Commentary

Americans back from captivity need decompression period


 

The recent release of three Americans from North Korea has raised the question of how to bring back those who have been incarcerated abroad.

Jason Rezaian is the Iranian-American journalist who was detained in Iran for a year and a half. He recently discussed how beneficial it was for him to have time away from the spotlight after his release. He also expressed concern that the current administration’s tendency to parade former hostages before cameras right after their release could interfere with their ability to heal from their ordeal.

Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie

“They’re just being released from Walter Reed Hospital,” Mr. Rezaian said, referring to the three Americans in an interview with CNN. “They’ve already seen the president of the United States and had cameras thrust into their faces in an apparent photo op. I just wish that they’d had this opportunity to sort of process over time their experience, spend some time with their family, reintegrate little by little before they were thrust into the public like that.

“I was so thankful that I had the opportunity to spend some time alone and with my family before that happened to me,” he said.

When I was in the Army, I was involved in planning for the release of an American pilot shot down over North Korea. Later, I talked on the Larry King Live about American soldiers taken prisoner in the beginning of the Iraq War who were being returned to Fort Bliss, Tex. And now, another American has been released from captivity, this time from Venezuela; by evening that same day, he was meeting with the president – and the press – at the White House.

In planning for repatriation, the military has built on the experience of former prisoners of war (POWs); in doing so, it has learned the best way to bring home those who have been captured. This experience builds on lessons learned from the return of POWs from the Korean war, the Vietnam war, the Gulf War, and other hostilities, according to the Borden Institute, an agency of the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School now based in Fort Sam in Houston, Tex.

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