More Time for Va. Hostage

Peace activist Tom Fox prepared for the possibility of his kidnapping before he left for Iraq.
Peace activist Tom Fox prepared for the possibility of his kidnapping before he left for Iraq. (AP)
By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 8, 2005

The group holding Tom Fox of Virginia and three other Western peace activists hostage in Baghdad announced yesterday that it had extended the deadline for killing the captives until Saturday, even as Fox's friends and supporters gathered at a candlelight vigil last evening in Arlington.

"I am deeply grateful for the extension," said Pearl Hoover, pastor of the Northern Virginia Mennonite Church in Fairfax City, part of a five-member team that has provided financial, emotional and spiritual support for Fox during his peace seeking mission in Iraq. "The more conversation that can take place, the better it is."

The group holding Fox and the others said it is extending the deadline to give the United States and Britain more time to meet its demands to free all Iraqi prisoners.

Fox, 54, who lived in Northern Virginia for more than 30 years, was kidnapped Nov. 26 by a group that identified itself as the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. A member of the U.S. Marine Band for 20 years, Fox first went to Iraq in September 2004 as a peace activist for Christian Peacemaker Teams, based in Toronto and Chicago.

"My hope would be that [the kidnappers] recognize that they are working with people who have the whole world's well-being at heart and that is why they are in Iraq," Hoover said. "We will continue to hope and pray."

Fox has a daughter and a son of college age. Katherine Fox appeared in a videotape shown last weekend on al-Jazeera television appealing for her father's safe return.

"In pictures, in video, my dad looks so tired right now. So very tired," she said in the videotape. "I do not care to imagine. I struggle even to find the space to experience my own emotions. I want to be able to communicate just how loved my father is, but more than that, I just want to hug him. I want to find a way to give him back the strength he has given me."

Fox appeared on ABC's "Nightline" on Tuesday night and appealed to the U.S. government not to use force to rescue her father. "He does not support that way of dealing with the problem," she said.

Fox, through a Christian Peacemaker spokesman, declined an interview request from The Washington Post. She has not returned numerous phone calls.

Tom Fox, a Quaker, is a longtime member of the Langley Hills Friends Meeting in McLean, which organized last night's vigil. About 60 supporters gathered in the chilly air to give thanks for Fox's temporary reprieve and pray for his safe return. They read entries from his blog and listened as his e-mails from Iraq to friends and supporters were read.

His friends and family have spoken about him using carefully chosen words because they feared they might say something that could endanger his life. His daughter's appearance on al-Jazeera was an attempt to talk directly to his captives. She chose to appear on "Nightline," according to a Christian Peacemaker official, because the broadcast could be seen in the Middle East.

"My dad has always been a wanderer," Katherine Fox said in the al-Jazeera tape. "He believes that the real purpose of travel is to experience environments other than our own. When my brother and I were little, our family would visit a different city every year. . . . We got lost on purpose so that we were able to learn a new way back. . . . My father was teaching us to see opportunity in every step, planned or otherwise."

Tom Fox had prepared for the eventuality of his own kidnapping. He had given friends and co-workers a written plan to follow in case he was taken hostage. His friends and family have been following the plan since he was abducted.

When the deadline extension was announced on al-Jazeera last night, the video showed two hostages wearing robes and shackled. They were shown from the neck down and could not be identified.

Spencer Eth, vice chairman in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at New York Medical College, said that even if Fox and the other hostages are being well cared for, they are experiencing emotional and psychological trauma that would test even the strongest individual.

"We don't know the conditions of their confinement," Eth said in a telephone interview. "We don't know if they are being adequately fed and hydrated, whether they have time to sleep, whether they are being subjected to pain or loud noises or intimidated, whether they can go to the bathroom or wash, or if they are alone, are being kept in darkness or confined spaces.

"We do know that even under the best of circumstances, these hostages know the threat they face, the prospect of death, and their anxiety will go up as the days go by. And along with their anxiety will go tremendous fear, desperation, sadness, and this is when their personality begins to collapse."


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