHILLI was told not to say anything and in fact, I left work. I told -- I was new to the job, I told the people I was working with that I had a family emergency and I had to leave work early. They were really gracious not to ask questions and they were like, take all the time you need. And I very quickly, you know, was thrown into a meeting with the FBI. I was trained how to take phone calls should David or the captors call me. The New York Times called me in and I met with Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, several of David's editors and legal counsel and, you know, expressed the desire to keep this out of the press. And they were fantastic in honoring my request.
REHMWhy did you want it kept out of the press?
MULVIHILLPersonally, I knew David would not want to be part of a news story. I was terrified, too, that if we went public we would give the captors a platform, you know, to try to negotiate directly with our government and it would be out of our hands. We also weren't dealing with legitimate government, we were dealing with extremists. We had a private security team that advised us not to go public as well.
REHMAnd The New York Times, how did they feel about it?
MULVIHILLYou know, initially, I mean, it went against every instinct they have, you know, to share the news, to report the news, but they honored the family's request. There had been a case just before David's, it was Mellissa Fung that had been kept out of the press as well, so there was somewhat of a precedent. But I -- you know, the family was very firm on wanting to keep it quiet until we knew more information.
REHMKristen Mulvihill, she and her husband David Rohde have written a new book about his kidnapping and it's titled "A Rope and a Prayer." Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or join us on Facebook, send us a tweet. David, describe the people with whom you were kidnapped.
ROHDEI was with an Afghan journalist, Tahir Ludin, and our driver, Asad Mangal. And one of the things we tried to make clear in this book was there was hostility towards them. The Taliban see any Afghan or Pakistani for that matter who cooperates with the U.S. government or works with foreigners as an enemy. They're not Muslims and they face tremendous, you know, hostility and in the end, I'm able to escape with the help of Tahir, who was, you know, a moderate Afghan and a moderate Pakistani, which we can talk about later.
ROHDEThe point of this is we don't want the story to be about, you know, terrible terrorists and for people to think all Afghans and all Pakistanis are like the people who kidnapped me. Most of them don't support them and, you know, the people who kidnapped me are more criminals than representatives of Afghans or Pakistanis or Muslims.
REHMHow did they treat you? How did they treat the three of you?
ROHDEWe were treated very well. People talk a lot about the tribal culture in Afghanistan. Pashtunwali is this tradition among ethnic Pashtuns and I was kidnapped by Pashtuns and I was given bottled water. I was never beaten. It was very important for them to keep me healthy, but what emerged over time was this theme of hypocrisy. They were keeping me healthy because they called me the golden rooster and they were, you know, expecting to get an enormous ransom. Their initial demands were $25 million and the release of 15 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
ROHDEOne issue we found was that there's a -- European governments have paid for hostages in the past. It's not officially confirmed. The American government will not pay for hostages or release prisoners, so there's a real muddle in the kind of -- there's no international policy on how to deal with this, so my kidnappers, you know, had these enormous expectations about the amount of money and prisoners they could get.
REHMAnd what were your expectations, Kristen?
MULVIHILLIn terms of how to get him out?
REHMIn terms of what lay before you?
MULVIHILLWhat lay before me? It was totally unknown territory. One of the things I did do early on I did a bit of research. I talked to some former hostages that offered to speak with me and I got a sense. There was one gentleman, Jere Van Dyke, who had been held in Pakistan the previous year, he sat down and told me kind of what he had been through. He mentioned Pashtunwali. He told me they wouldn't hurt David physically, but under Pashtunwali, you know, they'll treat you as a guest, but they can behead you at any time, so that was my greatest fear.
MULVIHILLI had no idea what they would do. I was coached that perhaps the demands over time would decrease and we should sort of drag out any negotiations and I should be open to the idea of discussing money or appearing to be willing to do that in order to keep the captors calling to spark a dialogue and to keep them calling.
REHMHow long was it before you were able to talk with David?
MULVIHILLI spoke with David about a week and a half into the kidnapping. He actually phoned home.
ROHDEBecause they wanted to issue demands.
REHMI see, through your wife?
