On This Week with Christiane Amanpur, she interviews New York Times reporter David Rohde, who was abducted more than seven months ago into the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In June, he managed to get away and now he's written a book
December 26, 2010

On This Week with Christiane Amanpur, she interviews New York Times reporter David Rohde, who was abducted more than seven months ago into the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In June, he managed to get away and now he's written a book with his wife Kristen Mulvihill about the experience from his point of view and hers:

AMANPOUR: I actually want to ask you why you decided to write it in the he-said/she-said narrative.

DAVID ROHDE, CO-AUTHOR, "A ROPE AND A PRAYER": We thought it was important to show both sides of the story. And, you know, we got this attention, but there are thousands of families in the military. There are diplomats, aid workers, all working overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, in so many countries. And you don't see the other side of it.

And what Kristen went through is just as important, if not more important, to what I went through.

AMANPOUR: Well, David obviously got all of the attention.


AMANPOUR: What was it that you wanted to say about the spouse being at home?

MULVIHILL: Yes. I mean, I hope the story resonates beyond kidnapping. You know, there are military families that are separated from their loved ones for months at a time. And so I hope it resonates with anyone dealing with separation or in a position to make life and death decisions for a spouse when they're unable to do so for themselves.

And we just hope it personalizes the war, puts a personal face on the issue.

AMANPOUR: As for you, you are a professional. You are a photo editor.


AMANPOUR: You are here working at Cosmopolitan magazine, while your husband was in captivity.

MULVIHILL: Exactly. And we kept the case out of the news, which was something the family felt very strongly about. We did not want it publicized. So I went about my daily activities at work as a photo producer.

AMANPOUR: Why did you decide to keep it out of the news? Did you -- why did The New York Time want to do that, David?

ROHDE: There was a general consensus among sort of security experts that when you're dealing with militants who want to defy Western opinion that sort of publicly pressuring them won't work, it will actually raise value. If it's a government, if it's Iran, North Korea, go public. If it's a young militant, it doesn't help, it just raises the hostage's value.

AMANPOUR: And yet you recount that you did tell the militants that they could get money and prisoners released from Guantanamo.

ROHDE: I did. That was after…

AMANPOUR: On whose authority did you tell them that?


ROHDE: I -- it was an effort, frankly, to save our lives. I was very worried about the lives of my two Afghan colleagues. In past kidnappings, the first thing they did was kill an Afghan to create the pressure.

And one of the problems we saw in writing this is that some governments do pay. There have been a past case, an Italian journalist, five prisoners released. There were some Korean hostages. There were rumors of millions being paid for them.

But I was told an al Jazeera film crew was on the way. Some Arab militants are coming with them, and they're going to decapitate you. I then said, you can get money and prisoners for us.

AMANPOUR: What was going through your head? You had just been married. You hadn't told Kristen…

ROHDE: Correct.

AMANPOUR: … that you were going off to do something this dangerous. And was the right thing to do?

ROHDE: It was the wrong thing to do. You know, I regret the decision. It was completely unfair to her. I'll always regret it. I let competition get the best of me. Dozens of journalists have safely interviewed the Taliban. And I wanted us to be the best foot possible.

But I lost my way and I shouldn't have gotten so competitive.

AMANPOUR: Well, I ask you about that because your book is called "A Rope and a Prayer." Prayer, faith sustained you.

MULVIHILL: It did actually, and family. I had a practice -- I was raised Catholic, and I really sort of fell back on prayer as the way to, you know, surrender without giving up. I ultimately knew the outcome was not going to be up to me. And it really helped me maintained positivity and find that intention.

Written prayer, actually, when I couldn't find that within myself. It kept me going.

AMANPOUR: You were not religious.

ROHDE: No. And even from our time reporting in Bosnia, you know, we've seen, you know, religion taken to extremes can be a very destructive force. And I was with these young militants who had been deluded into thinking was a religious war.

