- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

LONDON — Freed peace activist Norman Kember gave qualified thanks yesterday to the soldiers who rescued him and two colleagues after 119 days of captivity in Iraq.

“I do not believe that a lasting peace is achieved by armed force,” Mr. Kember said, “but I pay tribute to their courage and thank those who played a part in my rescue.”

The brief statement by the retired physics professor appeared to be an attempt to quell the furor surrounding his failure — and that of others in the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) organization — to thank the soldiers who risked their lives in the three-month rescue effort.

Mr. Kember, 74, spoke upon being reunited with his wife, Pat, after flying into London’s Heathrow Airport from Kuwait on a commercial flight.

Anger and disbelief had greeted his earlier failure to thank the hundreds of British and American personnel who worked to free him and the three other original captives, all members of the CPT.

When Mr. Kember and two of the others were freed Thursday, the CPT’s co-chairman, Doug Pritchard, told reporters in Toronto that “the illegal occupation of Iraq by multinational forces” was the “root cause” of the kidnappings. He offered no words of thanks for multinational forces that participated in the rescue.

Gen. Mike Jackson, chief of the British general staff, had expressed dismay at Mr. Kember’s apparent refusal to say “thank you,” saying he was “saddened that there does not seem to have been a note of gratitude for the soldiers who risked their lives to save those lives.”

The three freed hostages refused to take part in a critical debriefing session with intelligence officers.

“It is the ordinary people of Iraq that you should be talking to — the people who have suffered so much over many years and still await the stable and just society that they deserve,” Mr. Kember said yesterday.

“While in Baghdad we had opportunity to thank the British Embassy staff who worked so diligently for our release. I now thank the staff in Britain who also dedicated so much time to the same end.”

The full gamut of Britain’s intelligence services was involved in the hunt for the hostages, in an operation that cost millions of dollars. Agents from MI6, MI5, the Joint Communications Headquarters at Cheltenham and soldiers from the Special Air Service and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment all took part.

Cobra, the civil contingencies committee made up of senior Cabinet ministers and intelligence chiefs, was kept up to date on developments in the search for the Briton, American and two Canadians following their abduction in November by a group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

Jan Benvie, 51, an Edinburgh teacher who is due to go to Iraq with CPT this summer, said: “We make clear that if we are kidnapped we do not want there to be force or any form of violence used to release us.”

Rescuing Mr. Kember and his colleagues became the main priority of Task Force Black, the coalition special forces unit that carries out counter-terrorist operations in Baghdad.

After the slayings of Kenneth Bigley and Margaret Hassan, two British nationals killed by kidnappers in Iraq, few within the British military expected Mr. Kember to be found alive.

Those fears grew when Tom Fox, a resident of Clear Brook, Va., and the fourth captive in Mr. Kember’s group, was killed and his body dumped two weeks ago.

“Nobody expected Mr. Kember or the others to be found alive, especially after one was murdered,” a senior officer said, “so it was a real champagne moment when he was found safely.”

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