ROHDEYes. And the key thing in the very first week, we were moved from Afghanistan into Pakistan. It was very clear when we were in Afghanistan that the Taliban feared the American military and they feared an American raid. They lied to us. They told us we had to get out. We were driven for several days and then they had us get out of the car and walk through the mountains. We walked for nine hours. They told me that we had to walk because we were going near an American military base and, in fact, we walked into the tribal areas of Pakistan.
ROHDEAnd once we were there, it was a Taliban ministate. All of the checkpoints had been abandoned by Pakistani security forces and instead were manned by the Taliban. And my captors were completely relaxed and that's where they had me make a satellite call and make their demands to Kristen.
REHMDavid Rohde, he's a reporter for The New York Times. He and his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, have written a new book about his kidnapping. It's titled, "A Rope and a Prayer."
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, David Rohde went through a harrowing experience. He was kidnapped by the Taliban when it was said, promised to him that he was going to have an interview with one of the leaders of the Taliban. He was working for The New York Times at the time. He and his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, have now written a book about his seven-month experience behind the lines as it were. It's titled "A Robe and a Prayer: A Kidnapping From Two Sides." Do join us, 800-433-8850.
REHMOur first e-mail is from David in Northport, Fla. who says, "Could you ask your guest about The New York Times keeping his abduction under wraps. It's clear in light of the Wikileaks disclosure, The New York Times does not keep anything secret, even when the national security or a human life is on the line, yet they did not disclose his situation. I'm not saying they should've risked his life, but I think this shows the organization's hypocrisy."
ROHDEI would politely disagree with the sender of the e-mail. The New York Times has redacted the names of sources that were in the Wikileaks documents. And the clear parameter is when it's a risk of someone's life, they don't publicize that. And in my case, it's very clear. I've talked to a half dozen other former hostages who were kidnapped around the world in places like Somalia and North Africa. There's a very clear agreement that publicity -- when you're kidnapped by Jihadists, publicity only increases their expectations of what they can get as ransom or turn you into a political issue.
ROHDEThe New York Times' policy on reporting kidnappings is that if the family of someone who's kidnapped -- this can be an aid worker or a contractor -- if the family requests that it not be publicized, they don't publicize it. The Times doesn't name sources who are afraid of losing their jobs. The Times doesn't name mob informants who testify mob trials and the Wikileaks, there's only a select number that it's released and it's redacted information from them, so I just politely disagree. It's not true. The paper's been responsible about what it reports and doesn't report. Embarrassing to the government is different than risking peoples' lives.
REHMKristen, tell me about your frustration in dealing with the people who apparently should have known what to do next. You said something about, my tolerance for speculation about when David may be released coupled with chauvinism for the all male team is exhausted.
MULVIHILLYes. And I have to say I'm grateful to our team. I had a love/hate relationship with everybody throughout this experience...
MULVIHILL...just because it was such a dramatic...
MULVIHILL...experience, but we had a lot of cooks in the kitchen. We had the lawyer from The New York Times, David McCraw, who was fantastic throughout. We had a private security team, we also had the FBI. We had The Times' Crisis Management Team. You know, all of them well intentioned. It was a very sort of male dominated effort and former military soldiers and FBI and whatnot. And at times, they would sort of compete with each other and that was difficult to sort of wade through. And then early on, we really felt -- and when I refer to we, it was myself and my brother-in-law, Lee, David's brother sort of sifting through things -- it was really tough to get clear advice in the initial days on what we should do and that was somewhat frustrating.
MULVIHILLAs the case progressed, we had a lot of people involved because I didn't feel there was any one group that knew everything. I had an individual who was close council to me named Michael Simple who leads an organization called Talk for Peace. He actually lives in Pakistan and he was very aware of sort of the local customs. He helped me try to talk to Taliban elders to plead for David's release. He understood the cultural side of it. The security team was great in terms of advising to keep everything quiet. They didn't like to share information with other groups like the FBI and whatnot, so that was tricky at times. The FBI was fantastic in training me to take calls, but really, their goal is to gather information. They can't negotiate directly, so...
REHMGive me a sense of the kinds of calls that you took.