They despised me because I was unclean. They said because I wasn't Muslim, they didn't want to eat food from the same plate as me. They believed that the U.S. Army was, you know, forcibly converting Afghan Muslims to Christianity.

But I, in my time in captivity did end up saying prayers myself. I don't know, I'm still skeptical about organized religion.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, because given that it was secret, the fact that he had been kidnapped, a lot of us knew, none of us published. It was a little James Bond-y the way you went after his release.

MULVIHILL: Yes, it was. It was. And we did a bunch of things. You know, the FBI swooped in very early on to tell the family how the case might progress. But they can't negotiate. They can't exchange funds for prisoners.

So we hired a private security team to try to negotiate on the phone with the Taliban. I also had a friend by the name of Michael Simple who was based in the region who advised me. I tried to send in notes to David through Taliban elders. I don't know if they ever got to him or to the elders.

I even, in fact, made a video at the request of a mullah close to the kidnappers that were holding him. He suggested, you know, the kidnappers have sent you several videos, why don't you send one back, it might be a
nice gesture.

AMANPOUR: And you spoke to some of them on the phone.

MULVIHILL: I did. I was called at home twice. It was very surreal. They would always call with a stipulation that I look at the phone number and call them back. They didn't want to pay for the calls. So it was adding insult to injury.

But it always gave me pause. It gave me a moment to catch my breath and sort of figure out what to say. Our conversations were highly scripted. Between demanding millions of dollars and prisoners, they would say, you know, we're going to go off and pray and, Inshallah, we'll get back to you.

So it was a very strange thing.

AMANPOUR: And how long did it take for them to ever get back to you?

MULVIHILL: You know, it would be weeks at a time. And it wouldn't necessarily be by telephone. It may be through an emissary.

AMANPOUR: What did learn from these Taliban who had you? Are they more radical than you thought, less? What did you learn from them?

ROHDE: They're very radical. It's very dangerous. I was held in the same place where Faisal Shahzad, the young man who tried to set off a truck bomb in Times Square, where he was trained.

Nothing has changed since I escaped from captivity 17 months ago. The Obama administration has repeatedly asked the Pakistani military to remove this. It's a mini-state. They train suicide bombers. They do whatever they want.

And the problem continues today. And they're carrying out cross-border attacks and killing American servicemen from this place.

AMANPOUR: And, indeed, the Afghan review -- the war review suggested that even the fragile progress that is being made in Afghanistan is threatened precisely from North Waziristan.

Do you see any willingness, in your continued reporting, by the Pakistanis to really crack down on that?

ROHDE: It's all about India. And as long there's this India-Pakistan rivalry, the Pakistanis, they continue to see the Taliban as proxies they can use to stop India from coming in and making inroads in Afghanistan.

You know, Richard Holbrooke was trying to do this. He was trying to sort of reduce tensions between India and Pakistan. There are assurances that we can, you know, make to the Pakistanis, maybe ask the Indians to back off in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani military is a rational actor. They don't agree with the Taliban. They're not secretly Islamists. So I think there is a solution. You know, I think we have to keep trying. And it's this regional dynamic that will stabilize Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: So while he's thinking geopolitics in his particular area of reporting, captive there…

MULVIHILL: Yes, exactly.

AMANPOUR: … and still, you having to go about your daily work as a photo editor at Cosmopolitan, chatting with your colleagues. How did that -- I mean, how?

MULVIHILL: It was very tough. I mean, actually, two weeks into the captivity…

AMANPOUR: Without telling them?

MULVIHILL: Yes, two weeks into the captivity I told the editor-in-chief. And she kept that secret throughout. She was tremendous. As the time dragged on, I had to tell more people. But it was very strange the first few months.

You know, I would be planning shoots and in the office, and I would get a call from the FBI, you know, we have a video communication of David, can you duck out and meet us, you know, in front of Starbucks on 52nd Street?

So it really was kind of like leading a double life.

AMANPOUR: And you were able to call Kristen a couple of times.

