Freed hostages traumatized by ordeal, criticism

The three Japanese civilians who returned home after being held hostage for over a week in Iraq are suffering from acute stress disorder, a psychiatrist said Wednesday.

This condition is not only a result of their ordeal, but has also been caused by the public criticism to which they have been subjected for putting themselves in harm’s way, he said.

Satoru Saito, who heads the Family Function Institute, met with the three Sunday night at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, immediately after they arrived there from Iraq via Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Kansai International Airport.

He met with them again Monday night and spent a considerable amount of time listening to their experiences at a Tokyo hotel.

The three — Nahoko Takato, a 34-year-old aid worker, Soichiro Koriyama, a 32-year-old freelance photojournalist, and 18-year-old Noriaki Imai, a recent high school graduate — were taken hostage near Fallujah, west of Baghdad, on April 7. They were released in the Iraqi capital last Thursday.

Some segments of the Japanese public, as well as many government officials and politicians, have criticized them over their recklessness in visiting Iraq despite repeated Foreign Ministry advisories against entering the unstable country.

Takato, in particular, has been emotionally unstable and is obsessed with the thought that she is at odds with society. The two others are also hesitant about appearing in public, telling the psychiatrist that they want to appear together if they hold a news conference.

Saito said the three have been diagnosed as suffering from acute stress disorder, adding that the issue of whether they can avoid developing posttraumatic stress disorder will depend on how other people treat them.

The psychiatrist recommended they hold a news conference at an early date as a means of sharing their experiences with others and avoiding the onset of PTSD.

If they decide to face the media, reporters should avoid grilling them and try to create a calm atmosphere in which they can recount their experiences, Saito said.

The three told Saito that the most terrifying experience during their captivity was the bombing by the U.S. military. Their captors changed locations several times and in some places they came under heavy bombing, Saito said.

They told Saito that they initially felt their captors quickly realized they were in the country to help the Iraqis. But soon afterward, when they were threatened by knives and guns in front of a video camera, the trio became terrified that the gunmen might change their minds at any time.