June 15, 2005


How much is a hostage worth? (Pepe Escobar, 6/16/05, Asia Times)

Last Saturday, at 11am Baghdad time, the door of an underground cell was opened and "number 5 and number 6" were ordered to go the toilet - the same ritual they had been following since January 5. But only a few seconds later a guard muttered what they must have interpreted as a magic spell: "Today, Paris". Florence Aubenas, a seasoned correspondent for the French daily Liberation, and her fixer Hussein Hanoun, a Shi'ite from the Saadi tribe and former fighter pilot in Saddam Hussein's air force, were taken to an adjacent room. He was told to put on a white tunic, she was told to put on a black robe with a chador (veil) and was offered "two rings and a bottle of perfume". They drank tea and ate chicken kebab. A few hours later, after 157 days of captivity, they were both free. [...]

Unlike the tragic Giuliana Sgrena affair - which resulted in the killing of Italian agent Nicola Calipari - the French government took unlimited precautions to extract Aubenas from Iraq. (See They shoot journalists, don't they?, April 28.) The last instructions were personally phoned by French President Jacques Chirac. The French Embassy had even prepared a new passport so Aubenas could leave Iraq legally. Influential Muslim clerics like the Saudi sheikh Abdullah Ben Biyeha served as mediators. The strategy to dribble the American and Iraqi checkpoints was the stuff of Hollywood thrillers. Aubenas' role changed continuously - in the end she was "the driver's wife, if someone talks to you, you start crying". When she was finally transferred to a car bearing French diplomatic plates, the car had to weave around 80 kilometers of hardcore streets that Baghdad police wouldn't dream of cruising.

On Sunday morning, they still had to go to the airport, taking the most dangerous stretch of highway on the planet (not the one where Calipari was killed, which was a privileged American military road). The French ambassador had decided to do it in daytime - unlike Calipari - and provided the American Embassy with extensive details of his journey. But with a crucial omission (the Italians had done the same thing) ... he didn't tell the Americans he was carrying former hostage Aubenas. "They might get shot at," said a French diplomat.

Amid all her startling revelations, Aubenas was careful to highlight the geopolitical role of television, and how unprecedented French public opinion and media mobilization had a powerful effect on the kidnappers: "Every time there was something they would come to the cell, very excited, saying, 'It's working, they talked about you on TV'. That was the ultimate criteria. It didn't matter what was said." Once again this proves two things: first, hostages' spirits are always lifted when they see they are not left to rot and their plight is mobilizing a whole nation; second, their own price inevitably goes up in this post-modern form of the slave market.

Which raises the inevitable question: how much is a hostage in Iraq worth? [...]

An important point is that the Aubenas affair generated very few reactions and commentaries in Islamist websites. This would imply that hardcore jihadis - who make a lot of Internet noise - were not directly involved. And since there were no political demands, what is left is just a financial operation to generate easy cash

How can a people with so little pride be so arrogant?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 15, 2005 8:33 AM

Not infrequently, there is a direct correlation between the lack of pride (L) and arrogance (A). Where shame is too often the constant (S).

A=L*S squared?

(Just a theory, mind you.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at June 15, 2005 9:25 AM

Someone mentioned this and I shamelessly posted it on another comments section: I just hope the French didn't pay for her release in Jews.

Posted by: Ben Lange at June 15, 2005 10:02 AM

Australia just got their hostage out without paying a ransom: http://fallbackbelmont.blogspot.com/2005/06/six-weeks.html

Posted by: pj at June 15, 2005 10:18 AM

>Which raises the inevitable question: how much is a hostage in Iraq worth? [...]

Indeed. How many American and Iraqi lives is one idiot Froggy journalist worth?

Posted by: b at June 15, 2005 10:52 AM

The US should get our Iraqi allies to kidnap more French. That way, we can milk the French taxpayers. 100 hostages * $6 million each will cover a lot of reconstruction expenses.

Posted by: pj at June 15, 2005 11:20 AM

Is that a trick question?

Posted by: David Cohen at June 15, 2005 11:20 AM

Why is anyone concerned when a 'journalist' gets kidnapped? The world has entirely too many and culling the herd by letting the more stupid get butchered by Jihadniks might not be such a bad idea.

Posted by: bart at June 15, 2005 11:26 AM

The French:
Arrogant, but cowardly.
Oppionated, yet foul-smelling.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 15, 2005 12:50 PM

bart. That may be problematic. Check out what's going on in Sweden. fjordman Islamic law is trumping Swedish law just as Moslems are fast becoming the majority.

If a strongman (not Uncle Sam) doesn't come on the scene very soon with enough might to stop them, Muslims will overrun all of Europe and no wall will keep them out because they are already on the inside of every European country.

Posted by: erp at June 15, 2005 1:47 PM


Given that Europe is little more than a cemetery with a few good museums and restaurants, the notion that I should care whether it is overrun by the moral equivalent of Orcs is just laughable.

Posted by: bart at June 15, 2005 8:15 PM

bart. I couldn't care less about Europe either except that the stronger those Orcs get, the more dangerous for us over here. Our home grown appeasers will convince people that if we make nice nice with them, they'll leave us alone.

I'd hate for the world to fall into another dark age. I have six wonderful grandchildren and I'd like them to have a shot at a good life preferably one not under Islamic law.

Posted by: erp at June 15, 2005 10:09 PM

The orcs are the good guys.

Posted by: oj at June 15, 2005 10:16 PM

And you are Ungoliant, no?

The orcs are to be pitied, not hated. But some have to be.

Of course, some of the elves (and dwarves, and men, and wizards, and even a Vala) deserve the same.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 16, 2005 10:58 PM