MULVIHILLThat I took. I had two calls from David and then I had two calls from the captors. I think it was in March, which was a little more than midway through. They were not happy with how negotiations were going and the captors had gone quiet for I think about six or eight weeks. They would do that periodically. And I received a call at home late at night stating that they weren't happy with how things were going and...
REHMSpeaking to you...
MULVIHILL...to me in English, actually. And this was really striking. It was not just English, it was American. It was very casual. They wanted to know what my progress was. I will say, they never used particularly threatening language, which was shocking, but they were still asking for millions of dollars in prisoners. I had a recording device on my phone, so I recorded every call. I tried to look at the number on caller ID and text it to the FBI. Even though the FBI wasn't negotiating for us, we did keep them in the loop in terms of communication.
REHMTell me about these people. I realize they gave you bottled water, they didn't beat you, they didn't try to -- apparently didn't try to threaten your life, but what were they like?
ROHDEThey lived in this alternate reality. They were completely convinced that this was a religious war. They felt -- they had been told that American soldiers were forcibly converting Afghan Muslims to Christianity. They sort of saw themselves as defending their nation from this vast international Christian, Jewish and Hindu conspiracy. One suicide bomber I lived with believed that all Westerners were heathenists, only focused on the pleasures of this world.
REHMHow do you know he was a suicide bomber?
ROHDEOh, he was very proud of it. He was -- all the guards talked about him as, you know, here's -- they introduced him as, here's this young man, a young Pakistani...
REHMAnd he's willing to give his life.
ROHDEYes. He's in training. They call it the fedein (sp?), this Arabic term which is also used in Iraq. And he was -- I asked him, won't you miss your family? It was a fascinating thing to see the mentality and how they turn these young men into suicide bombers -- and he said he wouldn't miss his family at all, that the most important relationship to him was his relationship with God. And he didn't -- he wouldn't miss his brothers and sisters or his parents.
ROHDEAnd it was interesting 'cause there are Saudi programs that try to de-radicalize militants when they're kind of arrested and one of the things they do is they force these young radicals to live with their families again. And they find that contact with family sort of -- kind of deprograms them, but it was this amazing kind of disdain for this world. This young man had been told that all Christians wanna live for a thousand years. He asked me if that was true. And he had also been told that a necktie was a secret symbol of Christianity, or they really lived in this idea of being under threat and defending themselves from this vast conspiracy.
REHMGive me a sense of how each day went, a typical day, if you will.
ROHDEWe had chores -- I mean, they prayed five times a day, so it would begin with sort of the predawn prayers.
REHMAnd you were on the floor as well.
ROHDEWe were all living in this simple room. I mean, one of the ironies and people think the Taliban live in caves. They don't live in caves. I was in Miramshah, which is the largest town in North Waziristan. It's this tribal area in Pakistan that this is where this Taliban mini-state thrives. And we'd get up, have breakfast. At one point, the guards were going off and taking bomb-making lessons from foreign militants in Miramshah. They would -- two would stay and two would go off for their classes. Enormous explosions would go off in Miramshah and the Pakistani forces that were in the one local military base never came off their base to investigate what was happening. And, you know, I spent my time pacing a lot. I listened to the radio...
REHMHow? What kind of radio?
ROHDEThey gave me -- they actually had a radio that the American military had given out to civilians in Afghanistan with a little hand crank on it and it was battery operated. Miramshah, again, is a very modern town. There was batteries to buy. I was given English language Pakistani newspapers. It was amazing. And so they let me listen to the BBC and I would -- it was fascinating to be among these people who were so focused on the next world and it led me to sort of miss -- you know, we're not perfect by any measure here, but at least we sort of celebrate trying to improve this world and doing the best we can. Hearing shows about art and music and sort of celebrating humanity and human creativity was really thrilling because it was such a dark existence these young men were trapped in.
REHMAnd give me a sense of the kind of tone that was on the telephone between the two of you when you did talk, Kristen.
MULVIHILLWhen we did speak I never knew if it was going to be the last time we would speak, so I always tried to remain calm. I felt that was the one thing I could do for David. I wanted him to sense that I loved him, that I could handle this, that we'd be all right. And I knew that his dialogue was highly scripted, as was mine. He could sense that.
