David Ignatius of the Washington Post on Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, then, questions for Attorney General nominee Republican Senator Jeff Sessions.
On Jan. 25, 2012, President Barack Obama announced the rescue of an American aid worker by the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six. Ninety-three days earlier, Jessica Buchanan had been kidnapped at gunpoint by Somali gangsters demanding $45 million in ransom. At 32, she was working for a humanitarian non-governmental organization, raising awareness about land mines. Her husband, Erik Landemalm, was also a humanitarian worker. They describe the events leading up to her abduction, her time in captivity, his efforts to help bring her home and her dramatic rescue.
- Erik Landemalm international aid worker
- Jessica Buchanan international humanitarian aid worker
Photos: The Kidnapping Of Jessica Buchanan
All images courtesy of the authors.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpt from “Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six” by Jessica Buchanan, Erik Landemalm and Anthony Flacco. Copyright 2013 by Jessica Buchanan, Erik Landemalm and Anthony Flacco. Reprinted here by permission of Atria Books. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Jessica Buchanan and Erik Landemalm both worked in the humanitarian aid field in Somalia. They had been married two years when she was abducted by Somali pirates in October 2011. Together they've written a book titled, "Impossible Odds." They join me to talk about her kidnapping and dramatic rescue by SEAL Team Six, as well as their continuing desire to help children in Africa.
MS. DIANE REHMI do invite you to join the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to both of you.
MS. JESSICA BUCHANANGood morning.
MR. ERIK LANDEMALMGood morning.
REHMSo good to see you here in the studio. Jessica, tell us a little about yourself and what drew you to work in Africa.
BUCHANANWell, I'm actually a teacher by profession, and I've spent a lot of time working with children, both in the U.S., in Central America, and Africa, and I learned about this phenomenon regarding children being taken as soldiers -- kidnapped and taken as soldiers and forced to fight in these militias and things, in East Africa, in Uganda, South Sudan, going into Congo, and it stirred something inside of me, and I felt like it was something I needed to learn more about. And the more I read and the more I learned, the more I felt that this -- I just felt drawn to getting involved somehow in the education side of things, the rehabilitation side of things, and so I went to Africa.
BUCHANANAnd through, you know, a series of events, I ended up getting a full-time job teaching in Nairobi Kenya, and teaching in an international school, but working on my own time with kids in different slums and things.
REHMExcellent. Where were you actually born and raised?
BUCHANANI was actually born out in Portland, Oregon. My parents moved about four or five years after I was born back to the Midwest where they had grown up and where their families were. So I grew up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio.
REHMHow did they feel about your going to Africa?
BUCHANANYou know, I have always felt that I was given one of the greatest gifts by my parents that could be given to a child, and that was freedom. My mom, she lost her parents and siblings when she was really young, and I always thought that she was such an outstanding example, because she could have held on too tight, but she didn't. She gave me the ability and the freedom and to go out and do whatever it was that I felt that I was supposed to do.
BUCHANANAnd likewise with my father, my parents traveled a lot, and they understood -- they got me on that level. They understood that I was doing what I felt I was meant to do, and so they supported me wholeheartedly.
REHMAnd Erik, how about you? Where were you born and raised? How did you get to Africa? How did you meet Jessica?
LANDEMALMI was born outside of Stockholm, Sweden in a place called (word?) , and when I was about 29, I left for Africa, and...
LANDEMALMI had been working with Somalia and with the Horn of Africa for a few years at the Immigration Board in Sweden, and had found a deep interest in what was going on there, and had met so many fantastic people from that region, and felt that when I was offered a job, I felt like I could potentially do something good for these people. Instead of working from Sweden, I felt that I could be needed there on the ground, and so in 2006 I went to Kenya and then later also to Somalia and working with -- initially building the judicial sector in Puntland, a part of Somalia, and then later on working on with the political institutions.
REHMAnd that's where you and Jessica met?
