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GEORGE NEGUS: John, Tony, the latest development appears to be that Alexander Downer has spoken to Al-Jazeera, the Arab television network – we know that – and now the Wood family also wanting to talk to al-Jazeera to make their private appeal to the captors.

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The captors will be seeing this stuff. What difference will it make? Will it help or hinder any attempts to get Douglas Wood out alive?

TONY LOUGHRAN, SECURITY CONSULTANT: I think it will help. I think that you have to open every single channel that you can try. It’s a desperate time at the moment – that obviously he is actually held captive and every potential type of assistance should be actually rendered.

GEORGE NEGUS: They have already stated, haven’t they, that one of their demands is that the Australian troops are pulled out of Iraq as well as the Americans and the British? Now we know the Australian Government is not going to go and do that. They’ve already stated they’re not going to. So does that make this sort of exercise pointless?

TONY LOUGHRAN: No it doesn’t make it pointless. I think that’s the actual first starting point. At least at the end of the day they know what they’re negotiating for. But as you said, it’s a really difficult position to start from because they’re absolutely resolute on staying within Iraq anyway for the rebuilding program.

GEORGE NEGUS: John, we do know from your experience that these people, who are the captors in this case, maybe not the same as yours, do watch al-Jazeera. They monitor it.

JOHN MARTINKUS, SBS JOURNALIST: I spent probably about half the time whilst I was in captive sitting in a room with al-Jazeera on and they were reacting to what was on television.

GEORGE NEGUS: It was their contact with the rest of the world, in fact.

JOHN MARTINKUS: That’s right. Yeah, when, for example, footage was shown of the fighting in Fallujah that was going on at the time, you know, the mood would change, they’d be very, very angry about it. And that, in some cases, led to another round of accusations against me, against the way the media portrays the war in Iraq, that kind of thing, and it was very difficult stuff to discuss at the time because, of course, I was trying not to anger my captors and I was also trying to… continue to…

GEORGE NEGUS: Convince them to let you go. I want to talk to you about that. When you heard that Douglas Wood had been taken, what was your reaction? A lot of rather horrible memories must have plodded back?

JOHN MARTINKUS: Yeah, it did actually and when I came in here into the studio and actually watched the tape through, I did, right at the end of the tape where he almost breaks down, that really did bring back a lot of bad memories for me because there was a couple of occasions where that almost happened to me. It was almost like the line of questioning, the giving of hope to me about being released and then the quick taking of that away and then giving it back again. It was almost like a psychological tactic they were using to break me down.

GEORGE NEGUS: Because you seriously felt as though your life was under threat.

JOHN MARTINKUS: Yeah, definitely, definitely, especially in the first four or five hours before I started to basically get through to them what my identity was, what I was doing in Iraq.

GEORGE NEGUS: Do you see your situation as being different from Douglas Wood’s because your predicament was a different one. You felt that you could convince them that you were not part of the enemy forces, that you are not a combatant in the Iraq situation, that you’re a journalist just doing your job. Douglas Wood is not in the same situation.

JOHN MARTINKUS: Unfortunately, he’s not and when he said that on tape that he was working for the US military there, I had contracts for the US military, when I was watching that my heart sank because I thought, you know, if he’s already said that, if they’ve already established that, then that does – judging it against my experience with the kind of interrogation I received, that was the major point, whether I was connected to the coalition.

GEORGE NEGUS: Tony is that the case, is that the crucial issue where Douglas Wood is concerned, whether or not his captors regard him as part of the invasionary forces by doing what he’s been doing?

TONY LOUGHRAN: Psychologically, there’s no two ways about it. The mindset is to actually associate with the military or anyone that’s actually got a footprint within Iraq and it is a very desperate case, for anyone really that associates themselves with the actual forces.

GEORGE NEGUS: What would you tell him? If you were there negotiating with these people, what would you say to his captors, what would you say on his behalf and to him that might make his chances of getting out of there greater?