ROHDE: Yes. They were very technologically adept. They had throughout a satellite phone. They called on cell phones. And they even Googled me.

So there was -- what was so interesting was that they were kind of globalization is happening in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. But they pick and choose whatever information sort of fits their conspiracy theories.

AMANPOUR: So what information about you fit their conspiracy theories as they Googled you?

ROHDE: They, you know, basically saw the West as sort of hedonistic. They said that they hated The New York Times because it supported secularism, therefore they were their enemies.

They were so deluded that they thought that the -- if you remember the kidnapping of the Somali pirates -- I'm sorry, the American sea captain by Somali pirates, they said, oh, no, no, those three pirates weren't shot. The United States government secretly paid a $25 million ransom.

I mean, that's completely false. But that was the expectation they had.

AMANPOUR: After being there for seven months, how did you make the decision finally to decide to escape?

ROHDE: Our captors' initial demands were $25 million and 15 prisoners being released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After seven months they had reduced their demands to $8 million and the release of four prisoners.

They told me every day they had me they were delivering massive political blows to the American government. I mean, I said my case isn't even public, people don't care, I came to interview the Taliban, people are angry at me.

And they were just delusional, and we just decided the only way, you know, we could end this would be to try to escape. And they moved us to this house that was very close to that Pakistani base.

And we didn't think it would work, and it did. We were so lucky.

AMANPOUR: And you snuck out while they were asleep?

ROHDE: We had a ceiling fan in the room where we slept with the guards and there was an old air conditioner called a "cooler," and it made a tremendous amount of noise.

And that was what made us -- you know, with the power back on, we decided that that kind of covered up the sound we made. And I found the rope -- it was a car tow rope, and we made it to the roof, lowered ourselves down that wall and, you know, it was just a miracle.

AMANPOUR: And by the time -- how did you hear he was released?

MULVIHILL: David called home and my mother picked up. And she took notes on Post-It pads so when I ran home there were all of these little stickies strewn across the living room. And very quickly we got on the phone.

We called The New York Times and they sent the editor over to the house. And between the three of us, you know, we contacted Hillary Clinton, we contacted Richard Holbrooke who had been fantastic throughout.

And they in turn contacted the Pakistanis. They said, we know where David is, please make sure he is exited safely from the region.

AMANPOUR: Meantime, as Kristen was doing that, you had barely escaped with your life. Well, the Pakistanis thought that they might need to shoot you.

ROHDE: There was -- we got to the edge, we went over that wall. She talked about we get to this base. We're nearly shot because, you know, I have beard down to here, I'm in local clothes.

They take us on this base -- and I really to emphasize this, this very brave young Pakistani captain, he was a moderate. And he apologized to me for the kidnapping, allowed us on the base, let me make that crucial call home, because I thought other Pakistani officers might hand us back to the Taliban.

There are moderates in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most of the population opposes the Taliban. And I'm here today because a moderate Afghan and a moderate Pakistani helped me.

And I think it's vital that people know that. And we want this book to be more about moderates in a sense than about my kidnappers.

AMANPOUR: And do you allow your husband to go back to Afghanistan?

MULVIHILL: Well, I actually didn't have to tell him not to go back again. He came to that conclusion on his own.

AMANPOUR: And do you want to go back?

ROHDE: No, I don't. My days as a war correspondent. And I'm, you know, just so lucky to be home.

And, again, we wrote this because we're just one small story. This is kind of this hidden war that most Americans -- it doesn't really affect their daily lives. Such a small percentage of Americans serve in the military or overseas.

So, you know, this is just one small story of what's happening. There's tens of thousands of Americans as well as, you know, average Afghans and Pakistanis.

AMANPOUR: Well, thank you both very much, indeed. David, Kristen, thanks very much, indeed. And I hope people read it and get that message from you both. Thanks.

MULVIHILL: Thank you.

ROHDE: Thank you.

Can you help us out?

For 18 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.