- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

NEW YORK — Deciding not to report initially on reporter David Rohde’s capture by the Taliban for seven months was “an agonizing position that we revisited over and over again,” New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said Sunday.

“All along, we were told by people that probably the wisest course for David’s safety was to keep it quiet,” Mr. Keller said in an interview on CNN.

The Times reported Saturday that Mr. Rohde escaped from seven months in captivity in Afghanistan and Pakistan by climbing over a wall on Friday.

Mr. Rohde was abducted Nov. 10 along with an Afghan reporter and a driver south of the Afghan capital of Kabul. The Times kept the kidnapping quiet out of concern for the men’s safety, and other media outlets, including the Associated Press, followed suit at the Times’ request.

“It was an agonizing position that we revisited over and over again,” Mr. Keller said in the CNN interview with Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz. “But I also have a responsibility for the people who work for me. I send a lot of people out into dangerous places, and their security is also part of my job.”

Mr. Keller told Mr. Kurtz he worried at different points that the story would be leaked, such as in May when Mr. Rohde was part of the team that won a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Keller said Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera was planning a story on Mr. Rohde but agreed to hold it at the Times’ request.

Mr. Keller has told the Times that the newspaper had been advised by Mr. Rohde’s family, experts in kidnapping cases and others that publicizing the abduction “could increase the danger to David and the other hostages. The kidnappers initially said as much.”

Mr. Keller said on CNN and in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC that no ransom was paid.

The Times said Mr. Rohde and Afghan reporter Tahir Ludin escaped Friday by climbing over the wall of a compound in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan.

The two then found a Pakistani army scout who led them to a nearby base, the Times said. On Saturday, the two were flown to the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, the Times reported.

Gen. Athar Abbas, the chief spokesman for the Pakistani army, said Sunday that Mr. Rohde was brought into an army base in North Waziristan and that the army then assisted him.

“Yes, the army has facilitated his travel after he was led by a soldier to an army base in North Waziristan some four days ago,” Abbas told the Associated Press.

Gen. Abbas would not give any further details as to how Mr. Rohde escaped captivity.

It was unclear who took Mr. Rohde captive, and the Times did not reveal his abductors.

Mr. Keller told CNN, “The more you talk about who did what … the more you’re writing a playbook for the next kidnapping.”

Associated Press writer Paul Alexander contributed to this report from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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