BUCHANANWe did. We met in Nairobi Kenya, shortly after I had taken a job teaching and, you know, it sounds a little cliché, but we actually met at a bar or a nightclub and, you know, we were out with our respective friends, and we just started talking and we've been talking ever since.
BUCHANANAnd that was six years ago.
REHMBut now we get to where you were in Somalia and how it happened that you were kidnapped.
BUCHANANYeah. Erik and I married in 2009, and so I moved up to the northern part of Somalia which is referred to Somaliland, and I took a job working with a Danish non-governmental organization. With my education experience, I also learned a lot about mine risk education. You know, Somalia is recovering still from a civil war, and there are leftover explosives littering, you know, areas.
REHMA great many. They are just all over the place.
BUCHANANThere are, and there are several organizations that are working to do mine clearance, and things. And the other part that I was most passionate about regarding my job was instructing on arm violence reduction, and that went into my whole interest with child soldiers and, you know, there are still so many conflicts amongst clans and things in Somalia. And so what we were doing is going in and trying to teach these community members about community safety and conflict management, and armed violence reduction firearm safety and so on.
REHMAnd were you both together at that time?
LANDEMALMNo. No. I was about four hours drive from Jess up in Garowe, a small place where I was training the parliamentarians there.
REHMTraining the parliamentarians...
LANDEMALMIn what, things such as -- well, how to improve their capacity in being parliamentarians and what to think about and so on.
REHMI see. I see.
LANDEMALMIt takes a rather quite new parliament they have up there.
REHMHow did you feel about Jessica's work helping these young children recognize, deal with the reality of these landmines?
LANDEMALMI mean, I knew that Jess was doing a fantastic job, and she had been recognized for it, and I did not like the idea that she would have to go to this place, and neither did Jess. But after having said no three times, she felt pressured to go in and to actually go to this place called South (word?) which is a place that -- where the administration that are covering the area, they're very weak, and they had very limited access to actually do anything if bad things would end up happening.
LANDEMALMSo Jess had said no three times to her organization that I don't want to go there unless you can actually say that it's clear, that it's -- yeah, that you can give the green light.
REHMSo tell me first how that pressure was expressed that you go there when you had already said no three times, and number two, why you decided finally to say yes.
BUCHANANI think that -- I think it's a very specific thing to our line of work. You know, people end up making maybe seemingly reckless, or maybe uninformed decisions I could say, and basically there was a direct kidnapping threat, and I wasn't notified about it. And because I was based in the north of Somalia, this was not my field post. I was just visiting. And the information was not relayed to me, and in fact, I was given the green light to go in, but they didn't tell me that there was a threat, and they actually -- they didn't take the threat seriously enough. And so I went in unknowingly and...
REHMBut you had said no...
BUCHANANI had said no.
REHM...three times before.
BUCHANANAnd that was based on just other security issues such as getting caught in crossfire, or there had been some...
REHMBecause this was...
BUCHANANThese are highly volatile areas, you know, that we're going into. And it's -- it should be said that it's important that aid work gets done in these areas, but it needs to be essential work, and what I was doing was not essential. It was...
REHMWhat you were doing was not essential.
BUCHANANI wasn't giving food, I wasn't giving water. I was going in to do some trainings. These trainings could have been done somewhere else, and so that's what I offered. I tried to offer different solutions and it still...
REHMBut why were they pushing you?
BUCHANANThey just didn't take the threat seriously enough, you know?
REHMNo. But why were they pushing you to go to this particular area?
BUCHANANI think that, you know, they're hardcore. They want to save face...
REHMWho is they?
BUCHANANThe people working in the organization, my colleagues. They ….
BUCHANANThe Danish Demining Group.
LANDEMALMYeah. But I think that it should be said that, you know, we're working in a sector where people really want to help who's out there, and sometimes some individuals they might then go away and say that well, it's worth it. We need to do it. In this case, it was the wrong decision and bad things happened, really bad things happened. The bad things happen for a lot of people so to say, and I think that we don't want to put the blame completely on the organization as such because it's more about that the whole sector is being run by -- or the whole sector -- I'm talking about the aid industry as such.
