If you were captured by kidnappers in Iraq, would you want Alexander Downer leading your rescue team? It’s a moot point in this case, with Downer already springing into action and a Swat team on the ground in Iraq doing what it can to remove Douglas Wood from captivity. But with Defence Minister Robert Hill painting grim tidings, and Downer categorically refusing to consider paying a ransom, things are not looking good for the captured Australian.

Overnight, the foreign minister went on Al Jazeera TV to present his case and work the sympathy angle. “Douglas Wood is not a well man,” Downer told the Arab Street audience. “He has a very serious heart condition, he has a problem with one of his eyes as well. We are concerned about his health in any case, and being a hostage in this way, being abducted, is only going to put further pressure on his health.”

Which begs the question: if Douglas Wood was so ill, what was he doing in the world’s most dangerous trouble spot? Although judging by the media profiles of Wood over the past 24 hours, he’s a smart and worldy individual who went into Iraq with his eyes open. Nevertheless, this is the same foreign minister, remember, who attacked the only other Australian kidnapped in Iraq, SBS TV journalist John Martinkus, for being in Baghdad when he was captured last October.

Martinkus was a healthy, able, 30-something journalist with war zone experience. And all he got from the government when he was kidnapped from outside the Australian embassy was criticism for daring to do his job. By serendipity, Martinkus is back on SBS tonight with a report for Dateline on violence in the Southern Philippines. It will be intriguing to see what the show’s host, George Negus, himself an experienced foreign correspondent, has to say on the matter of press freedom in war zones.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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