In the fifth episode of the Islamic State’s (IS) video series “Lend Me Your Ears,” British captive John Cantlie discussed his experience with fellow prisoners from America and Europe, including fighters waterboarding them, and the “uncomfortable truth” about the U.S. and Britain not negotiating for their release.
The 6 minute, 30 second video was produced by the IS’ al-Furqan Media Foundation, and was distributed on Twitter on October 25, 2014. Cantlie said that the IS began a “long-term” operation to capture Westerners entering Syria in 2013 and then tried negotiating with their home countries for their release. Here, he pointed out that nationals from Denmark, Germany, and Spain were released through negotiations, but the Americans and Britons were “stonewalled” by their respective governments.
Cantlie read selections from alleged emails from prisoners’ families and the IS where the families complained about the U.S. government not helping. Cantlie remarked: “Now the recurring elements in these emails is that the U.S. government was simply doing absolutely nothing to help the families involved in this negotiation. The mujahideen told us our governments didn't care about us and we didn't believe them. They told us we were worthless and we didn't believe them. We were told we'd start to die and we didn't believe that either. The human mind has an incredibly tough capacity to self-defense in difficult situations. But it was all true. Our governments had chose not to negotiate with the Islamic State through our families and friends. And while everyone else fulfilled the conditions for release, for us, there was no deal.”
Following is a transcript of the video:
Lend Me Your Ears
Messages from the British Detainee John Cantlie
Hello, I'm John Cantlie, the British citizen abandoned by my own government, and a prisoner of the Islamic State for nearly two years.
In this program I'm going to reveal to you some uncomfortable truths that have so far resulted in the executions of my former cellmates. Only the American and British prisoners were left behind after months of negotiations that saw 16 other citizens from six European countries go home. How was this allowed to happen?
We have to go back to 2013 when the Islamic State launched a long-term operation to capture Westerns entering Syria, and they began the next phase of the operation: negotiating for our release with our governments through families and friends. Now, unless we tried something stupid like escaping or doing something we shouldn't, we were treated well by the Islamic State. Some of us who tried to escape were waterboarded by our captors, as Muslim prisoners are waterboarded by their American captors.
Our strange little community of prisoners had its share of problems, but apart from the odd fight, we lived together in relative harmony through uncertain times. We read books, played recreational games, and gave lectures on our specialist subjects. It wasn't a bad life.
The first to leave was my friend, Spanish journalist Marcus Marjuneris in February 2014. The mujahideen then made their first strong move by shooting one of our number, a Russian with no clean origin or story behind him. The message was clear: don't mess around when it comes to negotiations. The Europeans fell into line. Two more Spanish journalists left, then four French at the end of April, their representatives having fulfilled the conditions for their release.
But it was clear something was different for the British and Americans. While there was dialogue for everyone else, the British and Americans were stonewalled. It was completely silent. Nothing. Now we knew our countries claim to be non-negotiating when it came to situations like this, but often knew examples when they had negotiated either under the table or through a third party. Due to the size and complexity of this situation, and the number of other countries involved, we believed our governments would get us out in the end. So we waited patiently while everyone else went home to their loved ones.
Finally, we had movement in May. We made a video, wrote letters, and made a voice-recording. For us, the Islamic State were asking for the release of Muslim prisoners and their transfer to the Caliphate. It sounded very complicated, but we were the biggest group from the biggest countries. There had to be a negotiation going on. But by the time the last two Europeans left, my friends Dan from Denmark - another non-negotiating country - and Tony from Germany, it was clear to us we were in very big trouble.
Now I have here a selection of emails between the Islamic State and families back home. I don't have much on the British, so I assume there was even less discussion going on for them, so this is really all about the Americans and you'll see that really the government was doing nothing, absolutely nothing, to help families involved. I have a message here from one of the American prisoners on the 11th of June 2014:
"I would secure your sister Dr. Aafia Siddique's release if I could. It sounds like you care about her freedom. You have surely seen the news. Our government is a mess. They will not help."
There's another email here from the family of one of the American prisoners on the 17th of July 2014:
"Our government is not being helpful. We have begged them so many times already. Everyone has buried their heads in the sand. We feel we are caught in the middle between you and the U.S. government, and we are being punished. We have reached out to our government, but they have been non-responsive for some time now."
The person then goes on to say:
"We don't expect that we will get any help from our government at all, and we feel foolish for believing them."
There's a message from the family of one of the American prisoners on the 24th of July 2014:
"We are contacting people everyday. You've given us a huge mountain to climb, and we feel like a pawn in this political battle that we've been forced into. I'm taking everything you have said seriously, and I'm working as fast as I can. I need more time."
Now the recurring elements in these emails is that the U.S. government was simply doing absolutely nothing to help the families involved in this negotiation. The mujahideen told us our governments didn't care about us and we didn't believe them. They told us we were worthless and we didn't believe them. We were told we'd start to die and we didn't believe that either. The human mind has an incredibly tough capacity to self-defense in difficult situations. But it was all true. Our governments had chose not to negotiate with the Islamic State through our families and friends. And while everyone else fulfilled the conditions for release, for us, there was no deal.
Join me in the next program as we learn about a failed rescue that tried to get us out, and you'll hear about how one soldier was worth five prisoners and we were worth none.