Rohde and Mulvihill share two sides of a Taliban kidnapping

December 7, 2010

David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill.

David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill.

December 7, 2010 — Husband and wife co-authors David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill joined the Shorenstein Center to discuss their new book, A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping from Two Sides, an account of the couple’s experience during Rohde’s seven-month captivity by the Taliban.

Rohde, a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for The New York Times and former Shorenstein Fellow, had only been married to Mulvihill for two months when he decided to arrange an interview with a Taliban commander for a book he was working on. Despite being assured by another journalist that the situation was safe, Rohde and his accompanying Afghan photographer were led into a trap that resulted in the two men being kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. His decision to interview the Taliban leader is one that he “will always regret,” Rohde said.

Immediately after their kidnapping in Afghanistan, Rohde and his colleague were taken by the Haqqani network to Pakistan. The Haqqanis, a family operation based in Pakistan, “are seen as the most powerful Taliban faction in eastern Afghanistan,” Rohde explained. Out of fear of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, the Haqqanis escorted Rohde to Pakistan, where Rohde said he “never saw any American or Afghan forces” as they traveled across the countryside. He was “amazed by the organization” of the Haqqani network in moving him so quickly from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He noticed that the Taliban were so “confident” in Pakistan that they allowed him to make a phone call to New York, even though it could be easily traced.

Back in New York, Mulvihill had just started a new job at Cosmopolitan magazine as photography editor when she got the call that her husband had been taken into captivity. The next few months of her life were filled with conversations and interviews with the FBI and military and government officials. The FBI were helpful in training the family on how to answer calls from the captors, and how to deal with the trauma of the situation, she said.

Mulvihill and her family decided to keep the case private — “a decision we made weekly,” she said. The New York Times respected the family’s decision, and Mulvihill said she is “grateful to the newspaper for backing us up.”

“Very quickly into the captivity,” Rohde said, “I decided that my days as a war correspondent are over.” While it is still important “to get both sides of the story,” he concluded, he has noticed a shift in American journalism in Afghanistan — “we’ve lost our neutrality” and are seen as “guilty of the crimes of the U.S. government.”

This article was written by Janell Sims and the photos taken by Leighton Walter Kille, both of the Shorenstein Center.