This time when the telephone rang in the middle of the night, it was good news – Norman Kember, Jim Loney, and Harmeet Sooden were free at last! On March 23, British soldiers entered a Baghdad house and cut the chains that had bound the men for 118 days.
“As I slowly discovered the magnitude of the effort to secure our lives I realized that a great hand of solidarity reached out to deliver three of us from the shadow of death,” said Loney upon arriving home to Toronto. “I am grateful in a way that can never be adequately expressed in words.”
It wasn’t until they were freed that the three learned the fate of their fourth colleague, Tom Fox. The four men were abducted at gunpoint in Baghdad on November 26, 2005. Tom was separated from the group on February 12. Their captors said he was being transported in preparation for the group’s imminent release. But 25 days later, on March 9, Tom Fox was shot and killed, his body wrapped in a blanket and left in an alleyway near the place he was kidnapped.
“Our hearts are filled with joy at the expectation of Norman, Jim, and Harmeet’s return to their loved ones and community,” said CPT Co-Directors Carol Rose and Doug Pritchard, speaking at a press conference at the time the three were freed. “We had longed for the day when all four men would be released together. Our joy is made bittersweet by the fact that Tom is not alive to join in the celebration.”
Tom (Virginia, USA) worked with CPT full-time in Iraq since 2004. Jim (Ontario, Canada) joined CPT as a Reservist in 2000 and began serving as CPT’s Canada Co-Coordinator in 2004. Both Norman (England, UK) and Harmeet (Canadian citizen residing in New Zealand) were members of a two-week CPT delegation meeting with a cross-section of Iraqis – religious & political leaders, human rights workers, women’s groups, university professors, etc. All four went to Iraq to, in the words of Harmeet, “bear witness to the suffering of Iraqi people living under a harsh military occupation.” As the three returned home, they drew the world’s attention to that reality.
“I am delighted to be free and reunited with my family,” said Norman. “[Yet] there is a real sense in which you are interviewing the wrong person. It is the ordinary people of Iraq that you should be talking to – the people who have suffered so much over many years and still await the stable and just society that they deserve.”
“I’m thinking specifically of prisoners…” reflected Jim. “…people who have disappeared into an abyss of detention without charge, due process, hope of release – some victims of physical and psychological torture – people unknown and forgotten. It is my deepest wish that every forsaken human being should have a hand of solidarity reaching out to them.”
Harmeet also compared his experience to that of ordinary Iraqis. “Although we were held captive for 118 days, all of Iraq is a prison. Iraqis must endure daily violence and insecurity, lack of food, contaminated water, limited electricity and fuel supply, a breakdown in law and order, and they carry fear and uncertainty about the future. Our captors, too, are prisoners of this circumstance.”
Speaking on behalf of CPT, Rose and Pritchard concluded their press conference saying, “During these past months, we have tasted the pain that has been the daily bread of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis…With Tom’s death, we feel the grief of losing a beloved friend. We rejoice in the freedom of our friends Norman, Jim, and Harmeet.
We continue to pray for a swift and joyful homecoming for the many Iraqis and internationals who long to be reunited with their families. We renew our commitment to work for an end to the war as a way to continue the witness of Tom Fox. We trust in God’s compassionate love to show us the way.”
“My experience in Iraq has reinforced my belief that the true impediment to peace is violence, regardless of whether it be the violence of an occupying army or the violence of an insurgent group…If one is serious about peace, one should be prepared to take the same risks for peace as for war. I continue to hold this conviction.”
– Harmeet Sooden after four months of captivity in Iraq.