ROHDEI was always trying to say exactly what they wanted me to say...
ROHDEOh, exactly what their demands were. They wanted me to lie primarily and say that we were being held prisoner in Afghanistan. They were trying to hide the fact that I was in the safe haven they have in Pakistan. And it was that they were going to kill us and to try to frighten them. At one point, they talked about bringing a local person they had arrested and the Taliban had declared this local person a spy and killing him in front of me on video as a way to really terrify my family and try to get more money.
ROHDEAnd Kristen was just incredible. She -- we also exchanged letters at one point. International Red Cross let us each write a letter to each other. My letter was essentially, you know, here are their demands and this one line she wrote in her letter was, you must be strong because I am strong. And those words and just the sound of her voice and this incredible calm. I don't know -- readers can hear it -- just kept me going for months. She was just extraordinary.
REHMWhat did that take of you, Kristen?
MULVIHILLYou know, it took a lot and I have to say, I have to thank my mother. In a crisis, you lose sight of the basic things, eating, sleeping. My mother actually came in and stayed with me periodically throughout this whole ordeal. And she really just took care of all the basics. That enabled me to have -- you know, to be able to rest, to be able to rush off to D.C. to have meetings with government officials, to still maintain my job. My employer was tremendously supportive (unintelligible).
REHMDid they know?
MULVIHILLInitially not in the first two weeks and then I told Kate White, the Editor in Chief and the Managing Editor, and they were fantastic. They actually let me bring in a freelancer to cover for me on days when I had to be off at meetings. I never knew if and when I was going to get a call from David or the captors, so they were very flexible with my schedule. And everybody was tremendously supportive. David's colleagues, as well, helped me get in touch with people in Afghanistan who might be able to help, people in Pakistan. I had a lot of support. And for me -- I'm a very independent person so initially, it was very hard to be asking for help, but I quickly got over that and I took what was offered.
REHMI'll bet you did. What did you, David, learn about the Taliban from your captors?
ROHDEThey were -- I was among the most hard-line Taliban. It's called the Hikani Network. It's run by the Hikani family. I spend a lot of time with Bauderden (sp?) Hikani who's sort of the number two commander of the Network. And they were much more hard-line than I think the Taliban that live in Afghanistan. And I want to differentiate them. Again, this is a very stark thing I saw.
ROHDEThis is -- the tribal areas in North Waziristan is a fulcrum where young Afghan and Pakistanis hang out with foreign militants. They're around al-Qaida members. My guards referred to Osama bin Laden as Shake Osama. And they spoke of a prophecy where this army carrying black flags would emerge from Afghanistan and liberate the holy cities of Saudi Arabia. Very radical, talking about activity beyond Afghanistan.
ROHDEThat's not true of all Taliban. I think they're a local Taliban fighting to control their value, their village in southern Afghanistan and there may be the focus of this hope of negotiations, but the tribal areas are very dangerous and very radical.
REHMDavid Rohde, he's a reporter for The New York Times. He and his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, have written a new book about his capture, his seven-month captivity. It's titled "A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping From Two Sides." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go to Asbury Park, N.J. Good morning, James.
JAMESHello there, Diane. Thank you for your show. You're great.
JAMESI just wanted to ask your two guests, don't you think that you're putting the next reporter who is captured in jeopardy by releasing all this information about the FBI monitoring the calls and stalling the negotiations? Don't you think the next person is going to be in a little jeopardy?
ROHDEThey knew this. They're very sophisticated. And they were aware that the FBI was involved in this case. They Googled me -- and I mean, again, this idea of the Taliban living in caves --- they Googled me, they Googled my reporting and they exaggerated what they found, but they're well aware that the U.S. government was involved from the beginning. They actually wanted direct negotiations with the U.S. government.
ROHDEThey have this desire for respect. They want to be seen as this legitimate government, so I don't -- there are things we're not disclosing in this book that we do feel could create dangers in the future and we've tried to be very careful about that so it's a very legitimate point you raise, but I hope and I think we've done this in a safe way.
