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How Red Cross Delivers Messages To Hostages

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How Red Cross Delivers Messages To Hostages

Afghanistan

How Red Cross Delivers Messages To Hostages

How Red Cross Delivers Messages To Hostages

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While being held by the Taliban, New York Times reporter David Rohde was moved all over the Pakistan border region for seven months. Still, he managed to get a letter from his wife thanks to the International Red Cross. Slate magazine's Andy Bowers explains how the Red Cross is able to do that.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This week, we've been reading a vivid narrative in the New York Times by the journalist David Rhode. He was held captive for seven months by the Taliban. He was moved frequently from house to house all over remote parts of Pakistan. And one detail in this story made us particularly curious.

Rhode got a letter from his wife through the International Red Cross. How in the world did the Red Cross deliver him a letter when no one knew where he was? Well, the online magazine Slate found out for its Explainer column. Here's Andy Bowers with the answer.

Mr. ANDY BOWERS (Journalist, Slate): They use a special two-page form. For the last 90 years, the International Committee of the Red Cross has hand-delivered messages to hostages, detainees, and those in war zones. On the front of the form's first page, senders fill out details about themselves and the recipient. On the back, they write out a personal message by hand, so the hostage knows it's really from his family. There's enough space for about 300 words if you write very small.

A second blank page is attached by a perforated line. It's for a handwritten reply from the captive, which also serves as proof of delivery. Hostages can detach and keep the original letters and some have emerged from captivity with a treasured stack of Red Cross page ones. The form is never sealed in an envelope since captors will review it for hidden messages. Only family and/or private news is allowed.

The Red Cross tries to deliver these messages using its carefully cultivated network of contacts. The organization knows people inside nearly every insurgency and terrorist group. For example, a senior official in Geneva might get a high-ranking member of the Taliban on the phone and work out a delivery route for the message.

NORRIS: Andy Bowers is a senior editor at Slate. That Explainer was reported by Brian Palmer.

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