LANDEMALMIt's dependent on that donors give money, that they see that you're actually doing the work on the ground and so on. So we can't put the blame on one or two persons or the organization purely.
REHMErik Landemalm and Jessica Buchanan. They're talking about their experiences and their new book. It's titled "Impossible Odds."
REHMJessica Buchanan and her husband Erik Landemalm have written a new book. It's titled, "Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by Seal Team Six." Jessica, you've already said you had no idea, no were not told that going into this particular area that was filled with landmines, you were not told that there was a kidnapping threat already in existence. What were you told?
BUCHANANYou know, I just -- I knew that there were general risks going into these areas. You know that as an aid worker that's what you sign up for and you're willing to take those risks because for various reasons. And so, you know, I didn't find out about the fact that there was a kidnapping threat until I was already, I believe, 26 days into the actual abduction and then what do you do. You know, you're already there so you can't focus on it.
BUCHANANI didn't think about it during the whole ordeal because that can send you down a very dark road.
BUCHANANYou know, and my...
BUCHANANI just had to survive and stay as optimistic as possible.
REHMAll right. So what sort of security training had you had before you went into that area? And explain this green zone for us.
BUCHANANOkay. I think the training that I had received was something that they call heist training and that's just a very general kind of if you're caught in an emergency, you need first aid or someone with you needs first aid during an accident. What do you do then? There was a small section on what to do if you were kidnapped.
BUCHANANAnd some of the main things that came back to me during the actual abduction and then throughout the ordeal was it brought me a lot of comfort in terms of remembering that someone said at some point that if you can make through the first 24 hours, if you can stay alive during the first 24 hours, then most likely then you're going to make it through the experience. Because if they don't kill you initially, then they're going to hold you for reasons other than that.
BUCHANANAnd so we made it through the first 24, and then the 48 hours. And so there was a bit more hope that we were going to actually make it through this.
REHMTake me back to the moments before you were taken hostage. Were you by yourself?
BUCHANANI wasn't actually. I had just conducted a training with my education staff in the south. And then this green mine or this green zone that we had to cross over into the wait, it's so complicated but I'll try to explain it. We had offices in the north Galkayo and in the south of Kenyan conflict. The Kenyan that belong in the north and the Kenyan that belong in the south, they don't cross easily over this green zone. They stay in the respective sides.
BUCHANANAnd so we had two sets of staff. We had two offices, so that the staff, the Somalis didn't have to crossover, keeping them safe, keeping them comfortable. It was important to certain individuals at my organization to show support and to set precedent so that we would cross over into the south, even though it wasn't the safest thing for expats to cross over just because of initial threats such as getting caught in crossfire.
BUCHANANAnd, well, later I found out because of kidnappings. And so that was what I was uncomfortable with. I was more comfortable staying in the north but it wasn't an option. So I did cross over into the south this initial, this day October 25th, conducted the training. Went well. Had lunch with my staff and my colleagues and we get into the car around 3 o'clock and...
REHMHow many of you?
BUCHANANThere were, let's see, four of us including the driver. We had a caravan. There were three land cruisers, three vehicles.
BUCHANANAnd the front vehicle, it was full of SPU or specialized guards that were armed that were to accompany us across.
BUCHANANThey were Somali, yes.
BUCHANANAnd so maybe four to six of them, I'm not sure how many were in that car. And then in the back we also had guards in the third vehicle, along with some more Somali staff.
REHMAnd you were crossing back from the other side of the green zone.
REHMInto what was presumably the safe northern part.
BUCHANANExactly. And what we would have to do, because the vehicles couldn't cross over either. Vehicles stayed in the south and vehicles in the north.
