OTTAWA — Former Taliban prisoner Joshua Boyle described his wife, American Caitlan Coleman, in court this past week as emotionally troubled, unstable and violent, adding a new layer of complexity to the longtime hostages’ saga.

Boyle, who faces charges in a Canadian court of abusing Coleman, took the stand for the first time to provide his account of the couple’s relationship, including during their five-year imprisonment in Pakistan, a period in which they had three children.

Boyle, a Canadian citizen, presented a radically different portrait of the couple’s relationship from that which Coleman has provided, saying she suffered from mental problems and had regular verbal and physical outbursts. Coleman, meanwhile, has depicted herself as having undergone years of psychological and physical abuse by a man determined to control virtually every aspect of her life. 

The conflicting accounts intensify the questions that surround the couple’s story, spanning their early interactions; their decision, when Coleman was six months pregnant, to travel to Afghanistan in 2012; their kidnapping and long captivity in neighboring Pakistan; and their return to Canada, which was capped by the abuse allegations in late 2017. 

While Coleman, 33, is now living in the United States with their four children, Boyle, 36, remains under court supervision at the home of his father, a tax judge in Ottawa. Arguments in the trial, which was delayed for several months while Judge Peter Doody deliberated on what information about the pair’s sexual activity would be aired in court, are expected to conclude this fall. 

Their release in October 2017, which unfolded without significant harm to them or their young children, was hailed by U.S. and Canadian officials as a victory after incidents in which Western hostages were killed by their extremist captors or died during rescue attempts. 

Now, the collective elation of that moment has been overtaken by the assault accusations and other puzzling elements of the couple’s past that have arisen during the trial.

Boyle, who studied journalism in Ontario and hoped to become a war correspondent, met Coleman on an online Star Wars forum in 2002. He and Coleman, a home-schooled native of a tiny Pennsylvania town, later began an intimate relationship. In court this week, Boyle described himself as unorthodox, saying his views on relationships, personal comfort and other matters deviated from the norm.

He said he chooses to sleep on the floor and was drawn to activities from which others might steer clear. “My own happiness is usually not relevant,” he said. 

Those views extended to his interactions with Coleman, he said. Throughout the trial, Boyle sought to minimize his feelings of love or affection for Coleman, whom he first met in person in 2006. He disputed her statement, for example, that they were dating on and off for years before their marriage in 2011, saying they were sexually intimate during those earlier periods but were not romantically involved.

He said he later agreed to marry Coleman not because he was in love with her but because he came to consider her part of his family and was willing to accept what he expected to be a troubled marriage.

“I identify as a masochist,” he said. “I entered into the relationship knowing it would bring chaos and pain.”

 Boyle said Coleman habitually lashed out during fits of anger or anxiety, striking him or banging her head against a wall. He said her emotional state deteriorated over time, including during their captivity. “She wasn’t mentally healthy headed into it, and it wasn’t a good situation for her,” he said. 

Throughout Boyle’s testimony, prosecutor Jason Neubauer sought to challenge Boyle’s credibility, as the defense did during its questioning of Coleman earlier this year.

Boyle repeatedly rejected the prosecution’s allegation that he had sought to control Coleman’s weight, who she talked to and what she wore. He acknowledged having suggested that she dress in a more “mature” fashion and occasionally bought her clothes, but he said she was free to disregard his advice. 

He likewise denied belittling her appearance or intelligence, as Coleman has alleged, suggesting that observations he made about her — by his telling, about matters as minor as a habit of ending sentences with prepositions — were constructive criticism. 

Earlier in the trial, a Canadian government official who traveled with the couple on their flight home to Canada in 2017 testified that Boyle acted in a controlling manner.

Boyle denied ever hitting Coleman out of anger but said she agreed that he would periodically take action, including spanking, to “correct her behavior” when she did things they both deemed problematic. Addressing another charge against him, Boyle denied having forced Coleman to take depression medication that had been prescribed for him, saying he had merely been offering assistance when she was seized by an anxiety attack.

The trial has focused attention on the couple’s shared interest in BDSM, or bondage, domination, sadism and masochism, which both have said played a role in their relationship. Boyle characterized certain things that Coleman described as abuse as consensual erotic acts.

Boyle also gave the court a sharply different account of the couple’s decision to begin a backpacking trip to Afghanistan, where they were abducted in October 2012. Coleman has said she had opposed the notion of traveling to the war-torn country and had agreed to go only because she felt she had no choice, but Boyle said she had been enthusiastic about the trip. 

Western officials long suspected that Boyle held sympathies for the Taliban, but he testified that he wanted to travel to Afghanistan to better understand the country, including armed actors such as the Taliban, in keeping with his interest in conflict journalism. He sought to minimize the prosecution’s suggestion that the decision to take his pregnant wife on the trip was reckless, saying Afghanistan was less dangerous than American cities such as Baltimore. Since his release, Boyle has given differing reasons for traveling to Afghanistan, at times saying he went to provide assistance to Afghans in remote or militant-controlled areas.

Coleman has maintained that Boyle had an intense interest in the Taliban and had assured her that they would be treated safely by the militants because of his association with the family of Omar Khadr, a Canadian man who was captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan and imprisoned by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Before his marriage to Coleman, Boyle was briefly married to Khadr’s sister Zaynab Khadr, who gained notoriety in Canada for defending the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. 

Boyle appeared to link what he described as “blasphemous” comments by Coleman and their kidnapping outside of the Afghan capital, Kabul, saying they were taken hostage shortly after leaving their guesthouse the morning after her alleged remarks.

Boyle said he announced early in their captivity, sometime in 2013, that he would seek a divorce after their release, a notion that he said caused Coleman significant distress. They would have two more children during their imprisonment, and another after their rescue. 

In court, Boyle referred to the Taliban as the “Emirate of Afghanistan” and described it as a “parallel government” to the elected administration in Kabul. Both of those characterizations are unusual in the West and match how the militants depict themselves.

His testimony is to continue Monday.