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Ex-Hostage Is Free to Speak Her Mind Now

Journalist Jill Carroll, safe in U.S. jurisdiction, says she was forced by her captors in Iraq to make anti-American statements in a video.

April 02, 2006|Jonathan Peterson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Jill Carroll, the American journalist who was held in captivity for 82 days in Iraq, on Saturday sharply disavowed comments she had made as a hostage that were critical of the United States and sympathetic to Islamist rebels.

The remarks were made under extreme duress, said Carroll, 28, a freelance journalist who was working for the Christian Science Monitor in Baghdad when she was kidnapped Jan. 7.

"They told me they would let me go if I cooperated," Carroll said in a statement from Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she had been brought by a U.S. military transport plane two days after being freed by her captors. "I was living in a threatening environment, under their control, and wanted to go home alive. I agreed.

"Things that I was forced to say while captive are now being taken by some as an accurate reflection of my personal views. They are not."

A video of Carroll speaking kindly about the cause of her captors and criticizing the U.S. military presence in Iraq has appeared on Islamist websites, sparking an angry reaction from some bloggers and conservative commentators.

In the video made the night before her release, Carroll said of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq: "He knows it was illegal from the very beginning. He knows it is built on a mountain of lies." She also declared that insurgents were "only trying to defend their country" against "an illegal and dangerous and deadly occupation."

She called on President Bush to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. "Tens of thousands ... have lost their lives here because of the occupation," she said in the video. "Americans need to think about that and realize day-to-day how difficult life is ... here."

But on Saturday, free from the threats of her abductors and under U.S. military protection, she had a completely different message. In the statement released by the Christian Science Monitor, Carroll said her captors "forced me to participate in a propaganda video," during her final night in captivity.

She also distanced herself from comments she had made in a television interview she gave to the Iraqi Islamic Party shortly after her release. "Out of fear, I said [in the interview] I wasn't threatened," Carroll said. "In fact, I was threatened many times."

She said the political party had promised her the interview would not be aired "and broke their word. At any rate, fearing retribution from my captors, I did not speak freely."

In her statement, Carroll asserted her independence as a journalist, saying: "I want to be judged as a journalist, not as a hostage. I remain as committed as ever to fairness and accuracy -- to discovering the truth -- and so I will not engage in polemics. But let me be clear: I abhor all who kidnap and murder civilians, and my captors are clearly guilty of both crimes."

On Jan. 7, Carroll and her interpreter traveled to a neighborhood in western Baghdad to interview a Sunni Arab politician, who did not show up. After they left, they were attacked by gunmen nearby. Her interpreter, Allan Enwiyah, was killed.

A previously unknown group calling itself the Revenge Brigades had threatened to kill Carroll unless the U.S. released all female Iraqi prisoners by Feb. 26. Some prisoners were released, in what U.S. officials insisted was an unrelated move.

Carroll's abduction sparked an outpouring of sympathy and support for the idealistic young journalist, who had studied Arabic and was said to have developed close ties with many Iraqis.

On Thursday, her captors released her at a Iraqi Islamic Party branch office. The U.S. military later escorted her to the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. A State Department spokesman declined Saturday to comment on the Carroll situation.

In her statement, Carroll pleaded to be allowed time to recover from her ordeal. "Now, I ask for the time to heal. This has been a taxing 12 weeks for me and my family. Please allow us some quiet time alone, together."

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