BUCHANANSo we had to switch caravans. So we were about 10 minutes into our drive to the green line when we get cut off on the right side by another land cruiser and it splashes all this mud up over the windshield and the windows. And I just, you know, was so in my own head and in my own world. I just finished this training and I think I was actually thinking, like, what am I going to do for my workout routine and what are we going to have for dinner.
BUCHANANYou know, just those mundane things that you think about. And this just comes out of nowhere all this mud and I think, wow, you know, what a rude driver. And then suddenly just all of this banging and this AK-47s banging into the windshield, into the windows and all the screaming and we're surrounded by men, by Somali men. And the security adviser, the national -- the Somali guide that was in charge of security for the south office was sitting next to me in the backseat.
BUCHANANAnd he opens the door and I see very angry Somali men dressed in these guards uniforms and screaming and pointing their AKs at us.
REHMYou're still in the south side.
BUCHANANWe're still in the south, we're still in the south. And so they pull the security adviser out of the car and then they climb in to take his place and then another guy gets in the back in the hatch. And they started screaming at the driver who's a Somali to go and then we just take off. I mean, it felt like we were going 80 miles an hour.
REHMSo there are still four of you in the car. You and a colleague plus a new Somali driver and a new guy with an AK-47 in the front, another one in the back.
BUCHANANIn the back, yeah. Yeah. And so we just take off driving.
REHMWhat did they say to you?
BUCHANANThey started screaming. The wanted our mobiles. They wanted our satellite phones. They wanted our money. And so I could see the man in the back of the hatch. He had dumped my bag upside down and was just flipping through everything, throwing it around and going through all my personal and work goods. And I'm just, like, trying to take it all in, what actually is happening here.
BUCHANANI still had not understood that we were being kidnapped. I thought maybe we were being carjacked. That's a common occurrence in Kenya for instance where someone comes in and takes you kind of hostage in your car but lets you out a couple of hours later. I was hopeful that that's what was happening. They're just going to take everything and then drop us off on the side of the road and we can walk back to town.
BUCHANANBut as minutes past into a half an hour and then an hour, my colleague, they forced him to climb into the back and we're sitting next to each other. And I just looked at him and I whispered what's happening. And he just shook his head and he said we're being kidnapped. And all I could think was no matter how this turns out, my life has changed forever. I'll never go back to the same life that I had an hour ago. It's just completely different now.
REHMWhere did they take you from there?
BUCHANANWe drove for hours.
BUCHANANHours out into the desert. And, you know, there are such strange little details that I will never forget. For instance, the initial abductor, he told us his name was Ali and he had a mobile phone that had a camera on it. He was sitting in the front seat and one of the most beautiful things about Somalia is the sunset. You know, it's desert and it's -- many places are very flat and it has a brilliant African sun.
BUCHANANAnd as its going down and it's dropping over the horizon, this Ali guy turns around and he takes his camera phone and he tells Paul, my colleague, to roll the window down and then he snaps a picture of the sunset on his mobile phone. And I think how ludicrous, like, what does this mean to you? Do you want to remember the sunset as the day that, you know, you took two expats hostage?
BUCHANANLike, what are you going to do to us. I mean, and that kind of set the tone to just some of the insane behavior that they exhibited. And so, you know, it was just hour after hour we stopped, switched personnel, got into different vehicles. The sun goes down. It gets very dark. And I don't know how much time has gone by. Finally, I remember somebody gives me a bottle of water and then I hear a very high-pitched voice behind me.
BUCHANANAnd I think that they got a woman in the back of the car. Maybe she's there to do cooking or something like that. And I turn around and it's a small child. And he's carrying an AK and he's wearing chains of ammunition. And the irony.
BUCHANANYeah, of why I was there in the first place.
REHMExactly. In the meantime, Erik, she hadn't come back when you were expecting her. You hadn't heard from her. What began to go on in your own mind?
LANDEMALMYeah, I was expecting a phone call from Jess at around three, four. And it never came. So suddenly I received a phone call from Nairobi from Jess' office and I had no idea why they would call me. But Dan, who was the security adviser in Nairobi, he told me that, well, something has happened and I could hear in his voice that it was not something good. And he told me that Jess and her colleague had been kidnapped.
