Captives offer forgiveness to Iraqi captors

  • December 18, 2006

James LoneyA year after they were snatched from the streets of Baghdad and repeatedly threatened with death over 118 days, the surviving three members of a kidnapped Christian Peacemaker Teams have forgiven their kidnappers and asked the Iraqi court to show leniency to the men about to stand trial for the crime.

Kidnapping is punishable by death in Iraq. At a press conference in London, England, Dec. 8 Canadians Jim Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden and Englishman Norman Kember said they opposed the death penalty for their captors. Before his capture, American Tom Fox had signed a statement opposing the death penalty in the event he was kidnapped or killed.

The four men were kidnapped on Nov. 26, 2005. Fox was killed March 9, 2006. The remaining captives were freed by British and American soldiers March 23.

"There's been enough death and blood and misery that's been involved with this situation. Another death, more deaths, however many is not going to help anybody. It certainly isn't going to make me feel any better," Loney told The Catholic Register in a phone call from London.

All three men have been asked to testify in the upcoming trial of alleged members of the previously obscure Swords of Righteousness in Baghdad. While not ruling out the possibility they might testify, Loney said he wouldn't participate in a process aimed at killing the kidnappers and Kember told the press conference he would only testify to prevent the men being put to death.

Forgiveness is basic to a Christian world view, and there's no meaning to forgiveness if it comes with the death penalty, said Loney.

"It's an irrevocable judgment that I think usurps the place of God," he said. "Every human being, without exception, is created in the image and likeness of God. And every human life, without exception, is therefore sacred."

Loney said he would welcome the opportunity to speak to his captors.

"The relationship I had with these men was within a relationship of master and slave. I would like to have the opportunity to meet them as fellow human beings."

The men who held the peace activists for nearly four months were part of a cycle of violence which can't be stopped by killing them, Loney said.

"I would like to tell them (the kidnappers) that God gave them life to give life, not to take it," said Loney. "I really feel that those who use violence are harmed by violence, by the use of it."

Loney remains hopeful that Iraq can recover from the civil war raging in the country and again become a peaceful society.

"What is the Gospel about if it isn't about peace?" he asked. "It was the first thing that the angels announced when Jesus was born to the shepherds in the field. Without peace we have nothing. It is the surest sign of the Kingdom of God. It is an essential expression of a life of faith – living peace wherever we are and however we can do that."

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an ecumenical Christian peace group with offices in Chicago and Toronto. Loney is the Toronto coordinator for CPT.

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