The woman in a black headdress and the man in a blue smock shirt have had enough of their Asian vacation. They never planned to stay past her due date, or to fall into the hands of the Taliban.
Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle remain prisoners in Afghanistan 20 months after their abduction in October 2012, when she was 7 months pregnant. This week, families of the Pennsylvanian woman and her Canadian husband released videos of the couple in captivity. They hope to harvest publicity from the Obama administration’s rescue of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Relatives of Americans held captive in North Korea, Iran, and Cuba also are waiting for their government’s help.
An Afghan man claiming Taliban ties emailed videos of the married couple to Coleman’s father last year. They show Caitlan with an ashen face and sunken cheeks mentioning her baby and pleading for help from “my government, and my President Barack Obama.” In 2012, Coleman and Boyle visited Russia, passed through Kazakhstan and neighboring nations, reached Afghanistan, and disappeared from Kabul in early October. Boyle’s mother, Linda, thinks “they truly believed with all their heart that if they treated people properly, they would be treated properly.”
Coleman’s mother, Lyn, hopes to find goodness beneath the sin of terrorism: “Maybe somehow we could touch the Taliban themselves and let them know this is a family they’re holding.” The Boyles and Colemans have tried to send letters to the couple and their captors through an aid agency working in the region. So far, no reply.
Coleman and Boyle are two of many American prisoners around the world. Bergdahl’s safe return stings for the relatives of people like Kenneth Bae, sentenced in 2012 by North Korean officials to 15 years of hard labor for threatening the government. He worked in the country as a tour guide and Christian missionary. Saeed Abedini remains in prison in Iran, where he was sentenced in 2012 to eight years confinement. A Muslim convert to Christianity, he married a U.S. citizen and worked to spread house churches in Iran.
Cuban officials arrested Alan Gross in 2009 and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. Working for the United States Agency of International Development, he provided internet access to small Jewish communities on the island. Gross wrote a letter to Obama last December. After begging for his own release, he made an appeal for other Americans abroad: “They must not harbor any doubt that if they are taken captive in a foreign land, our government will move heaven and earth to secure their freedom.”
On Monday, State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said the U.S. government is doing all it can for the detained. Trading enemies of the state for citizens, though, is risky business. Psaki said the Obama administration remains unwilling to swap Cuban spies at Guantanamo for Alan Gross. Will they appease the Taliban for Coleman and Boyle?