Kidnapping a Growing Obstacle to Securing Iraq

American journalist Jill Carroll: Whereabouts unknown.

American engineers Jack Hensley and Jack Armstrong and British engineer Kenneth Bigley: Killed by their captors.

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena: Lucky enough to be rescued.

At least 250 foreigners have been kidnapped in postwar Iraq, with at least 39 of them killed.

American journalist Micah Garen was held for ten days and released in August 2004.

Seized in Nassriyah, his captors originally demanded money but then decided he was worth more as a political pawn. Garen described it as a grueling, horrible experience.

"In those moments, you're thinking just seconds ahead, seconds ahead trying to do anything you can to stay alive," he said.

Desperate, Garen tried to talk to his captors. He realized the limits of those attempts five days into his captivity when he was blindfolded bound and brought into a room with a video camera.

"I had just seen these videotaped executions," he said, "so in my mind I was preparing for the possibility that I could be killed at the end of the tape."

Thinking he was going to die, Garen wanted to make sure his fiancée Marie-Helene knew he was thinking about her: "I found a packet of cigarettes, an old packet that had been left in this enclosure, and I tore off the front and I scratched out in dirt on it 'MH' for Marie-Helene and 'Zug,' for our dog Zugma, and then 'love.' And I took that message and I put it in my shirt pocket and I kept it with me the entire time of my captivity because I knew in that moment, the worst possible thing if I were to die is for the family not to know what had happened or how you felt in those last moments."

For friends and relatives of victims, it is heartbreaking. They are often left with little information and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.

On Tuesday, the Arab TV network al Jazeera broadcast video of three of four members of the Christian Peacemakers Teams, who were kidnapped in November. Other members of the organization, of course, noticed the fourth was missing from the video.

"Well, it's a little bit of a mix of hope and distress. Hope because we still see three of our friends obviously alive and also a bit of distress because the other friend, Tom Fox from the United States, is not shown," said Allan Slater, a Canadian member of the Christian Peacemakers in Baghdad.

Did that mean Fox had been killed? Did it mean nothing? For Fox's loved ones, the lack of information is a form of psychological torture itself.

"The first impulse is 'I need to get my loved one back,'" said former FBI official Jack Cloonan, who runs a firm that negotiates for the release of hostages all over the world, including Iraq. Cloonan is also an ABC News consultant. He says that desperation can complicate getting a victim's freedom. Giving into demands too quickly can make the price increase exponentially.

"You have to have the wherewithal to deal with this as a business transaction, which as you might imagine, is very difficult," he said.

A recent study by the Brookings Institution reports that up to 30 people a day are kidnapped in Iraq.

"Most of the kidnappings are of Iraqi citizens," Slater said.

Last April, after the bodies of 50 kidnapping victims were found in the Tigris River, a story with the headline "Iraq's Rising Industry: Domestic Kidnapping" appeared in The Christian Science Monitor. The story was written by Carroll.

Carroll was kidnapped 60 days ago by a group calling itself the Revenge Brigades, which has demanded the release of all female Iraqi prisoners.

Col. Muayad Saleh, director of the Interior Ministry's new Kidnapping Department, says there are many reasons for these crimes.

"Some of them are for criminal reasons. Some for political ones," he told ABC News through a translator. "And kidnappings have become like a bank for terrorists to fund their operations."

During a 2003 news conference, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, former head of Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority, blamed Iraqi thugs for the abductions and violence.

"Saddam Hussein let something like 100,000 prisoners out of all of the prisons in this country before liberation," he said. "Many of them are conducting the kidnappings and carjackings that are happening."

Saleh says his unit faces some major obstacles.

"Most citizens don't report the incidents to us," he said. "The security situation in this country makes people doubt our abilities."

Firsthand Torture Account

Last summer, Ahmed al Amiri, a civil engineer, accepted a ride from a driver at the Baghdad airport. Soon, three other cars surrounded him. He was blindfolded, tied up, and taken to a house on what seemed like a farm. He says he's completely apolitical, but they accused him of being with a Shiite militia group and of colluding with America.

"They tortured me," al Amiri said through a translator. "I still cannot comb my hair because of head injuries. Because of mouth injuries sometimes I have trouble speaking."

Al Amiri says the torture lasted for weeks. One night, his captors tied him up and left him outside overnight.

"Dogs gathered around me," he said. "Fifty dogs sniffing my face, mouth, every part of my body. I think they wanted the dogs to eat me. In the morning, they said, 'You're still alive!'"

Others were there, too. Al Amiri's captors would take off his blindfold, so he could see the torture.

"They poured 20 liters of water into one man's mouth," he said. "They used drills on another captive's back."

Al Amiri saw them kill seven or eight other captives. Their bodies were thrown in drainage canals. One day, they approached him, saying: "Our leader told me we want some money for the resistance. So you will either buy your freedom or we will cut your throat."

His captors wanted $100,000. His family took up a collection.

"My wife kept on crying," he said. "She begged them, and they accepted $70,000."

"Can things go wrong even in the best of circumstances for the military options? Yes," said Cloonan. "From my perspective the goal is to get the people out alive."

U.S. Ransom Policy

For Cloonan's clients, that may include paying the ransom.

While paying ransom is generally an easy decision for victims' families, it is a more controversial decision for governments.

The question is whether it encourages a thriving, long-enduring kidnapping industry, such as the ones that exist in Colombia and Brazil.

In January, the Italian newspaper "La Republica" reported that the Italian government had paid $5 million, disguised as "humanitarian aid," for the release of kidnapped Italian aid workers Simona Torretta and Simona Pari.

The Italian government denies it, but the Iraqi interior minister said he had launched an investigation into the matter, and the possible role of a Sunni cleric in collecting the ransom.

Interestingly, while it used to be firm policy that the United States did not pay ransom, the U.S. State Department delivered a much more ambiguous message today.

"We do everything that we can to see -- working with the Iraqi government to see -- that those Americans held are released safe and sound to their families," department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"It's a budding business and it shows no sign of abating," Cloonan said. "In fact, it's going to increase."

Saleh says the kidnapping trend will not last forever and will end "after the formation of a strong, united government."

But the pressing question for Iraqis: When will that be?