Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

4-13 Handling of Hostage Situations Remains a Problem

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- A New Mexican held hostage during the 1964 Congo rebellion has some pertinent thoughts about the British captives kidnapped and surprisingly released by Iran.
Santa Fean Michael Hoyt was head of the American Consulate in Stanleyville when Simba rebels took the city. Hoyt had time to get his wife and son out but he and his consul staff stayed to help protect the Americans remaining in the area.
In his book, Captive in the Congo, Hoyt recounts the 112 days the consulate staff spent in captivity, sometimes in their office, often in a dreary prison, once in a dirty women's restroom and for a few days at the fanciest hotel in town.
They never knew what was coming next. They constantly faced the threat of death, either from their captors or from uncontrollable tribesmen inflamed by anti-American propaganda. At times, a firing squad stood ready for a publicized execution of the consular staff.
This was in the early days of hostage taking as a form of terrorism by weak, extremist states. The Congo crisis was the first peacemaking operation undertaken by the United Nations. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold died in a plane crash while on a Congo peace mission. The Congo Rebellion severely damaged the U.N.'s image.
The U.S. State Department debated at length whether to negotiate for the hostages or whether to use force to demonstrate that America will not tolerate its people being taken hostage.
From Hoyt's point of view as a captive, it was important to do nothing to anger their captors. On more than one occasion an angry officer ordered their death or beatings.
The American consular staff was treated much more harshly than any other consulates. The primary reason was that the rebels had evidence of American involvement in supporting the existing government. They wanted Hoyt to admit that but he was under orders to admit nothing.
Even the Belgian consul staff were treated better, despite Belgium having been the colonial power that exploited the area's resources for years. The primary reason, Hoyt felt, was that the Belgian consul was authorized to say whatever the captors required because it should be obvious to everyone that it was done under duress.
The U.S. State Department's decision was to attempt a rescue operation. By then, rebel forces were being driven back and their leaders were becoming more desperate.
Belgians and other Europeans in Stanleyville had remained free. But now they were taken into custody also, to be used either as shields or bargaining tools. They were all told that if Stanleyville were invaded, they would be executed on the spot.
The invasion came via a parachute drop on the airport. When the rebels heard the airplanes, they began a forced march of their many captives, men, women and children, toward the airport.
When it became apparent to those in charge that their plan would not work, they opened fire with rifles and a machine gun on the long column of captives. The consular officials at the head of the column managed to sprint ahead and escape but many were killed in a horrible massacre.
The rescue operation succeeded in freeing the consular officials but many other lives were lost. Hoyt says it was very lucky that the five consular officials survived.
Despite the massacre, U.S. policy has remained one of not negotiating for captives. Hoyt feels that there always should be some communication and that countries should be careful about their comments and threats when their people are taken hostage.
He says the British government moved too quickly toward tough action at the beginning of the ordeal and that it helped when cooler heads prevailed.
FRI, 4-13-07

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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