REHMYour captors actually believed the 2009 drone attack was because of you.
ROHDEYeah, they thought that the U.S. government was trying to hunt me down and kill me and so they would move me to different locations in the tribal areas. And there was a drone strike about 100 yards outside of the house I was in.
REHMAnd they would be trying to kill you for what reason, according to your captors?
ROHDEThey believed that every day they held me, they were delivering massive political blows to the American government. I explained to them that no one even knew about my case. It wasn't public, but it didn't matter. This is, again, this alternate reality. They thought that the -- if you remember the American sea captain who was kidnapped by Somali pirates -- they said the U.S. -- the story of snipers killing three of the pirates wasn't true. And what in fact had happened, they believe, was that the U.S. secretly paid a $25 million ransom and it was just extraordinary how everything was sort of twisted and how they saw things.
REHMAnd Kristen, I realize that some people had to know, but how did you keep this secret from the vast majority of people around you?
MULVIHILLYou know, it was fairly easy at work because I was new to the magazine, so people didn't know my personality, they didn't know my normal schedule, if I was ducking out of the office for meetings and whatnot. I think going to work sort of maintained a sense of normalcy. I also -- our immediate family knew and some close friends, but we didn't really talk to extended family about it until, you know, midway through, people started to notice that Dave wasn't (unintelligible)...
REHMDavid wasn't there, yeah, right.
MULVIHILL...and things like that, yeah, yeah.
REHMSo you had no contact with anyone other than Kristen?
ROHDEThat was it, the two phone calls. Again, what was so odd about the situation was that, when I was in captivity my captors had DVDs and a DVD player. Many of the DVDs were actually Jihadi tapes glorifying suicide bombers, Again presenting this -- they would flash flags on the screen and it would be the American flag, the British flag, the U.N. flag, the Indian flag and then they also had DVDs of the HBO special "Band of Brothers." And I watched that and I watched the movie "Windtalkers" with Nicholas Cage, sitting with the Taliban in Waziristan. They are -- very much interact with the world, but they stay radical.
REHMShort break. We'll be right back.
REHMWe're back with David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill, husband and wife. He was held captive in Afghanistan, Pakistan for seven months. His new book written with his wife about his experience is titled "A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides." Here's an e-mail from Justin who says, "How does being taken as a hostage for seven months change the way you look at the world and has it changed what you're willing to do as a journalist?"
ROHDEMy days as a war correspondent are over. I -- you know, my wife and family have been through enough and I'm, you know, committed to journalism and working as an investigative reporter. At The Times, that was the job I had before I went on book leave and things went very wrong and -- you know, and in terms of life, I mean, I appreciate the small things. I missed sort of having coffee in the morning with my wife. I missed going on walks with her. I missed seeing my family on holidays. It really -- it's a humbling experience and, you know, I'm just incredibly lucky to be home and incredibly lucky to have her as my wife.
REHMWhat about you, Kristen, how do you think the experience has changed you?
MULVIHILLHas changed me?
REHMOr affected you?
MULVIHILLAffected me. I definitely am a believer in the power of positive thought. You know, later into the captivity, when it seemed like nothing we did was going to affect change, I really fell back on prayer and my faith, so I'm a big believer in miracles at this point.
MULVIHILLAnd also the same as David, you know, just appreciating the smaller moments in life. We had traveled a lot during our courtship and, you know, a honeymoon in India and whatnot. And when he got home we really just wanted to be home, you know, having coffee together in the morning, as he mentioned. So I think it's just really appreciating every moment as it comes and knowing that no phase is permanent whether it's a wonderful phase or a disastrous phase things change.
REHMAll right, to a caller in Silver Spring, Md., good morning, Susan.
SUSANGood morning. Very interesting story, I have to say, and very interesting program. I know that after -- I read Mr. Rohde's book about his captivity in Bosnia and one thing that I did notice is that he thought that publicity in that instance was helpful and obviously in this instance, it wasn't. And I think, very fortunately, he got it right both times, but what is -- other people are likely to be in this situation sometime in the future and what's the difference? How do you make that decision? What are the factors that go into making such a high stakes and difficult decision?
