Journo Offers Stunning Account of Kidnapping, Torture
American Peter Theo Curtis, aka Theo Padnos, tells of 22 months with al-Nusra Front
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 29, 2014 11:13 AM CDT
Peter Theo Curtis in Cambridge, Mass., on Aug. 27, 2014.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

(Newser) – The world was shocked and elated when American journalist Peter Theo Curtis was released this summer after 22 months of being held in captivity in Syria by the militant al-Nusra Front group. Now Curtis, who writes under the name Theo Padnos, has penned an extraordinary account for the New York Times about his capture, imprisonment, and torture before his release in August. Some details:

  • He was betrayed by three young Syrian men he met in Antakya, Turkey, then turned over to the al-Nusra Front by the Free Syrian Army. Of the difference between the two factions: "The fundamentalists think of themselves as the vanguard of an emergent Islamic state. They torture you more slowly, with purpose-specific instruments."

  • His captors were often cruel, making him face the wall of his cell as they beat him to "train [his] soul." When he had to use the bathroom, the guards would shout, "Shut up, you animal!" During one particularly harsh beating with a heavy stick and an electric cattle prod, one of the guards whispered to him, "I hate Americans. All of them. I hate you all."
  • Padnos passed the time by singing (he says the guards seemed to like his version of "Desperado") and penning a story set in Vermont about "love, home, and religious enthusiasm."
  • He would query his captors about why they had to be enemies—one guard quoted the Koran, saying, "Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends"—and the absurdity of the al-Nusra Front fight with ISIS, a new group with whom they shared similar Islamic beliefs. "I would force them to confront the infinity of violence that [their] dream implied," Padnos writes. "'OK, perhaps you have a point,' they would say."
  • During a conversation with two captured ISIS commanders who were in cells on either side of him, one of the commanders said, "After we conquer Jerusalem, we will conquer Rome." Padnos replied, "No one is trying to conquer you. Why do you want to conquer everybody?" The commander's retort: The conquerors who had come to Syria in the past "are sure to come again."
  • When he was released, a doctor at the UN base where he was treated handled him "with the gentlest, most silent, most breathtaking courtesy … That broke my heart," Padnos writes. A US government rep who greeted him on the Israeli border put her hand on his shoulder and said, "It's OK to cry."
Read his entire gripping account in the Times.