Forgive Iraqi captors, former hostages plead

Two Canadians and a Briton held hostage in Iraq last year said Friday that they are reluctant to testify at the trial of their alleged captors because they are opposed to Iraq's death penalty.

Two Canadians and a Briton held hostage in Iraq last year said Friday that they have been asked to testify at the trial of their alleged captors, but are reluctant to do so because they are opposed toIraq's death penalty.

James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden and Norman Kember, all members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, told a news conference in London that their alleged captors should be forgiven instead of punished.

Freed in March, the three peace activists had been held hostage for 117 days in Iraq.

"What our captors did was wrong. They caused us, our families and friends great suffering. Yet we bear no malice towards them and have no wish for retribution," Loney said.

"We would like to know more about the court process itself, how it works and how we could speak to leniency in that process. We are very, very concerned about the death penalty. It would be the worst possible outcome for us if they were to be sentenced to death."

Loney said the three want more information beforethey decidewhether to testify.

Suspects in the hostage-taking have been arrested in Iraq and charged with kidnapping. If convicted, they could be executed. The trial is expected to begin next year. Canadian and British police have asked the three peace activists to give evidence at the trial.

The three acknowledged that their captors did commit a crime when they abducted four members of Christian Peacemakers, a human rights organization. The fourth hostage, Tom Fox, an American, was shot and killed in March and his body found in Baghdad.

Kember said the three have no desire for the alleged captors to be executed and will only testify to call for leniency. "If it's necessary for us to take part in the trial in order to plead for clemency — if that's the only effective way we can do it, then we would be prepared to take part."

Loney said he would like to talk to the suspects, which he thinks would help him heal from his experience in Iraq.

All four were kidnapped in November 2005 and freed after 117 days in a dramatic rescue by multinational forces in March, after a raid on a house near Baghdad. They had been held hostage by a little-known Iraqi group,the Swords of Righteousness Brigade.

Loney returned to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., after the ordeal while Singh Sooden, who has lived in Montreal, returned to Auckland, New Zealand, to continue studying. Kember returned to northeast London, England.

The rescue was the work of an elite multinational unit known as Task Force Black, led by British Special Air Service members. The three originally went to Baghdad to investigate allegations of abuse against Iraqi detainees.