British IT consultant talks of his three years as an Iraqi hostage
Days of PlayStation, systems design and mock executions
Peter Moore, the British IT consultant who spent 946 days as a hostage in Iraq, has been telling users of Reddit.com about the highs and lows of his stint as the country's longest-serving hostage.
Moore, an IT consultant who specializes in overseas work in developing countries, spent 31 months as a captive of Shi'ite militia group Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, or the "League of the Righteous." He was abducted from the Iraqi Finance Ministry in May 2007 along with four British guards, none of whom survived.
"I thought I was going to die every day, but once I knew the guards had been killed I really thought that I would never get out," he said.
Moore explained that he was hired for a three-month posting in Baghdad with American IT consulting firm BearingPoint. Moore said he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq but "believed he could make a difference"' in the country. He was hired to develop spending reports from the computer system used within the Ministry of Finance.
But barely a month into the job Moore was abducted by a large group of Iraqi policemen, although fortunately local workers managed to hide his British colleague in the raid. Moore and his four guards were not so lucky.
Moore said he was taken because the militia thought he was a member of the intelligence services, and they kept him as a hostage so he could be traded for those imprisoned by coalition forces.
Moore said that the group only realized they were being abducted when they were driven to a market place in Sadr City, stripped to their underwear and bundled into a van. He then spent the next year blindfolded and chained in solitary confinement being fed water and rice and unable to move much, which left Moore with serious muscle wastage problems.
"I tried to be let out to go to the toilet three times a day, but some of the guards would not let me do that," he said. "Once I had to pee into a bottle and then they made me drink it. In late 2007 I got dysentery and that caused a problem."
Moore said he was also regularly beaten by some of the guards. He received a skull fracture in one session, broken ribs from another, had his teeth broken by an AK47 hit, and his legs were cut with glass. He was also injected with an unknown substance on two occasions and guards subjected him to a mock execution.
"Mock executions - all good stuff," he said. "I was moved around every couple of months. One time they took me outside, knelt me down, put a gun to my head and pulls (sic) the trigger. At the same time they fired another gun off behind my back. I thought I was dead."
After a year his blindfold was removed and Moore said that he kept himself occupied by mentally building himself a new computer, using curves in the curtains to formulate mathematical problems, designing metro systems by using spots on the wall, or holding long conversations with his pillow about his passion for motorbikes or IT jobs he might take in the future.
"It's funny, when I had to move to another location they threw it away (it wasn't in good condition) and I was upset over that," he said.
In his second year of captivity he was moved to the upstairs room of a family house and his conditions improved, he said, with better quality food and a more relaxed regime. He said one of the happiest days of his incarceration was when the guards unchained him and he could walk around the room for the first time since being taken hostage.
His arms and shoulders ached for months after the years of being chained up he said, but it was a relief to be able to move around. However he was also tempted to use his new-found freedom to take his own life.
"I was going to use the chain. I thought it was very fitting to hang myself using the chain that they had kept me in for two years," he said. "The only reason I did not go through with it is because I would not be able to see the reaction of the Iraqis as they walked in and saw me hanging there."
His colleagues were already dead. Two of the British guards had escaped from the house in which they were being held captive and had been shot in the street, while a third had been killed trying to steal his captor's gun. The fourth was shot by the militia when they thought the house they were in was being raided.
"They told me that they were killed," he said. "One of my regrets is not pushing harder for the exact circumstances of each one, but at the time I remember thinking that 'they are dead and there is nothing I can do to change that, I just need to concentrate on myself now.'"
Let the Wookie win
In May 2009 coalition forces released Laith Al Khazlli, the milita's second in command, in exchange for the bodies of two of the British guards. Khazlli then came to visit Moore a month later, who remonstrated with him about the conditions he was suffering in comparison to those the militia leader had been released from.
Khazlli agreed and his conditions improved from that point he explained, with occasional access to a Sony PlayStation with a FIFA football game and couple of shooting titles. He was also allowed to watch TV with the guards, catching up on NCIS, CSI and Prison Break. Moore said he found the latter program choice to be particularly annoying given his circumstances. He even got a cake with a candle on it for his birthday.
Under the more relaxed rules Moore was able to pick up a little Arabic and help the guards with their English. They also played board games together, which Moore said he'd occasionally deliberately lose to make the guards feel good, saying he mentally channeled the thought "Let the Wookie win."
Finally the League of the Righteous agreed to release Moore on condition that their leader Qais Al Khazlli was freed. The British government was criticized for not doing enough to secure Moore's freedom, but he said he disagreed with the decision to sanction both his exchange, and the decision to release over a hundred of the militia's members in exchange for the bodies of the other hostages.
"It was not a good trade. I would not have done it if I was in charge. I would not have exchanged myself for the militia leader either," he said.
Freedom and Lady Gaga
Moore was dropped off at the British embassy in Baghdad and said the first thing he saw on television was Lady Gaga, and had to have who she was explained to him by his handlers. He was then debriefed, fed at the staff canteen and checked out by doctors and psychologists.
Medically his long incarceration has left him with leg and back problems that still need medical attention and he has an interesting collection of physical scars. Mentally he's been cleared of post-traumatic stress disorder but said the incident has left him with psychological issues.
"I usually only get flashbacks a couple of times a day now, whereas it used to two or three times a minute," he said. "It seems to happen when I am just sat on my own doing nothing. Suddenly memories appear and I think about the things I wanted to do to them at the time. My heart will start to pound faster and sometimes I will walk around the room, but once I know it is happening I can seem to control it and think of happier thoughts which calm me down."
His employer BearingPoint went bust while he was still a hostage but the division he was working for was bought out by another company. It continued to pay him his full salary and he was even given pay rises and promotions by his employer. This came to $270,000 for the time of his employment, although the US taxman has taken his cut.
Moore did also have hostage insurance, which would have provided a sum of money to pay off ransom demands. But he explained this was useless, since the militia weren't interested in money, but wanted its members released from coalition custody.
The experience has left him a changed man, he said. Before the abduction he had been a workaholic, but now he works a few months of the year to pay the bills and spends the rest of the time on holiday. He's currently riding his beloved 2007 Honda ST 1300 across all fifty US states with a friend as part of a three-month holiday.
Moore and a friend are now on the open road. Credit: Pierce County Tribune.
Moore says that he doesn’t hold a grudge against the group that took him hostage, although he disagrees with their tactics. The UK and US were doing the same thing as the Iraqi militias he said, in incarcerating people without trial and not telling them when, or if, they would be released.
"I would be interesting in meeting the group - which is now a political party within the Iraqi government," he said. "Not sure I would go to Iraq to meet them though, I feel more likely I would meet them at a UN meeting in New York or somewhere similar."