U.S. Reporter, Held For 7 Months, Escapes Taliban Seven months ago, New York Times reporter David Rohde was abducted by the Taliban in a remote section of Afghanistan. Now he has escaped his captors, by climbing over a wall of the compound where he and an Afghan colleague were held in bordering Pakistan.
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U.S. Reporter, Held For 7 Months, Escapes Taliban

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U.S. Reporter, Held For 7 Months, Escapes Taliban

U.S. Reporter, Held For 7 Months, Escapes Taliban

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GUY RAZ, host:

New York Times reporter David Rohde is a free man today. Last November, while in Afghanistan on a book project, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter was kidnapped by the Taliban. But last night, after seven months in captivity, he escaped from the compound where he was held, in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan. Until today, few outside the newspaper even knew David Rohde was being held. The Times kept the story under wraps. Bill Keller is the executive editor of the New York Times and he joins us now on the line.

When did you first hear from David Rohde?

Mr. BILL KELLER (Executive Editor, New York Times): I have not heard directly from David yet, but I heard of his escape last night. I was just returning from some time in Iran, and when I landed at JFK I got a call from our foreign editor who said that David had tried to call his wife, ended up speaking with his mother-in-law, and that was our first initial report.

RAZ: How did he escape?

Mr. KELLER: Apparently he and the translator, who had been captured with him, climbed over a wall at this compound in Waziristan, where they were being held. They wandered a little while. Found Pakistani military scout who took them to the nearest Pakistani Army base and that was it.

RAZ: And what details can you give us about his treatment in captivity?

Mr. KELLER: We had sporadic contacts on a few occasions with David himself, on other occasions with people who knew of his situation. We know that he was moved around a lot. He was in the mountains most of the time on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, on one side or the other of the border. I think the conditions were pretty grim. That he appears to be, from all our reports, in good health. So, you know, he doesn't bring home that kind of damage.

RAZ: He was captured seven months ago.

Mr. KELLER: I think I was just trying to do the arithmetic. I think it's 222 days.

RAZ: And how was he captured? What were the circumstances?

Mr. KELLER: David was working on a book about the history of American involvement in Afghanistan and he had an opportunity to interview a Taliban commander. He clearly knew that there was some danger involved because he left a note at our Kabul bureau before he set out leaving some instructions, people to call in case he didn't come back. But he also said in the note that he thought that this one was okay. I mean our correspondents do have contacts within the Taliban and sources they've developed over the years. And I'm not sure this is somebody that David knew well, but he made the calculation that this would be okay and it's something he needed for the book.

RAZ: This sounds very similar to the case of Daniel Pearl. But in this case, the New York Times chose to keep this story very quiet.

Mr. KELLER: Yes.

RAZ: Why is that?

Mr. KELLER: We talked to a lot of people. There is a kind of a sub-society, I think, of people who've had experience with hostage taking and kidnapping, news organizations, NGOs, you know, government agencies. And we talked to experts in hostage situations and, of course, the family as well. And the consensus was that as hard as it is for news people to sit on a story, if we gave this thing a lot of attention, we would raise the danger level to David and his companions. If there's an international human cry, of course, that convinces the kidnappers that they've got a really valuable prize and makes them want to hang on to him longer. You just lose control of the situation. Not that we ever felt that we were greatly in control.

RAZ: Where is David Rohde now and where is he expected to go from here?

Mr. KELLER: He is at Bagram Air Base, the American air base in Afghanistan, catching up on a little rest and having a physical. Where he goes after that is up to him and his wife. But I expect they'll go somewhere private and have a little time together. I mean the two of them have been married for nine months. And for seven months of that time, he's been a hostage of the Taliban.

RAZ: Bill Keller is the executive editor at the New York Times. Mr. Keller, thanks for being with us.

Mr. KELLER: You're welcome.

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