LANDEMALMThey did not know where they are. They did not who had taken them and the reasons for it. They just know that they had been taken. And this was around probably half an hour, 45 minutes after the abduction actually had taken place.
REHMBecause the other people left behind had gotten in touch with Nairobi.
LANDEMALMYeah. And shortly after that, he asked me if he would call John, Jessica's dad. And I said that I needed to do that. And I called him and told him about what had happened and tried to be as optimistic as you can be in a situation like that, saying that it's probably about money. But, yeah, we just have to trust that the right people will do what they said that they will do. And shortly after that, I received a phone call from FBI in Nairobi telling me that they are on the case.
LANDEMALMThat they will -- they never stop working on the case until they solved it. And by then I had already started almost making myself ready to go in after Jess. My initial idea.
REHMInstinct had to be.
LANDEMALMYeah. Just going in after her. I mean, I knew people with some background. And so at least I know how to handle a gun. And I just wanted to go in after her.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." How long afterwards did you -- were you made to understand that they were asking a $45 million ransom, Jessica?
BUCHANANIt was probably about a week. We knew -- it took, you know, several days before we had any contact with our organization or a communication person that we can at least get some information to. It was when Gibril (sp?) who you'll read about in the book. He was the translator, that's what he called himself. He came in and said that they were demanding $45 million as ransom for two aid workers.
BUCHANANAnd I just thought, this is, you know, this can't be true, they can't be serious. And it turns out they were. You know, they were.
REHMAnd what and when did you hear, Erik, that they wanted 45 million?
LANDEMALMActually I heard it -- I knew from the...
REHMBy the way...
LANDEMALMWell, no, the first six days we didn't hear anything from Jess for six days.
LANDEMALMNothing. We had no idea who they were and those were actually probably the worst days during the ordeal because we had no idea what would happen. She could be dead. She could be alive. She could -- I mean, we had no idea. They could be -- there's an al-Qaida linked group called Al-Shabaab in the area. Initially my thoughts were that, okay, well, they're probably taken by them.
LANDEMALMAnd I didn't know whether the next time I would get to see Jess would be on, you know, on the internet with men in masks behind her chopping off her head. I had no idea. And so the first six days and also the guilt feelings of not being able to do anything because what the FBI wanted was for us as a family and for me specifically to take a step back and just let them do their job.
REHMDid your father come to Africa?
LANDEMALMYeah. He came later on. He came about three weeks in.
REHMHe came later on.
BUCHANANAlong with my sister and my brother. And massive family support.
REHMWhat was going on during those first six days not only for you physically but what was in your mind?
BUCHANANWell, we were just trying to figure it out. You know, we didn't know, like Erik said, if it was AL-Shabaab, this al-Qaida linked group. And if it had been, if it was, then we knew our chances of survival were basically zero.
REHMWere you and your colleague separated?
BUCHANANNot at this point. They kept us together for probably the first couple of weeks. And then we were separated. So that was a blessing in regard to just being able to sit and kind of talk things through, what did you see, you know, what did you hear. You know, what do you think about this. And so, I have to say, like, psychologically, it was just so tough because you go from being -- I had this very clear picture of myself in Nairobi on my way back to the field.
BUCHANANI'm on my iPhone and I'm on the computer and I got the iPad. And I, you know, got these deadlines and I've got all these work to do and I'm so busy, like, I never take a minute to even sit down and have a cup of tea or anything. And then, boom, it just hits. And everything you know, everything you have to do, it's all taken away from you and you are stuck sitting on a mat for 24 hours a day with nothing to do but think.
