Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Osthoff File

Former hostage Susanne Osthoff appeared on German TV Wednesday night, just 10 days after being released by her captors in Iraq. In previous interviews, Ms. Osthoff--an Islam convert who has lived in the Middle East for many years--expressed sympathy for her captors. But, judging from her interview on Germany's ZDF network, I'm not sure what Ms. Osthoff is in favor of. According to der Spiegel, describing her appearance as "bizarre" would be an understatment.

But there may be more to the Osthoff story that her increasingly weird behavior. The German tabloid Bild has been looking into Ms. Osthoff's past and has supposedly linked her to Saddam Hussein's regime. The paper also wonders how Osthoff paid for her daughter's private school tuition on an academic's salary. Bild promises to keep digging into Osthoff's background.

Unfortunately, I don't speak German, and I haven't been able to find on-line, translated clips from the ZDF interview. Not that it really matters; based on the Spiegel account, Ms. Osthoff gave rambling, even incoherent responses and refused to discuss certain aspects of the ordeal, including the actual kidnapping.

There may be serveral possible explanations for Ms. Osthoff's unusual behavior, including post-traumatic stress disorder. But, as Charles Johnson notes, there's something fishy about this whole episode, including Germany's release of convicted Hizballah killer that (apparently) secured Osthoff's release in Iraq. Osthoff originally claimed she was well-treated by her captors, but her bizzare conduct during Wednesday's interview suggests otherwise. Some have suggested that Osthoff is suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, where captives begin to identify with their captors. But the condition implies that a shift in sympathy or allegiances occurs during the hostage ordeal; during her captivity, Ms. Osthoff reportedly told her kidnappers that "she knew of the Iraqi peoples' plight," and one of her kidnappers described her as "Iraq's friend," buzzwords straight out of the jihadist phrasebook.

I'm not accusing Osthoff of being a terrorist--far from it. But her initial accounts of a rather benign experience at the hands of her captors don't square with her interview on ZDF. Either Ms. Osthoff suffered trauma at the hands of her kidnappers (and she's trying to suppress it), or she's hiding something much more sinister.

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