ROHDEWe're working with the Committee to Protect Journalists to try to develop some guidelines to help families that are in this position in the future. I think the most important first step is trying to identify the kidnappers. It's very hard to do and what they want because there are governments -- there was a kidnapping of a BBC reporter, Alan Johnston, in Gaza several years ago and publicity helped him because the Palestinian authority did not want bad publicity. So if the kidnappers care about international opinion, then it helps to publicize.
ROHDEI've spoken with people that were in prison in Iran and there is a sense that the Iranian government does respond to publicity and that if, you know, bad press, particularly in Europe, they will respond to, but people who have been held by Jihadists, you know, they just want to defy western public opinion. They're eager to do it and it really -- publicity doesn't help in those cases.
REHMDavid, tell us about your escape.
ROHDEAfter seven months, we were just despondent and, you know, recently our kidnapper had announced to us that the only reason President Obama had visited Saudi Arabia in the Spring of 2009 was to talk about my case. That's again how deluded they were and, secondly, we were moved to a new house that was very close to the Pakistani military base in Miranshah and this goes back to this theme. And this situation still exists today.
ROHDEThe Pakistani military has not confronted the Taliban in this area. Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, whose truck bomb failed to go off was trained right where I was held in north Waziristan. We were held only three-tenths of a mile from this base. Our captors did not fear the Pakistani military trying to come find us.
ROHDEWe snuck out at night while our guard slept -- use a rope I had found -- a car tow rope -- to lower ourselves down a wall. It took us only 10 minutes to walk to this base. That's how close we were. We were nearly shot by the guards at the base. They thought we were potentially suicide bombers. I had a very long beard at that point and -- that my guards forced me to grow -- and we held up our hands for 10 minutes, were forced to lie on the ground and eventually we took off our shirts and they finally let us on this base. And I -- a very brave and this very moderate -- and I want to emphasize there are moderates in the region. You know, these people saved my life. A young army captain let me call home.
ROHDEWe were afraid that these soldiers could potentially hand us back to the Taliban. And I called home and Kristen wasn't home, actually. And my mother-in-law picked up the phone and she did an extraordinary job of getting all the details right -- the name of the base, the name of the town, you know, and then all of Kristen's hard work paid off.
REHMHow did you actually find out?
MULVIHILLI was actually out at dinner something I hadn't done in, like, seven months. But toward the end, I decided I would make plans because maybe something would happen if I was busy. And I was right. My mother called me on the cell phone and said David had escaped. You know, my first thought was, oh, no, that's so dangerous.
REHMOh, my God, yes.
MULVIHILLYou know, it's one thing to get out of a house, it's another...
MULVIHILL...to get out of the tribal areas of Pakistan.
MULVIHILLSo I was terrified. I ran home. My mother, as he said, had written all the details out. She had them on sticky notes, so there were sticky notes all over the sofa. And very quickly, you know, myself, the lawyer from The New York Times and my mom and the foreign editor started calling, you know, Richard Holbrook, Hilary Clinton, all the officials we had met with in the United States. And they, in turn, contacted their Pakistani counterparts and said, we know that David is in Pakistan. Please make sure he is safely exited from the country.
REHMAnd what happened then?
ROHDEThere was several hours of kind of nervous waiting and then the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, flew in a helicopter and flew us out from this base. But I -- what is disappointing is that, you know, I escaped 17 months ago. I wrote about this in The New York Times a year ago and the ISI is still believed to be supporting the Taliban, the Pakistani military intelligence service.
ROHDELast month the Obama Administration increased our military aid to the Pakistani military to $2 billion a year. Many experts are frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the Pakistani military and, you know, they're saying we should consider maybe, you know, threatening to cut that aid. But this problem continues and as long as the Taliban have these safe havens in Pakistan the U.S. surge in Afghanistan won't work. The Taliban will simply protrude over the border, wait in Pakistan and they don't appear to be serious about negotiating because they know they can just sort of wait us out safely in Pakistan.