BUCHANANAnd not -- that lack of busyness, that lack of things to do made me feel like I wanted to crawl out of my skin, you know, because I'm one of those people that's always got something going on. I don't relax well, you know. And we've always laughed about that. And, of course, you're not going to relax in the situation. But I had to master the art of learning how not to do anything.1
REHMJessica Buchanan and her husband Erik Landelmalm. Their new book is titled, "Impossible Odds." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're talking with the co-authors of a new book titled "Impossible Odds: the Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by Seal Team Six." Jessica Buchannan and Erik Landemalm, her husband are here with me. I think that during the writing of this book I'm sure you had really the experience come back to you full force. And once element of that that began pretty early on in your thinking was, am I going to be raped.
BUCHANANYeah. Yeah, I mean, I was outside sleeping night after night surrounded by anywhere from six to twenty-six men who definitely did not value me as a person or as a woman. And so, yeah, it was night after night I would fall asleep and wonder how I was going to wake up. Was I going to wake up with one of them on top of me? I had terrible nightmares while I was there about being pulled by my hair and, you know, dragged around. I mean, just terrible things that I was still afraid of.
BUCHANANYou know, in those initial days it was difficult to try to navigate how to do things such as wash myself and where to go. I had to stay close enough so that they knew I was there. But how do I keep them from watching me while I do this? And the first time several days into it that I was able to wash, there was a big hole in the ground that I think somebody had dug up to try to get water. And it wasn't deep enough for me to stand up but I could crouch down and take off, you know, one article of clothing and wash that portion of my body and then quickly replace it.
BUCHANANAnd, you know, but the whole time it's just this psychological tension that that forms is something...
REHMIt's psychological nakedness that (unintelligible) .
BUCHANANYeah, I'm completely unprotected and I'm not able to protect myself. And I started received unwanted advances, if you will, from the communicator Jabriel (sp?) . And, you know, as time went on they just got more and more aggressive. And I knew...
BUCHANANYou know, I would wake up sometimes with him touching me under my blanket or, you know, I would try to kick him off and act like I was still asleep. Because, you know, I had to balance things in a sense that I couldn't humiliate this guy. He was an elder in the group. And if I humiliated him, what kind of ramifications would there be for me, you know. And, I mean, no one really cares anyway what he does to me so there was nowhere to go.
REHMWere you physically harmed?
BUCHANANI would say yes. I mean, I was not beaten but, you know, roughly handled, hit a couple of times.
REHMAnd your colleague?
BUCHANANYes. He -- he was definitely treated in an aggressive way.
REHMWas he beaten?
BUCHANANHe had been, yes. And, you know, they like to do that in front of me.
REHMI was about to say, could you see that?
REHMCould you hear that?
REHMAnd you knew it was for what reason?
BUCHANANWe were being punished. We were being punished because our families, an organization weren't offering enough money. And so when negotiations stalled or when they were unhappy with what they were being offered then we got food taken away or water taken away or we got smacked around or we got marched into the desert and told that if we didn't -- our families didn't come up with $18 million in seven days our heads were going to be cut off.
REHMSo it went from 45 million down to 18, Erik. Were you witnessing those negotiations?
LANDEMALMWe had initially in the beginning of the kidnapping and decided that we as family members would not know the exact amount because it would be too much. So what we did was to have a crisis management team and a family communicator for both our family and for Jess' colleague's family. And he was the one that had direct contact with the kidnappers, this Jabriel, more or less on a daily basis.
LANDEMALMAnd we had initially also decided that we as family members would not be in direct contact with the kidnappers.
LANDEMALMBecause we had no idea how they would play it out. So we needed that extra layer of protection, if you want, for Jess' sake.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones. There's a call here that may represent a question a great many people have. It's Barbara in Orlando. Good morning to you.
BARBARAGood morning, Diane. I love your show. I listen to it every day.
BARBARAAnd, Jessica, what a fascinating story and horrifying at the same time. I'm curious about two things. First of all, you refer to yourself as an ex-pat. So does that mean you have kind of renounced -- you did renounce your citizenship in the United States or is that just kind of a common term for workers over there?
