On Aug. 13, 2003, documentary filmaker Micah Garen was kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents while shooting video in an Iraqi market.
Knowing the fates of journalists Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg, whose kidnappings ended in their deaths, Garen's family feared the worst when the kidnappers released a video threatening to kill him if the United States did not withdraw from the city of Najaf within 48 hours.
But Garen's girlfriend and film collaborator, Marie-Helen Carleton, and Garen's family were able to secure his release 10 days after his kidnapping by appealing to Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who controlled the captors.
Garen and Carleton have written a book together chronicling the experience, "American Hostage" (Simon & Schuster).
The couple is currently completing their film … and planning a wedding. Hours after his release, Garen proposed to Carleton via satellite phone.
You can read an excerpt from "American Hostage" below.
The four-hour drive south from Baghdad to Nasiriyah was quiet. I kept my eyes down as we passed a Mahdi Army checkpoint on the main road just outside the town of Fajr, the center for Iraq's illicit antiquities trade. One hundred yards farther was a modest Iraqi police checkpoint. The twin checkpoints signaled an uneasy truce that had been struck in the Dhi Qar province, while just a few hours east in Najaf fighting raged between the Mahdi Army and Coalition forces. We drove past the two checkpoints without slowing down. They were a token show of force by both sides, a delicate balance. Stopping cars might upset the balance.
We arrived in Nasiriyah at 10 a.m. and stopped outside Amir's small translation office in the center of town. Amir got out of the car, looked both ways to see that everything was okay; then I quickly followed him up the stairs with my bags. I didn't know where I would stay that night. I was no longer welcome at the Italian base and had not heard back from my request earlier in the week to stay at the American base. The local hotel for foreigners, the Al-Janoub, was too dangerous. That left the Nasiriyah Museum, Amir's office, or possibly his house, none of which were good options.
Amir told me to wait, saying he had good news, and went out, padlocking the door behind him for my safety. I sat on his old sofa thumbing through a worn copy of the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, one of many books that lay scattered around his cluttered office, the walls papered with pictures of Don Quixote, French philosophers, and works by local artists.
Amir returned a half hour later, smiling, holding my small digital camera. The camera was the smallest of the half dozen we carried, a pocket digital that could shoot a few minutes of grainy video, allowing us to film or photograph without drawing much attention or suspicion. It had been stolen two days before by one of the guards at the Nasiriyah Museum. Mr. Hamdani, an archaeologist and antiquities inspector for the Dhi Qar province, who looked after the museum, had managed to apply enough pressure and, in Amir's words, "the situation was resolved."
"Which guard was it?" I asked.
"Don't worry," Amir said, "your camera is back."
"But which one?" I insisted.
"The one who helped you look for it." That was the way things were done. It mattered less who was responsible than that the camera had been returned safely.