Saturday, March 25, 2006


One of the key roles of Christian Peacemaker Teams in Iraq has been to help bridge the divide between Sunnis and Shias, to expose prisoner abuses, to work for non-violent solutions to conflict, to stand up for human rights – and in effect, say observers, to restore the reputation of Christianity in the face its cooption for aggressive purposes by the US religious right.

CPT was operating as a recognised NGO in Iraq sometime before the US invasion in 2003. They were also exposing abuse against Iraqis four months before the Abu Ghraib scandal emerged. The group has been public in its willingness to act without military protection, both in pursuit of pacifist principles and also to avoid causing risk or harm to others.

However these points have been largely overlooked in the light of the media-stoked ‘row’ over the wrongful allegations of ingratitude. A key figure in this appears to be General Sir Mike Jackson, described by The Times as the UK’s top army chief. Questioning the role of CPT in Iraq, General Jackson told Channel 4 News and ITN yesterday that he was “saddened” that Norman Kember appeared not to have thanked the soldiers who freed him. These allegations came a full day after Christian Peacemaker Teams had in fact published a public thank-you statement on its website,

A media commentator told Ekklesia today that it “would have been extraordinary” if the army had not known this. General Jackson’s unverified accusation was then interpreted by many news sources as a factual statement – particularly through outlets known to have a strong relationship to the military and the intelligence services.

It is believed that the armed services are keen to use the freeing of the Christian peace activists as a means of bolstering their reputation following continued public and political concern about the invasion, occupation and ongoing military presence in Iraq. The successes of non-violent assistance workers in collaborating effectively with communities otherwise divided by ideology, the insurgency and the Western armed presence is also believed to have caused annoyance to military chiefs.

Those close to the situation on the ground say that there is much more to emerge about the circumstances of the freeing of Kember, Loney and Sooden. Questions are already being raised about the true extent to which the military were responsible. More will emerge in the next few days.

But none of this contention has detracted from the joy and gratitude of the many thousands of people – Christian, Muslim, those of many faiths and simply good faith – who have worked for the release of Dr Kember and his colleagues. More.

Further army intrigue: Colonel Bob Stewart repeated the allegation that CPT had not expressed gratitude, on Channel 4 News tonight. CPT UK spokesperson David Cockburn pointed out that this wasn't true. I am in touch with the Ministry of Defence to find out what is going wrong with their basic intelligence capacities. C4 presenter Krishnan Guru Murthy also said that Dr Kember was "refusing" to talk about his rescue. In fact he indicated that he needed some respite before making further comment.

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