TONY LOUGHRAN: It’s a very difficult call actually, to be honest, because the situation is that, as John quite rightly knows as well, the group that could have him captive at the moment anyway are hell bent on their particular position and they’re less likely to actually start moving or shifting from that position.

I just hope that they actually do start to actually think about this seriously. He is a guy that has got a family, has got a background or whatever and, in some respects, is actually trying to earn an honest crust.

GEORGE NEGUS: But that doesn’t seem to have mattered in the past where captors were concerned.

TONY LOUGHRAN: And statistics show 50% of hostages have actually been freed. But that’s the thing to keep in the back of his mind as well, that there is a chance that he could be freed.

JOHN MARTINKUS: I mean there’s different… When I was being interrogated there was different attitudes from different interrogators, like some were quite quickly convinced that, as a journalist, as someone who was trying to cover both sides…

GEORGE NEGUS: And others were probably never going to believe you no matter what you said.

JOHN MARTINKUS: Yeah, yeah, and there was another guy who came in who was quite senior and he was… “Look, unfortunately you’re an Australian citizen and Australia is part of the coalition, and…I don’t think you’re going to be released,” and he was recommending that I wasn’t released. So, it’s very difficult. It depends on who’s got him, it depends what they’re after.

GEORGE NEGUS: John said a number of times that keeping his cool, just keeping together was pretty important to show his captors that he wasn’t falling apart. How do you think Douglas…

TONY LOUGHRAN: It’s interesting because we run courses for people to actually prepare themselves to work in hostile environments with the very thing of kidnap on the top of the agenda.

The thing is he has to take control. If other people have got the control – and John would probably allude to this as well – you have to start getting back elements of control during the actual captivity, so that you actually are in charge.

GEORGE NEGUS: The Australian Government’s been adamant, Alexander Downer and the Prime Minister have both been adamant that they’re prepared to look at any option, except two – one, no money, no ransom money and no change of Australian Government policy which is the withdrawal of troops which is exactly what these people are asking for. What does that leave us to negotiate with? If that task force gets in there, if the negotiators get to see him and his captors, what can they argue for?

TONY LOUGHRAN: It’s a very difficult position but I’m sure there’d be other things on the table besides these proposals they’ve actually got – and only the Government are going to know this as well. We never find out the background as to what is on the table, but you never give up until the fat lady sings, unfortunately, you keep going and keep going.

GEORGE NEGUS: What about the possibility of other forces in Iraq – this sheikh who’s offered himself, who’s had success in the past? Should we be investigating those avenues of release as well?

JOHN MARTINKUS: Yes, I think absolutely. I think the way – you know, in my case whilst I was negotiating with these guys, whilst I was trying to, you know, convince them that I was who I said I was, the fact that I was referring to leaders and public figures there, sheikhs in Fallujah for example.

GEORGE NEGUS: You knew tribal leaders, people who had had some weight.

JOHN MARTINKUS: People I’d interviewed in the past and I was able to name names and…

GEORGE NEGUS: Were you surprised, by the way, that you got released?

JOHN MARTINKUS: Um, that’s a very difficult question.

GEORGE NEGUS: It’s more important that you were rather than how you felt.

JOHN MARTINKUS: Yeah, look, I was… Towards the end of it I was getting quite panicky in a way that these constant delays – like they said they were going to release me in the morning and it didn’t end up happening until in the afternoon – these constant delays were actually just excuses to actually just keep me hanging around, keep me holding on to a hope.

GEORGE NEGUS: Finally, Tony, if you had to give pertinent, but I suppose in the situation, gratuitous advice, to both Douglas Wood – if you could talk to him, tell him now to hold on – and the Government about how to handle this situation, and the family, what would you say as a negotiator, as an expert in these matters, what would you tell them?

TONY LOUGHRAN: I’d actually say keep persisting, you know, keep trying every particular channel and don’t give up on any of the channel that may be below a certain level. I mean, we talked about this just before about the using the security advisors on the ground – they’re a fantastic wealth of information and they should start tapping into that.

GEORGE NEGUS: I guess we can only hope that the end result was the same as it was for you, John. Thanks very much for talking to Dateline.

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