Sunday, April 25, 2004

Maupin is hostage, not prisoner of war

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Matt Maupin, 20, was last seen on a video with his captors, who were holding assault rifles.
Photo provided
That Pfc. Matt Maupin comes home from captivity in Iraq is the hope of every person who has tied a yellow ribbon on a tree or placed a candle in a window in recent weeks.

How it might happen is up to the U.S. government and, ultimately, the Iraqi insurgents who took him hostage on April 9.

Maupin, a 20-year-old Clermont County Army reservist, was taken captive after gunmen attacked the fuel convoy he was in. He is not a traditional prisoner of war. The war ended more than a year ago. It was "won'' when Saddam Hussein's brutal regime was broken.

"The young man is a hostage, a person who has been kidnapped,'' said Lawrence J. Korb, a defense policy analyst who was assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration from 1981 to 1985.

The international rules of how prisoners of war are to be treated or exchanged do not apply in this case, said Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank.

A video of Maupin, who appeared unharmed, flashed around the world last week through the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera. In that same video, his captors, holding assault rifles, said they were "keeping him to be exchanged for some of the prisoners captured by the occupation forces.''

Maupin: iron will, soft heart
But the policy of the U.S. government is not to negotiate with hostage-takers. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice reiterated that position a week ago.

Civilian negotiators

That does not mean, Korb said, that others might not try to do so.

Korb recalled the situation in President Reagan's first term, when the president ordered a bombing campaign to retaliate for a guerrilla attack on Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 Marines, soldiers and sailors. A Navy pilot was shot down in 1984 in one of the bombing raids. He was taken prisoner by Lebanese extremists and held prisoner in Syria.

"Did the government free that hostage?'' Korb asked. "No, they did not. But Jesse Jackson did.''

The Reagan administration officially disavowed Jackson's negotiations in 1984 and there is no indication from the Bush administration that it would welcome Jackson's involvement today.

But last week, the civil rights activist offered his services to negotiate the release of Thomas Hamill, the civilian truck driver from Mississippi taken hostage in the same April 9 attack in which Maupin was snatched. Last weekend, a Jackson aide contacted the Enquirer asking how Jackson might get a message to the Maupin family in Clermont County.

Jackson could not be reached for comment last week and there is no indication that the Maupin family has talked to Jackson.

Korb said the Bush administration might try to persuade members of the Iraqi Governing Council or Muslim clerics to denounce the kidnapping of Maupin and Hamill, thus putting pressure on the kidnappers to release them.

"What they need is someone like (Shiite Grand Ayatollah) Ali Sistani to get up and say, 'This is wrong,' '' Korb said.

'Doing all they can'

The American military, Korb said, is "certainly doing everything in its power to find out where this young man is and get him out.''

The U.S. Central Command and the Pentagon have said little publicly about Maupin since the videotape surfaced.

Last weekend, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for coalition forces, said on NBC that the U.S. military is trying to establish contact with the Iraqi insurgents who kidnapped Maupin.

"We don't leave anybody behind,'' Kimmitt said.

Dan Senor, the Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman in Baghdad, said freeing Maupin and Hamill is a high priority. The U.S. government, Senor said, will "put our best intelligence resources behind that effort; we will put our best military resources behind that effort.''

U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who represents Maupin's home county in Congress, said he has been in touch with Pentagon officials daily on the Maupin situation and "received assurances that they are doing all they can.''

Portman also visited the Maupin family "to make sure they have everything they need. They are always in my thoughts and prayers.''


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