Saturday, March 25, 2006


Peace activist Dr Norman Kember has been re-united with his family and friends today. But questions remain about the origins of the barrage of hostile publicity he has received - based on the mistaken and (by now) oft-refuted premise that he showed no gratitude to the soldiers who had freed him. In fact CPT issued a thank-you statement the day he was released, a local security official reported Kember as thanking his rescuers, his wife issued a thank-you statement too, and those close to both the former captives and Christian Peacemaker Teams also made the truth of the situation clear. Now Kember has confirmed it as his first public act on arrival in Britain.

Ekklesia has asked The Sun (Norman Snubs SAS heroes) and The Times (Army's top general attacks Kember for failing to thank SAS rescue team) to correct their blatantly misleading stories. The Daily Telegraph at least amended theirs by quoting Jonathan Bartley and the CPT statement at the end ('No note of gratitude' from freed hostage), though they did not alter the headline or the substantial tenor of their report - and apparently did not check the facts themselves. They were only willing to say that it was "claimed" that CPT had expressed thanks. It would have taken seconds to confirm.

Top marks to the BBC and Reuters for unravelling the story pretty quickly, however - with interviews featuring Bartley, Bruce Kent (who rightly expressed amazement that poor Norman was being expected to produce definitive statements immediately after his terrible ordeal) and Tim Nafziger of CPT UK (Kember due back in Britain). The Mirror creditably posed the supposed 'story' as a question (Did Kember refuse to thank SAS rescuers?), though PA was slightly slower to catch on ('No thank-you' storm as Kember flies home) - but has now done so, at least in its later paragraphs.

There are two major points of note here. First, the full story about how the captives came to be freed unharmed has not yet been told - and the army and intelligence services may turn out to be significantly less central to it than they and everyone else seems to assume at the moment. Second, the 'Kember ungrateful' line has come from military sources - particularly General Sir Michael Jackson ("the army's top chief"), who toured the studios yesterday (notably ITN and C4) peddling a notion which, by his own words, it is clear he had not checked. Jackson's "sadness" at a hypothetical situation he could not verify came out of the mouth of a skilled media operative. In fact the CPT statement of gratitude was made public the day before. To suppose the army did not know this would be naive, sadly.

On the contrary, the military have been keen to talk up their actual or alleged role in the saga, to sideline or ignore the fact that Kember and the other CPT activists had unambiguously asked that others should not risk their lives or those of others for them (Kember's family 'were reassured over rescue attempt', Ireland Online) , and to spin those outlets with whom they enjoy a cosy relationship - such as The Times, The Telegraph and The Sun's defence correspondent. has a highly acerbic comment on all this, which is overblown but not unjustified in the circumstances.

More of the truth will emerge over the next few days. Let's hope that by the time the facts come into focus the general media will not already have decided to "move on". See also: Freed Iraq hostage Kember lands back in Britain (ABC News, USA).

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