REHMIt's interesting, Kristen, because when David was released apparently you began to feel at odds with his newspaper.
MULVIHILLYes, I mean, you know, they pointed out to me that they had kept this private for so long, but they're a news organization and this was big news and they wanted to report the story, so there was a bit of a shift in those initial hours after he was released.
REHMBut why not print it?
ROHDEMy -- one of the most difficult decisions made in the captivity was that I escaped with the Afghan journalist who was with me. Our driver -- and I do not blame him for this -- had started cooperating with our guards and carrying a gun. And we had talked to the driver about escaping and he had told the guards in the past weeks earlier, so we did not include the driver in our escape and he was still trapped. We did help his family send in a tribal delegation and five weeks after our escape, the driver was essentially left alone by his guards and he was able to flee.
REHMHe escaped as well.
ROHDEHe is safely returned to his family and, you know, I'm elated he came home. I don't blame him. He was trying to survive by playing along at that time. So, you know, we -- I didn't want our escape reported. Initially The Times said, you have no idea, you know, how hard it's been to, you know, keep this quiet. And they reported it and everything worked out well. Overall, the paper was absolutely tremendous.
MULVIHILLYes. They were.
ROHDEThey were so supportive and we were so lucky to have their backing.
REHMAnd where were you reunited?
MULVIHILLAt the airport in Dubai.
MULVIHILLThat was always the plan. I would fly over and meet David. He actually beat me to Dubai and, you know, came running towards me when I saw him in the airport. Yeah, it was a lovely reunion and he looked just as he did the day he left, which was really shocking to me.
REHMYou had shaven by then.
ROHDEI got to Dubai, you know, took my first shower in seven months and I shaved the beard and put on, you know, my western clothes, which I hadn't worn.
MULVIHILLAnd he had bought flowers, actually.
MULVIHILLWhich is a nice touch (laugh).
ROHDEAnd she looked absolutely beautiful when I saw her.
REHMAll right. Let's go to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning. I would like to ask your guest did he think about writing a book while he was held captive. And it seems to me like some of this risk that journalists take is due to a competition and it makes me wonder, you know, how much sense does some of this make. You know, some of these interviews can probably be conducted by phone or two-way radio. And also, you know, I thought that'd be -- has he been approached about a movie or anything like that because I thought would be a good premise for a movie would be a journalist who was seeking fortune and fame, thought to be kidnapped and then get released and then, you know, ends happily ever after. But anyway, those are my questions I would just appreciate an answer.
REHMAll right. Thanks.
ROHDEAgain, actually every question today is a very legitimate issue. It was a mistake for me to go to this interview. I went too quickly. I should have tried -- I did speak to these other journalists and I did find out about his -- I had to connect...
REHMYour own pride was at work.
ROHDEWell, I just -- I wanted this -- you know, it was competition and it's a dangerous business and there's -- it's sort of a race to the bottom. And, you know, I had his phone number. I knew his name. I left with all this information from my colleagues. When I went to the interview, the village where I was meeting him -- you know, I had tried to do everything I could and again, he had done these previous interviews and everything went wrong. So, you know, and then I was literally from the beginning of the kidnapping, you know, ashamed of it, frankly, and felt terrible about what my family and wife were going through. I was very worried about the lives of Tierra Nasad (sp?) and I did not plan to write anything. And when I came home, I didn't want to write anything.
ROHDEI wrote this book, you know, primarily to -- and wrote the series for The New York Times primarily to let people know about what is still happening in the tribal areas of Pakistan. And how, you know, this case in Portland of the young man who wanted to set off the bomb at the tree lighting ceremony he had contacts with Pakistan and this continues today. But secondly, I want my wife to get the recognition she deserves.
REHMOf course, of course.
ROHDEAnd there -- people ask about a movie. There really isn't that much interest in a movie and I'm kind of torn. I mean, this wasn't my finest hour and the caller's right, but it was a disaster and, you know, I've spoken to journalism students and just told them to be careful and avoid this kind of catastrophe.
REHMYou know, I wonder, Kristen, when this whole thing began, did you assume that the United States had some plan...
