Former hostage takes aim at Canberra over ‘flawed advice’

Photo-journalist Nigel Brennan

Photo-journalist Nigel Brennan, who was kidnapped in Somalia, in Sydney yesterday. Picture: Alan Pryke.
Source: The Australian

NIGEL Brennan says he would have died at the hands of his Somali kidnappers if his family had listened to the “fatally flawed” advice of the Australian government during his 15-month hostage saga.

The photo-journalist has also lashed out at former prime minister Kevin Rudd and former foreign minister Stephen Smith for showing an “extreme lack of attention and poor judgment” in dealing with his case, despite “claims to the contrary”.

Brennan warns that future Australian hostages will die unless the government does more to assist their families to negotiate with kidnappers. “I firmly believe that the Australian government’s current policy of not negotiating with kidnappers overseas for the release of Australian hostages nor paying ransom is a hopelessly fatal policy that would have ultimately ensured my death in Somalia,” Brennan writes in a submission to a Senate inquiry into the government’s response to kidnapped Australians overseas.

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“Sadly, the Australian government employed this policy when Australian hostages David Wilson and Kellie Wilkinson were kidnapped in Cambodia in the 1990s and both lost their lives.”

Brennan was kidnapped along with Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout near Mogadishu in August 2008. He was released 15 months later after their families, as well as private donors including Greens leader Bob Brown and entrepreneur Dick Smith, paid a ransom approaching $1.3 million.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday rejected Brennan’s criticisms. “Within our longstanding and bipartisan no-ransom policy framework, the Australian government did everything feasible to secure Mr Brennan’s release and render assistance to his family,” a DFAT spokesperson said.

Brennan says DFAT was reluctant to be seen to negotiate on behalf of the family and, as such, it adopted what he called a “do nothing policy (which) added over a year to my captivity”.

He says his rescue came about only because his family turned to a private kidnap response firm rather than rely on Canberra.

He says in future the government should immediately assist families to bring in private contractors to negotiate.

He was especially critical of Mr Rudd, who was prime minister at the time. “The prime minister ignored the family during the entire time I was held captive until my mother confronted him in Bundaberg on the 23rd July, 2009. At that time he told my mother that he had ‘spent more time on my case than any other in the past year’, though then he could not recall my name.”

A spokesman for Mr Rudd said last night the then prime minister was regularly briefed on the case by Mr Smith and officials. The case was also reviewed by the National Security Committee of cabinet and Mr Rudd was actively involved. “Mr Rudd respects the courage and the tireless efforts of the Brennan family in securing the release of Nigel Brennan,” the spokesman said.

A separate submission to the inquiry from Brennan’s family accuses the government of trying to keep the family ‘in check’ by not fully informing them of events. “The Brennan family suspects that the general opinion of the government was that of the Brennan family being dumb, uneducated farmers and accordingly should be kept ill-informed and ignorant of Nigel’s situation and the situation in Somalia,” says the submission.

DFAT has carried out two internal inquiries into the kidnapping, but has declined to release the findings, saying they could reveal strategies that could be exploited by would-be kidnappers.

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