A memoir by three Americans held captive by Colombia’s leftist rebels
for 5 1/2 years is anything but flattering to Ingrid Betancourt, the
most famous hostage who shared their jungle calvary.
The chronicle of the U.S. military contractors’ 1,967 days as rebel
captives is a striking survival tale, describing their pain and
perseverance, mind-numbing boredom in jungle cages, forced marches in
chains, close calls under fire and ultimately, a miraculous rescue.
the most provocative revelation of “Out of Captivity” deals with
Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician kidnapped a year before they
were marched into the gulag they say she dominated.
One of the
Northrop Grumman employees alleges she was haughty and self-absorbed,
stole food and hoarded books, and even put their lives in danger by
telling rebel guards they were CIA agents.
“I watched her try to
take over the camp with an arrogance that was out of control,” Keith
Stansell told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “Some of
the guards treated us better than she did.”
44-year-old ex-Marine, was freed along with Betancourt, fellow
contractors Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 Colombians, when
military agents posing as humanitarian workers in helicopters scooped
them out of a jungle clearing in July.
Betancourt did not respond
to efforts by the AP to obtain her reaction to the criticism. She did
not respond to an e-mail, and phone and e-mail messages left with
associates were not returned. Her sister Astrid Betancourt, reached by
e-mail, refused to comment.
Former Sen. Luis Eladio Perez, a
fellow Colombian who shared the jungle gulag, denied that Betancourt
ever told the rebels the Americans were CIA agents. He told the AP he
would not comment further on the allegations without reading the book,
which was being published in the United States on Thursday by
The three Americans take turns narrating their
experiences in the 457-page chronicle. The other two agree with
Stansell on most everything, but don’t always see eye-to-eye with him
on Betancourt. In the book and in phone interviews with the AP, the two
said they hold no grudges, even though conflicts were frequent among
hostages during their captivity.
“These were literally concentration camps,” Gonsalves told the AP. “There was barely room to breathe.”
is unusual for a former hostage to publicly criticize someone with whom
they shared such an intense, traumatic experience, said Dr. Keron
Fletcher, a British psychiatrist who debriefed hostages held by
extremists in Lebanon two decades ago.
“For this man to go for
the jugular is quite unusual,” he said of Stansell. People who live
through such trauma “tend to keep quiet about problems that they had
with each other and do their best to support each other.”
hostages competed for sleeping space, meager food rations and the lone
Spanish-English dictionary. And when Gonsalves developed a close and
tender friendship with Betancourt, it triggered intense jealousies
among other male prisoners, according to the book.
“She’s a tough
woman,” said Gonsalves, 36, who told the AP they remain in touch by
phone and e-mail. “She used to give those guerrillas a hard time.”
was frequently chained all day long following a failed escape attempt
with Perez. “I never saw her complain or cry about it,” Gonsalves said.
former Air Force intelligence analyst, Gonsalves was in charge of
photographing drug crops and labs run by the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia when their surveillance plane crash-landed in rebel
territory in February 2003.
Pilot Tommy Janis and a Colombian
army sergeant, Luis Alcedes Cruz, were shot dead by the rebels. None of
the three survivors know why. A recovery team later found the bodies
beside the plane.
Stansell, 44, of Bradenton, Florida, was
mission chief and Howes, 55, was co-pilot. Both were veterans of Andean
Injured from the crash and plagued by
jungle parasites, the three were frequently forced into long marches as
the rebels fled punishing bombings and strafings by Colombia’s
The FARC guards had orders to kill them in
the attempt of a military rescue, and Howes told the AP that they came
to accept that death could come at any time.
More painful, Howes
said, were his memories of putting his son Tommy on the bus to
kindergarten at home in Merritt Island, Florida, just days before the
“It was like a spike in my chest,” he said. “I had to
force myself to stop thinking about it.” That was in the early months
of captivity. Afterward, he said, “our brains got calloused and we
became mental prisoners.”
They kept busy between marathon marches
— in one camp, they did daily workouts with a log they carved into
barbells and Gonsalves, of Bristol, Conn., whittled a chess set on
which they played daylong matches.
And while Gonsalves’ and
Howes’ marriages would not survive their ordeal, Stansell now lives
with a Colombian flight attendant he met just before his capture. She
gave birth to his twin boys while he festered in captivity but remained
devoted, professing her love to him frequently in radio messages
broadcast to the jungle.
All three told the AP that they fully
endorse the policy of both the United States and of Colombian President
Alvaro Uribe of not negotiating with hostage-takers, despite the cost
to them personally.
“I would love to see the U.S. continue to
support Colombia until they get all the top FARC commanders,” said
Gonsalves. “Keep hammering them until the FARC comes to the peace