BUCHANANYeah, that's just a common term for foreign aid workers. We -- everybody refers to us as ex-patriots or -- but I definitely haven't renounced my American citizenship. I'm very happy to be an American.
BARBARAI'll bet you were when those SEALs showed up...
BUCHANANYeah, oh, yeah.
BARBARAYeah, and then the second question is -- and I do not mean this disrespectfully of your work, because it's certainly something that's needed -- but couldn't you find a safer place to offer, you know, really good services to children? I mean, aren't there children in the United States in just terrible conditions that could use your talents and...
BUCHANANYeah, sure. I think that there are needy people everywhere. And, you know, our job as contributing members of society is to find our place and how we can best do that. And for me it was going to Africa. That's just what I felt I was supposed to do. And those are the opportunities that were actually presented to me and I took them. And I did, I ended up in a really bad situation. This doesn't happen to everybody. And so, you know, through a series of events that I can't completely take responsibility for, this is what happened to me.
BUCHANANBut, you know, we're back here in the U.S. and we're...
BUCHANAN...you know, we're open to whatever opportunities lie ahead in terms of aid or development. And so I think...
REHMBut you would like to go back to Somalia?
BUCHANANNo. At this point I don't think going back to Somalia is an option for me, although I do have to say that we were back in the states after the rescue for about two months. And then we went back to Africa for about ten months.
BUCHANANWe were living in Nairobi. But then Erik was still working in Somalia...
BUCHANAN...and he's still working actually. So, you know, it's just very near and dear to our hearts.
BUCHANANAnd this experience is not about Somalia per say. It's about a group of bad people that did something bad to me...
BUCHANAN...in Somalia. But it could happen anywhere.
REHMHere's an email from Terry in St. Louis. I don't quite understand why the organization for which you worked is not held completely responsible. You can be too hardcore and you do foolish things and make foolish decisions. Why did you not quit instead of putting yourself in jeopardy? You could always work for another aid agency.
LANDEMALMYeah, I don't know. There's no easy answer but I think that our decision to not sue them or to hold them legally responsible has been that we need also to move on. And there's no -- they were not the ones that kidnapped Jess at the end of the day. There were bad people kidnapping her. And we need to also heal in our way. And I think that that has been the reason why Jess has felt that she don't want to, you know, try to make this into a legal business or anything like that.
REHMJessica, Anico would like to know what the guards did in the convoy, if anything, to try to prevent the kidnapping.
BUCHANANNothing. Yeah, I believe that they had been paid off.
REHMThey were probably in danger -- oh, you do.
BUCHANANWell, they had to have been in order to -- I mean, the whole thing was a setup so they'd been paid off. And then they just stood there and watched them drive away.
LANDEMALMShould we explain that the security officer on the ground of the (word?) who was actually the one on the ground responsible for Jess and her colleague's security, he was most likely the guy setting this whole thing up? And more or less for about -- according to rumors, about $100,000 selling them to this group of bad people.
REHMAt the other end of your ordeal, Matt would like to know if any Somalis played a role in providing intelligence to the U.S. to prepare for your rescue.
BUCHANANI have no idea.
LANDEMALMBut I think it's safe to say that there's a lot of good Somalis out there that did whatever they could do in terms of trying to get Jess and her colleague back. There were...I'm sorry.
REHMJessica, tell me about the rescue.
BUCHANANWell, it was completely unexpected on my part. I was definitely preparing myself to be sitting there for many more months. And, you know, January 24, like any other night, I went and laid down on my sleeping mat. And I had gotten very ill. I had gotten a urinary tract infection that was turning into a kidney infection. And they were withholding medication from me as a negotiation tactic. And so my last proof of life call to our family negotiator communicator was on January 16. And I told her that I didn't think I was going to make it. I was afraid I was going to die out in the desert.
BUCHANANAnd so I was very ill and I had gotten up in the middle of the night to go use the bathroom. And so normally I would have to ask for permission before I could leave my mat. So I would just say toilet and then I would be acknowledged. But this night everybody was completely passed out. They were just dead asleep, and that was abnormal. Usually there was at least someone up keeping watch.
