I don’t believe Joshua Boyle.
Not the alleged abduction of Boyle and pregnant wife Caitlin Coleman in Afghanistan by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network, not their diverse reasons for venturing into a benighted and extremely dangerous war-ravaged country where the Taliban has been clawing back swaths of territory since NATO and American forces withdrew, not the purportedly wretched circumstances in which they were held captive for five years, and not the inconsistent details of a rescue operation conducted by Pakistan commandos last October.
My skepticism long predates the latest twist in the couple’s saga – Boyle hit with a slew of criminal charges when he appeared in an Ottawa court on New Year’s Day: eight counts of assault, two counts of sexual assault, two counts of unlawful confinement, one count each of uttering a death threat, administering a noxious substance and misleading police.
None of the allegations has been proven in court. Further details are proscribed under a routine publication ban.
I have no personal history with Boyle, apart from an unsolicited email received almost a decade ago when he was still married to Zaynab Khadr, sister of convicted murderer Omar Khadr, enthusiastic defender of the Taliban, formerly in kinship with Osama bin Laden and currently living, apparently, in Sudan while the bulk of her notorious family continues to reside in Toronto. In the email, Boyle objected to my characterization of Zaynab as an unapologetic acolyte for terrorism and loather of both Canadian ideals and Canadian political policies.
It should be kept front of mind that Boyle inserted himself into the Khadr family, with no previous connection to Canada’s first family of terrorism. The patriarch, Ahmed Said Khadr, was a senior associate of bin Laden (who attended Zaynab’s second marriage; Boyle was her third husband) and was believed to have been a fundraiser-financier for Al Qaeda. Ahmed Khadr, who dragged his family between Canada, Pakistan and Afghanistan, was killed in a shootout with Pakistan forces along the Afghanistan border in October 2003, a year after son Omar threw a grenade during a firefight that killed one U.S. serviceman and blinded another. Omar ultimately pleaded guilty at a Guantanamo Bay trial, though later, safely back in Canada, he retracted the confession. And later still, he was the beneficiary of a $10.5-million payment and apology from Ottawa for infringement of his charter rights.
For a year, during his marriage to Zaynab, Boyle functioned as the family spokesperson, a role which he certainly appeared to relish.
Boyle, a journalism graduate, seems to thrive on the edges of reporting and self-aggrandizing, spooning out interviews since the couple’s return to Canada with three young children born in captivity. He picks the journalists who will receive his words and, from what I can tell, he sets the interview parameters. Though some of his media overtures have been puzzling. On Friday, Sun columnist Candice Malcolm – hardly a sympathetic sounding board, that paper – revealed Boyle had been in contact in a series of email exchanges, between Oct. 28 and Dec. 20, in which he excoriated his captors. “My problem with the Haqqani Network pre-date my capture,” he wrote, as reported by Malcolm, insisting the terrorist group is not composed of devout Islamists. “It’s not about ideology for the HN, they’re just ghetto trash gangbangers, drug dealers, carjackers who realize they can throw on a black turban, memorise (sic) the Qu’ran …
“They’re just religious hypocrites, criminal miscreants and warmongers.”
Boyle added – and he’d alluded to this in other interviews – that the network had tried to recruit him, offering a position in their organization. On four occasions, Boyle said, he’d rejected the overture.
Boyle has said he wants the Haqqani thugs brought before the International Criminal Court – as if – for, among other atrocities, ordering “the murder of my infant daughter” by spiking his wife’s food with massive doses of estrogen, triggering a spontaneous abortion. In an unusual move, a Taliban spokesperson issued a statement flatly denying the accusation, claiming Coleman had suffered a miscarriage.
Well, we can hardly take anything the Haqqani say on faith. But the outfit is not known for taking women and children captive. Which begs the question – not fully answered yet – of how Boyle and Coleman fell into Haqqani hands. In various expositions, Boyle has claimed they unwittingly crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan while backpacking through Central Asia, that they’d gone to Afghanistan as “pilgrims” on a humanitarian mission to help civilians living in Taliban-controlled regions, and also that he’d hoped to get himself “embedded” as a journalist with the Taliban. Take your pick.
Either they were hopeless naifs or they knew exactly what they were doing. Certainly the subtext to the Sun emails is that Boyle – who has affected the Islamic appearance of beard, no moustache, while his wife continues to wear a hijab – drew a firm line between insurgents who cleave to Islamic teachings and “ghetto trash” criminals.
In an email interview with The Canadian Press: “As near as we can tell, we were targeted because it was well-known by the eventual kidnappers that Caitlin was heavily pregnant,” wrote Boyle, recalling that couple was then staying in a small Afghan village. “They spoke often immediately following the kidnapping that ‘America will pay for you very quickly, America will not want to risk the baby is born here in prison.’”
The Haqqani network indisputably is in the business of kidnap for ransom or kidnap for prisoner swap. Very early in the couple’s captivity, there were reports that the kidnappers had demanded $150,000 in ransom. Then – nothing. A later report claim the Haqqani leadership was seeking, in return for the couple, release of their members from Pakistani jails, particularly Anas Haqqani, son of the group’s founder, who was under an execution sentence. Again – nothing further.
There is no indication that ransom was sought from the abductees’ families or from the Canadian government, never over five years. Ottawa is adamant that no ransom was paid. If anything, the reaction from the Liberal government – apart from relief and gratitude to the Pakistani forces, allegedly acting on U.S. intelligence – seems more outright surprise, as if they’d been clueless about what sounds very much like an ambush of the vehicles transporting the Boyles into Pakistan.
Injecting a further frisson into the family’s escapade, after their release, were photos – tweeted out by the Boyles – of a now controversial meeting they had with Justin Trudeau last month, the prime minister bouncing the littlest Boyle on his lap. While Trudeau’s critics have been making hay about the private meeting – a political gotcha – there are legitimate questions about why this confab ever took place, especially if Joshua Boyle was perhaps already under investigation by police for the ensuing charges.
A security lapse, as some have argued, sounds a bit of a stretch. Only nutbar conspiracy theorists would view Joshua Boyle as some kind of potential Manchurian Candidate.
But so much of the Boyle story just makes no sense.
Did he and his wife convert to Islam? Hardly a crime. Boyle won’t say.
Did they willingly deliver themselves to the Taliban as, I don’t know, fellow ideological travellers, then get prevented from leaving?
What were they up to for five long years, apart from breeding?
And who is there to corroborate anything they say?
Rosie DiManno is a national affairs columnist.