By James Loney. Toronto: Knopf, 2011.
Captivity is James Loney’s account of his kidnapping and imprisonment by Iraqi insurgents. Loney is a good writer and his is a riveting story. He was held for four months, at the mercy of men set adrift by the loss of their families in the US attack on Fallujah, handcuffed day and night to his fellow prisoners. Then he was rescued, after an intense intelligence operation, by a military unit specially trained to release hostages.
Despite a storyline that reads like an action movie, Loney’s book is deeply personal. His gift to the reader is access to his inner life as a prisoner. Some of his experiences, one suspects, are universal: his desperation to survive, the continual search for a means to escape, the self-loathing that accompanied acts of cooperation with his captors.
Others are more revealing: the occasion when having a nice sweater really mattered, his trials as a fastidious man locked in a filthy room, the ways in which his faith helped him and the ways that it did not. One gets the sense that Loney is a private person who would rather not lay himself bare and, yet, he does. He describes his emotions with the same scrupulous care that he uses to describe events and surroundings.
Throughout his captivity, Loney was constantly aware of the need to present himself and the others to their captors as human beings. It is more difficult to kill a person whose humanity you have seen.
In the epilogue, Loney writes that he has forgiven his captors—a personal journey that he was not sure he would make. His forgiveness is not a surprise for the reader, as Loney consistently presents his captors as human beings.
Loney’s desire to change the way we see military conflict predates and transcends his experience as a hostage. This is James Loney of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a group that opposes war actively. Their motto is “getting in the way.”
Loney was in Iraq documenting human rights abuses by US forces. His name, along with Tom Fox, Norman Kember and Harmeet Singh Sooden, the names of the other CPTers kidnapped with him, were splashed across the headlines for months after their abduction in 2005. Tom Fox was killed and the others rescued by the same military whose presence the group protests.
Loney sets the context for his kidnapping by describing the work of CPT and the situation in Iraq. He addresses the paradox of his debt to the military—to the extent that it can be addressed. This book could have been Loney’s personal manifesto or a lengthy version of a CPT press release, but it is not. His honesty makes it something much more.
Reviewed by Anna Jaikaran, a Toronto-based activist.