BUCHANANAnd so I went to a bush nearby so they wouldn't think I had tried to escape. And when I came back to my mat I kept hearing a scratching noise. And I thought that it was these large beetles that had -- they would come out at night. And I couldn't find them and I'm looking around my mat. And finally I get frustrated so I just decide to go to sleep. And probably five, ten minutes later I hear one of the guards that's sleeping closest to me get up. And I look out from underneath my blanket and I see this look of terror on his face. And he's trying to get everybody awake.
BUCHANANAnd I hear all this rustling and then the whole night just erupts into gunfire. And, you know, I mean, I'm hearing the most terrible things. People being shot and dying. And I'm so afraid and all I can think is, you know, from my training, to get as low to the ground as possible in an effort to avoid being shot myself. And my overwhelming feeling and thought at that point was that we were being kidnapped by another group. It never occurred to me that maybe there was help out there.
BUCHANANAnd I think mentally I was just so tired of everything that I'd been through and all that I'd had to endure...
BUCHANAN...and, yeah, I'm very ill. And just remember, you know, saying to myself and I think praying or something and just, I can't endure this. Like I can't -- I don't have the energy. I don't have what it takes. I cannot learn another group. And then I feel all of these hands on me roughly shaking me. And I think, you know, okay this it, I'm being taken again by force. But this time somebody says my name. He says Jessica and it's an American accent. It's a young man and I just can't wrap my brain around the fact that I recognize this accent and, how does somebody know my name.
BUCHANANHe says we're the American military and we're here to save you . We're here to take you home. And all I can say -- I'm sitting up and I'm looking and it's just black, black masks, black sky, black everything. And all I can say is, you're American? You know, I can't even compute like how did Americans get out here? You know, I didn't hear anything. I didn't -- how did they get out here?
REHMJust beetles scratching.
BUCHANANYeah, yeah. No helicopters. You know, I didn't hear anything. They were just there. And so I can't find my shoes and so, you know, just -- I mean, seriously, it was just like a movie. One of them scoops me up and starts running. And we run to, you know, a place that they had felt was safe. And we sit there and we wait for the helicopters to come in. But in the meantime, they, you know, offer me water and food and medication. And then they're not sure the premises are completely safe, and so they form a ring around me.
BUCHANANAnd then -- me and my colleague, and at one point they ask us to lie down. And then they -- about three of them laid down on top of me to form a human shield to protect me from whatever was out there. And so we just laid like that until the helicopters came in. And they again were so chivalrous and so kind in trying to guide me around all of these cactus and things. And I thought, you know, like I've been out here for months. I am going to -- just get me to this chopper. And so I just take off running as fast as I can through the cactus and the scrub.
BUCHANANAnd I throw myself onto the helicopter and I crawl on my belly across the floor of the helicopter up against the wall. And I think I finally realized I can finally breathe and exhale when we're several hundred feet up in the air. And I know that they can't get me anymore and I just start to realize I survived this ordeal. I'm alive.
REHMI'm so glad.
REHMWhat an ordeal indeed. And really for Jessica and for you, Erik, and her homecoming, I can only imagine. And people can read about in this book. It's titled "Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by Seal Team Six." Jessica, Erik, thank you both.
LANDEMALMThank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Maya Angelou came onto this program several times over the years. But in her last conversation with Diane, in 2013, she talked about writing about her fraught relationship with her mother for the first time. Her last words to Diane: “I love you, Diane Rehm. And I look forward to seeing you and talking to you again and again.” A year later, she died at the age of 86. In one of Diane's most treasured interviews, the women reflect on forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.
Mary Chapin Carpenter joins Diane to talk about her new album, the "artistic insight of middle age" and rewriting her life story in new ways.
A rebroadcast of Diane's 1999 interview with J.K. Rowling, author of the acclaimed Harry Potter series.