Kidnap victim Brennan recounts horror
Nigel Brennan, the Australian photojournalist held hostage in Somalia for 462 days, seems more angry at the federal government that treated his family poorly than the militiamen who captured him.
Speaking in Albany, where he arrived last week as a crew member of a predominantly-Australian team in the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, Brennan spoke of the psychological scars that remain four years after his release.
Brennan travelled to war-torn Somalia in 2008 with ambitious Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout as they sought to fast-track their reputations and shine a light on people suffering in the Red Zones few reporters visited.
It turned out to be a grave mistake, with even the bodyguards they hired unwilling to go there and the pair left vulnerable to ambush.
After they were captured, they became Muslims – partly to ingratiate themselves with their captors, but also to try to understand their thinking.
They were then separated because unmarried Muslims are forbidden from sharing accommodation, leaving Brennan helpless and anguished as he heard Lindhout tortured and raped, often nightly.
He described his feelings at that horror as “survivor’s guilt”.
“You start to question humanity – how can somebody do that to someone else?”
He’s surprisingly philosophical about the men who kept them in a living hell for about 15 months, saying some of them were as much a victim as he was.
Some opened up to him, one even revealing he had aspirations to become an IT worker – before becoming indoctrinated and eventually saying he wanted to die for Allah and kill infidels.
Time and again Brennan and Lindhout were close to release, only to be monumentally deflated when it all went wrong.
And an escape attempt ended with their dramatic recapture in a mosque, during which Brennan heard a single gunshot after Lindhout was dragged outside by her hair.
He thought she’d been killed, but was relieved to see her in the back of a car, kicking wildly at her aggressors.
He was thrown into the car as well, with Lindhout saying: “F***, that was intense”.
The understatement drew nervous laughter from Brennan’s Albany audience, but he said his heart still raced when he thought of their daring and how close they came to being murdered.
He was finally returned to Australia, after his family had given up on federal officials, who proved unhelpful when they learned a private kidnap and ransom company had been hired to secure the pair’s release and refused to hand over the intelligence they’d collected.
Instrumental in his salvation was former Greens leader Bob Brown and entrepreneur Dick Smith, who borrowed $100,000 and loaned $500,000 respectively, to secure their release.
Brennan, who suffers permanent proctological damage as a result of bad diet and dehydration during his ordeal, said he still resented the treatment of his family by the then-Rudd government.
“What are you going to do for my son?” his mother asked the then-prime minister Kevin Rudd during a meeting she had battled to secure.
“If you’re going to take that tone with me, this meeting is over,” Mr Rudd replied, according to Brennan.
He said it took then-foreign minister Stephen Smith almost half a year to reply to a letter from his distressed mother.
Brennan also spoke of the anger he felt towards himself for enjoying the simple but important pleasure of being touched by another human – without brutality – after many months in isolation.
That came about when one of the militiamen was cutting his hair in accordance with Muslim beliefs.
“To have not had human touch for such a long period of time, when I was offered a haircut, I jumped at it. To have someone touch my head was mesmerising, absolutely mesmerising,” he said.
“He sort of left me alone. He wasn’t nasty to me. He wasn’t nice either, but at moments like that I’d talk to him about his kids and wife, and things like that.
“It wasn’t as if it was captor and captive.
“But then afterwards, I felt like a cheap whore because I’d allowed myself to feel nice because someone touched me.”
He said he’d let go of the hatred he felt towards his captors when he was first released, now believing karma will get them.
When Brennan returned home, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a condition known as brutal captivity syndrome.
But he’s now a man with “post-traumatic growth phenomenon”, having undergone a psychological rebirth after a horrific ordeal.
That’s typified by less ego, a greater understanding of the self and a transformation of one’s life.
“In some respects, I’m incredibly grateful to have had this experience,” Brennan said.
He has written a book about his kidnapping, The Price of Life, and says crossing the ocean with the Clipper race was a challenge he’d wanted to conquer.
Brennan also wants to learn a language and how to play a musical instrument.
He even plans to go to Afghanistan – something his family may not want to hear.
Source: WA Today