February 10th, 2017
I’m currently reading Loretta Napoleoni‘s fine book named “Merchants of Men: How Jihadists and ISIS Turned Kidnapping and Refugee Trafficking into a Multi-Billion Dollar Business“, where quite a bit is dedicated to what is – frankly – the sheer idiocy of people who get kidnapped due to their knowing next to nothing about what they’re about to do. I’ll let Napoleoni do the talking, from the book:
Kevin Dawes’s Libyan experience came to an abrupt end as he decided to leave his katiba but not the Jihadist environment. In October of 2012 he travelled to Syria and was kidnapped by supporters of the Assad regime. It is unclear why he went to Syria; he claimed that he wanted to rescue Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist who disappeared in Syria in August 2012 and was previously a US marine, though Dawes also claimed to be a photojournalist and a doctor on his way to help people in Syria. In addition, people who had met him claim that he was suffering from severe mental health problems including delusions and paranoia. The story of his liberation in April 2016 is so engulfed in secrecy that some people have even thought that Dawes could have been a US spy. This seems very unlikely. In spring 2012 he unsuccessfully tried to raise money through a Kickstarter campaign called Aerial Battlefield Photojournalism. This project was intended to provide a unique view of the war in Syria via an aerial camera drone. The goal of the project was to raise $28,000. However, Dawes was only able to get thirty dollars pledged. So he decided to go to Syria and report from the front line of the war himself.
And that’s how you can get kidnapped. Yah.
On Bowe Bergdahl, the guy who season two of the super-popular podcast “Serial” was all about:
Bergdahl’s story begs several questions: What was a twenty-three-year-old soldier doing alone in the middle of the Afghan desert? How did he get there? And why was he unarmed in a region infested by the Taliban? After his liberation, Bergdahl did not speak to the media, and US authorities did not release any information. Very little was known about the precious hours before his abduction. Privately, however, Bergdahl disclosed the events that led to his captivity to Mark Boal, the screenwriter of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Boal approached Bergdahl because he wanted to make a movie of his story. Some of the recorded conversations between them, a total of about twenty-five hours, were used by the popular podcast Serial in its second series. The podcast reveals some interesting and disconcerting aspects of Bergdahl’s abduction. For example, the kidnapping appears to have been the direct result of a twenty-three-year-old soldier who believed that he could prove to the world and to himself that he was a real-life Jason Bourne, the fictional hero of the Bourne film trilogy based on the Robert Ludlum novels. For a start, Bowe Bergdahl admitted to Mark Boal that he had staged his own disappearance. His plan was to walk from his base at Mest to the other, much bigger US military post at Sharana. Sharana is about twenty miles southwest of Mest. Bergdahl thought he could reach it in about twenty-four hours, a rather optimistic forecast. The route is long and difficult, especially in the summer heat, traversing the desert. It is also quite risky. The area is under Taliban control and people travel back and forth regularly. Someone was bound to see Bergdahl, approach him, and discover that he was not a Pashtun but an American. But Bergdahl did not consider these likely outcomes. For him, it was sufficient to be physically fit for the trek, and he was confident that wearing civilian clothes would be a perfect disguise.
On the night of June 29, 2009, Bergdahl snuck out of the camp and began his trek towards Sharana. Just like Jason Bourne, Bowe Bergdahl acted alone. During the previous days he had sent home most of his possessions to prevent anybody from checking them, and he had withdrawn $300 in cash from his account, money he thought he might need during the trek. He had taken a compass and a knife with him, but he had left behind his night vision goggles, his weapons, and his radio. When he reached the desert, he suddenly realized what he had done. The magnitude, and perhaps the stupidity, of his plan hit him. Unlike the hero of the Bourne movie series, Bergdahl panicked. Though he wanted to go back, he judged it too risky to do so at nighttime. The sentinels would have shot at him not knowing who he was. But above all, he was concerned about what would happen to him once his superiors realized that he had left his platoon without permission. To the army, he was already a deserter.
Listening to Bowe Bergdahl, one cannot help but think how naïve his plan was and how delusional the sergeant was about his “mission.” He admitted to Boal that he wanted to prove to himself and to the world that he was a super soldier, someone like Jason Bourne, an imaginary character who singlehandedly could expose a major weakness of the military system. Instead, he behaved stupidly, and was kidnapped and held hostage for almost five years. DUSTWUN triggered a massive search that cost the American taxpayer millions of dollars.
Even though I can absolutely sympathise with testing one’s own environment, so to speak, I think Bergdahl managed to pull off some really stupid shit.
“It’s easy to feel invincible, even with death all around,” Steven Sotloff, also kidnapped and beheaded by the Islamic State, wrote to the Middle East editor for Newsweek. “It’s like, ‘This is my movie, sucker—I’m not gonna die.’” However, this feeling of invincibility is exactly the behavior that gets one kidnapped and killed.
Even though their deaths are not funny at all, it’s just a display of what utter folly leads to.
In the trailer for the HBO documentary about James Foley, Jim: The James Foley Story, people like Sotloff, Ottosen, and Foley are presented as journalist-martyrs. The message is that without them we would not know the horrors of the Syrian Civil War. But this is not completely correct. We celebrate them not because they showed us the tragedy of Syria but because they were kidnapped and, in the case of Sotloff and Foley, beheaded by the Islamic State. The proof is that the public did not know who they were before their abduction, as their articles did not appear on the front pages of any distinguished newspapers. Likewise, today the public is still unaware of the names of the freelancers who are reporting on the Syrian conflict, or even most of the names of abducted journalists who remain in captivity!
The disturbing news that made us aware of the existence of people like Sotloff, Ottosen, and Foley wasn’t the news that they reported, but the news of their abductions and their deaths. Professional journalists understand this. Marc Marginedas, also held hostage by ISIS, said that he did not want to discuss his abduction because he is not the news; the news is what is happening in Syria. Nicolas Hénin, another journalist and hostage held captive by the Islamic State, warned readers of his book, Jihad Academy, that he did not write about his captivity, of his interaction with “The Beatles”—the British-born jailers of the foreign hostages held by the Islamic State—and his fellow hostages, but about what is happening in Syria and the Middle East, because even while held hostage he did not stop being a journalist.
In the account of his capture published in the New York Times,206 Padnos admits to having fallen into a trap because he was very naïve about the jihadists, the insurgency, and the Syrian conflict. Reading the article, one has the feeling that, though he was knowledgeable about the history and culture of Islam and he spoke Arabic fluently, he did not understand the complex politics of the region nor the shifting alliances and loyalties of the Syrian war by proxy. Unlike many other kidnapped journalists, Theo Padnos was lucky. His kidnappers were from al Nusra and not from the Islamic State: they wanted money, not his head. He was also lucky because Dave Bradley, a Washington, D.C. entrepreneur who owns the media company that publishes The Atlantic, got personally involved in the release of the American hostages held in Syria.