(Major TW for well, just about everything. But lets say rape, kidnapping and murder...I may delete eventually, but I want to get it off my chest)

This article came out today that details Kayla Mueller’s life in ISIS/Daesh captivity. (Mueller was that female American hostage who was killed in a drone strike in Syria last winter.)

Grim doesn’t begin to cover it. I won’t go into details for everyone’s sake, the article is there if you want to read it. There is apparently going to be 20/20 special about it, although I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach it. Basically, she was graphically tortured in all same ways as the male captives, but also she was being regularly raped by Al-Baghdadi (the head of Daesh).

In many ways, what almost disturbs me more is the apparent institutional response. The Obama administration not only refused to pay ransom (a policy move that I understand), but actively threatened her parents with prosecution if they attempted to come up with the money themselves. (I understand that there has since been a change in policy on the latter: families can now attempt to raise the funds personally. Still, cold comfort to the Muellers.)

Furthermore, according to the article, MSF seems to have actively hindered attempts to start negotiations for her release. If this is true, than I’m completely befuddled as to what their reasoning could have been here.


On a personal level, I’ve been suffering from a bad case of over-identification with Mueller since i found out about her. I’m a nice American girl her age, who speaks Arabic and who has had, at various times, delusions of doing humanitarian aid in the Middle East. I am also WAY more timid than she apparently was. But if I been unemployed in 2011-2012 and an opportunity had presented itself to go work in the region,then yeah, I could totally imagine a version of myself that might decide to go do aid work in a country adjacent to Syria.

In a more fundamental way, the more I learn about this girl, the more she sounds like everything I could ever aspire to be as a person. Here is just one example: apparently she volunteered to stay behind in an escape that a couple of Yazidi girls were mounting. Because, they would have a better chance at escape if there wasn’t a high value American captive along. Who would do that? I can’t imagine that I would be able to be that selfless.

I am not particularly religious, as she apparently was, nor do I care to be, but if I could learn to cultivate an ounce of this girl’s selflessness and bravary, then I would count that as time wellspent. And yet, this extraordinary young woman spent the last few years of her life apparently trapped in a nightmare of almost unimaginable proportions.


As GT probably knows, I am an extremely big fan of Obama on both a personal and a political level. But I have lot of difficulty reconciling his administration’s actions on this. It’s not just Mueller’s family. Rukmini Callimachi has previously written in the Times about just how completely abandoned the families of James Foley, Stephen Sotloff, and Peter Kassig felt by the administration. Apparently, for many of the families, the most official contact they received was regular calls from the FBI to see if THEY knew anything that they could tell the FBI.

I just...where WAS everyone on this? Where was the fatherly, empathetic Obama that I know and love so much? (Apparently, after her death, he promised the Muellers a donation in Kayla’s honor, but he still hasn’t given it.)

This leads me into my final point, which may arguably need it’s own post, but here goes: my god is it ever time to rethink the place of aid workers in conflict zones. I know a number of people who do this work, and one of the themes that regularly seems to emerge these days is how much more dangerous it is for aid workers today than it was in the past. MSF hospitals are getting bombed at alarming rates. Negotiations to ransom kidnapping victims are basically common practice at many major organizations.


I’m cutting myself off because of the post length and the lateness of the hour, but I have a lot more THOUGHTS about this that I may either share in the comments or in a other post, depending on how I feel tomorrow. But what do you guys think? Have you been following this stuff?

In terms of broader questions about the safety of aid workers, how should we think about that issue in relation to the people who are being directly harmed in a conflict? How should we think about aid workers, period?