REHM...for dealing with exactly this kind of situation.
MULVIHILLI assumed there was probably a lot going on behind the scenes that I didn't know about. Over time, I came to realize that, you know, they didn't know where David was. I actually met with a senior military official who told me, you know, we don't have a fix on his location and if he is in Pakistan we can't go in and get him. They had the sense that he was in Miranshah on a compound and when I asked what the radius of this compound was he said 20 square miles. So it was like finding a needle in a haystack and they didn't know where he was specifically.
REHMBut this coordinated effort doesn't really exist. I mean, a standard plan for going after people held captive doesn't exist.
ROHDEEvery kidnapping is different and that's why it's so important to identify the kidnapper immediately. Is it a low level criminal who, you know, can't take someone to, let's say, a safe area in Pakistan and hold them for months. That's a very different situation from a more senior group. I mean, in my case, there was actually just a story in The Nation about what happened after our release. The Haqqani network, you know, it looks like they were involved in my case from very, very early on. They were furious and they thought that there had possibly been a secret ransom paid to the guards. They then -- so they arrested a couple of the guards who were related to my kidnapper and there was no ransom paid.
ROHDEThey then turned these two men over to Pakistani intelligence, the ISI, which we talked about earlier. And according to this recent story, the Pakistani intelligence interrogated them -- wanted to know if they had cheated the Haqqanis out of money and then released then. So instead of Pakistani intelligence turning these people over to American authorities, you know, they released them and there continues to be suspicion that the Pakistanis are aiding the Haqqani, Afghan Taliban faction.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." One last call from Rebecca in St. Louis, Mo. You're on the air.
REBECCAHi. I'm so glad that you got out safely.
REBECCAI had a question about -- you talked about the young men involved who were living in their own little world and they're not realistic, but you don't mention and I've just bought your book. I have not read it. You don't mention any women in this situation. There has -- in that big of an area there has to be quite a few women.
ROHDEThe local culture -- The Pashtun culture is very conservative and they basically keep women in these, you know, the burqas -- when they do leave their homes, the head to toe blue veils you see, that's traditional. And that's existed for thousands of years. The Taliban have taken that to an extreme. So I had no interactions with women whatsoever throughout the seven months and 10 days I was in captivity.
ROHDEI did see how women live in the tribal areas and I feel for the people of tribal areas. It's a destitute area. It's been neglected for years by Pakistan and the United States. And we used that as a sort of launching pad for when we were backing the anti-Soviet Mujahideen in the '80s. This has all come back to haunt us. We supported Islamic fundamentals in the '80s and now we're kind of, you know, reaping the fallback from that. But I never had any interaction with women.
REHMFrom your captivity, David, do you have any better understanding of whether Bin Laden is still alive?
ROHDEI don’t. I mean, and there's speculation he's somewhere in the tribal areas of Pakistan. I just know that, you know, he was supported and very -- and popular among my Afghan Taliban guards.
ROHDENo, very popular.
REHMVery popular. I was...
ROHDEAnd they -- again, they sort of saw themselves, you know, all defending themselves against this western conspiracy. But to repeat, I was among the most hard-line Taliban. The tribal areas of Pakistan are very different from, you know, local Taliban inside Afghanistan. You know, they are primarily interested in fighting in Afghanistan itself and not interested in sort of an international Jihad. It's two separate but related problems.
REHMWell, I do echo our callers thinking we're glad you got home.
ROHDEI'm the happiest of all.
REHMDavid Rohde, he's a report for The New York Times, winner of two Pulitzer prizes in journalism. Kristen Mulvihill, his wife, together they have written a new book, it's titled, " A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides." Congratulations to both of you.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is drshow@WAMU.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
Most Recent Shows
Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.
On the 100th anniversary of the publication of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," a discussion about why the poem and poet are well-loved but misunderstood.
"My Brilliant Friend" by Elena Ferrante is the first of the mysterious Italian author's Neapolitan novels. The series tells the story of a life-long friendship between two working class girls in Naples. Critics have called Ferrante “one of the greatest novelists of our time.” Yet nobody knows her true identity. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “My Brilliant Friend.”