ABC Television’s 20/20 will air a program on Friday called “The Girl Left Behind,” the main thrust of which is already apparent on ABC’s website.
The horribly tragic story is that of Kayla Mueller, an American held hostage and reportedly raped and tortured by ISIS before dying — it’s unclear how, possibly at the hands of ISIS, possibly killed by bombs dropped by U.S. ally Jordan.
Another hostage who was freed reported that ISIS blamed Kayla Mueller for U.S. actions in the Middle East. Among those actions, we learned this week, was imprisoning future ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at Abu Ghraib, not just at Camp Bucca as previously reported.
Mueller, like fellow ISIS victim James Foley, meant well and was in Syria to try to help people nonviolently. But U.S. policy has made it unsafe for Americans to travel to many places.
ABC will seek to pin blame for what happened to Mueller on Doctors Without Borders. She was kidnapped out of a Doctors Without Borders car, and that organization negotiated the freedom of its employees while refusing to help Mueller or even to trust her family enough to share with them information intended for them from ISIS.
But Doctors Without Borders was in Syria to help people and appears to have meant well. Blaming the doctors is easy to overdo here, and not just because the United States has been bombing its hospitals — acts that may not involve rape or torture, but do involve murder and maiming. The U.S. government could have helped Mueller by never having destroyed Iraq in the first place, never having sought to overthrow Syria, never having overthrown Libya, or never having flooded the region with weapons. Or the U.S. government could have negotiated with ISIS or allowed victims’ families to do so — something it now allows, too late for Kayla Mueller. Or the U.S. government could have announced new policies that ISIS would likely have accepted as ransom.
ISIS asked, in exchange for Mueller’s freedom, for the freedom of Aafia Siddiqui or $5 million Euros. If the U.S. government had, instead, offered an apology to the victims of its wars and prison camps, and massive reparations to the region, ISIS might very well have responded in kind. Instead, the U.S. government proceeded to bomb people, including many civilians, for a cost many times greater than $5 million Euros.
The telling of Mueller’s story is, in itself, worthwhile. But the focus on an American victim of a war that is victimizing all kinds of people fuels dangerous attitudes. Focusing on the crimes of ISIS, but not of Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or, for that matter, the United States, looks like propaganda for more war. When a New Yorker like Jeffrey Epstein rapes, nobody proposes to bomb New York, but when Baghdadi allegedly rapes, the appropriate response is widely understood to be bombing people.
I don’t think the suffering of Kayla Mueller or James Foley should be used to justify the infliction of more suffering. As 9/11 victims have been used as a justification to kill hundreds of times the number of people killed on 9/11, some of the victims’ relatives have pushed back. James Foley is pushing back from the grave. Posted online is a video of Foley talking about the lies that are needed to launch wars, including the manipulation of people into thinking of foreigners as less than human. Foley’s killers may have thought of him as less than human. He may not have viewed them the same way.
The video shows Foley in Chicago helping the late Haskell Wexler with his film Four Days in Chicago — a film about a protest of NATO. I was there in Chicago for the march and rally against NATO. And I met Wexler who tried unsuccessfully to find funding for a film version of my book War Is A Lie.
In the video you can watch Foley discussing the limitations of embedded reporting, the power of veteran resistance, veterans he met at Occupy, the absence of a good justification for the wars, the dehumanization needed before people can be killed, the shallowness of media coverage — watch all of that and then try to imagine James Foley accepting the use of his killing as propaganda for more fighting.
When Foley’s mother sought to ransom him, the U.S. government repeatedly threatened her with prosecution. So, instead of Foley’s mother paying a relatively small amount and possibly saving her son, ISIS goes on getting its funding from oil sales and supporters in the Gulf and free weapons from, among elsewhere, the United States and its allies. And we’re going to collectively spend millions, probably billions, and likely trillions of dollars furthering the cycle of violence that Foley risked his life to expose.