Richard Butler: A Hostage's Story

Richard Butler, released after two months' captivity in the southern Iraq city of Iraq
CBS News video journalist Richard Butler spoke for the first about his two-month ordeal as a hostage in Iraq. Butler was kidnapped from a hotel in Basra in February. He was held by Shiite militants for two months, the entire time fearing he would be murdered. Now safely out of Iraq, he told his story to CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey.

Allen Pizzey: Let's start off at the beginning, Richard. Tell me why did you go to a place like Basra, why go there to shoot a story?

Richard Butler: Well, from August 2007 until December 2007 I was in Basra working on a story for 60 Minutes with Lara Logan. We had built relationships with people within the Mahdi Army that said that they could provide us with security and access to the areas that we wanted to get to and the stories that we wanted to report on.

Our experience of that project was that they could deliver, and from that story came the opportunity to travel to Najaf and meet with (inaudible), who is chief of staff to Moqtada al Sadr, and we wanted to be able to speak to Moqtada, find out exactly what his point of view was, and so we chose the route through Basra to travel to Najaf. That is the story I was on when the kidnapping happened.

Pizzey: What kind of security arrangements were in place when you were actually taken?

Butler: We had exactly the same Mahdi army general, if that is what you can call him, actually with us the whole time and he was in the room. The hotel room that we had had three mattresses in place. So there was myself, my Iraqi journalist and translator … and our - I keep going to say - we had our Mahdi Army general with us, actually in the room.

Pizzey: So there are three of you in a room in Basra, thinking that you are on track for what you want to do. Everything is fine. The security is like it was before, and the door burst opened.

Butler: I don't think it burst open. I was asleep when they came into the room. I was awaked by [the translator] saying, "We have people who want you to show your passport."

An hour or so earlier we had had Mahdi Army people come into the room, check us out, speak to our Mahdi Army minder, and talking away quite happy. So initially I just thought it was more of the same, and then as soon as I showed them my passport, everything changed.

Pizzey: Changed in what way?

Butler: Well, they were all wearing police fatigue uniforms and armed with AK-47s, two of them had a balaclava over theirs heads, with just the eyeholes and the mouthpiece. One of them grabbed me and frogmarched me down the stairs. We were on the second floor, quite quickly out into the street and into a waiting police 4x4.

Pizzey: What were you thinking at that stage? What was going through your mind?

Butler: This isn't good.

Pizzey: To say the least.

Butler: Yes, I knew it was not good. So then the focus for me was to try and not allow the situation to escalate, to keep it calm, not antagonize them in any way to be submissive without appearing to be completely petrified.

Pizzey: No small feat.

Butler: No. But from my experience it's best not to let them show that you are too scared because they lose respect for you.

Pizzey: How do you keep from - is your natural instinct to fight and how do you keep from doing that?

Butler: No, my natural instinct is not to fight because you are looking to buy extensions to your life in very small increments at the beginning, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, two minutes, an hour, a day, a week. So you build it up in increments. Obviously the initial moment is crucial.

If you can get past the first 10 seconds, it gives us a chance to build a relationship, makes a connection as a human being.

Pizzey: How did you try to do that?

Butler: I think initially you do it, as I say, by not antagonizing them. You don't raise the tone of your voice to them. You have to appear as if you want to help them. Then you build from there.

Pizzey: How did they react towards you? Were they brutal, physically harsh, or accept that they could build this with you as well?

Butler: The initial snatch was - it wasn't brutal. But it was forceful. Then that sort of melted away.

Pizzey: Melted away to the positive side or the negative side?

Butler: To the positive side, yes. They became far more friendly, the more time went on.

Pizzey: When you say friendly, I take it that is a relative term?

Butler: Relative to being kidnapped, yes. But they were concerned, because initially once we got to the first building, which was a police station in Basra, they then bound my hands behind my back with cord, and we left - once we left that building to the next house, the first house that took me to, I asked to use the toilet and be unbound to do it. When I came out of the toilet, I asked if they could bind it at the front because it is very painful to be bound at the back if it is in the wrong place because it pulls down your shoulder here and this was all numb. He was quite happy to bind it there and he bound it a lot looser.

It went from there to taking those away and using ordinary handcuffs and make sure the handcuffs were loose enough so that they did not pinch my wrists, but not so loose that I could slide them over my hands. So it is a progressive program of backing off the harshness that happened initially.

Pizzey: Did you instinctively do this? Did you feel, "If
I do this, I have made a little gain, now I will try something else"? Did you follow a process in your head?

Butler: Yes, because straight away you assess the situation. I am standing there, in front of these eight guys with AK-47s, and I am in a pair of underpants and a T-shirt.

The odds are not in my favor. So there is no point in trying to do anything heroic or stupid because it's not going to work.

Pizzey: Did they treat you differently from your translator? How did they allow you to enact with each other?

Butler: Because I do not speak Arabic, I can't tell you exactly. In terms of physical treatment, there was no difference. In terms of the way the questions were asked of him, I couldn't really tell you because, as I say, I don't speak Arabic. But I was aware that the tempo of their voices and the harshness of their voices both ways was different because I did say to [the translator], "don't argue with them, don't antagonize them" because I felt he was escalating the situation a couple of times.

Pizzey: Did he listen?

Butler: Yes, he did.

Pizzey: So you ended up at what you thought was a police station?

Butler: It was a police station. I am sure in my mind, because I have been there before in daylight as a guest of the Iraqi army because there is an army facility behind the police station.

Pizzey: So do you think these guys were policemen?

Butler: They were policemen.

Pizzey: Acting on whose orders? Could you tell?

Butler: You have to understand that the situation in Basra is that all the police are recruited from the different Shi'a parties' militias. The British army went to these people and asked for volunteers. So every policeman in Basra is probably also with one of the militia, be it Mahdi Army, Fadila, Hezbollah of Iraq, Badr Corps, they are all represented.

Pizzey: So you couldn't tell who had you or what they were doing?

Butler: No. I mean, I have some idea. I mean, I have no way to verify. While I was being held, especially initially, I heard an awful lot of Hezbollah propaganda video being played, and a lot of Hezbollah ringtones on their mobile phones, but the complexity of the way the militias and the parties are in Basra, it doesn't actually mean they were Hezbollah. They could have sympathies towards Hezbollah or reasons to have that, without being Hezbollah. Hezbollah seems the shining torch, if you like, amongst the Arab fightings.

Pizzey: So they could have sympathies or admiration for them but not necessarily be part?

Butler: They could. So I couldn't say definitely. I do not have the intelligence or the intellect to say that.

Pizzey: At what point did they put the hood over your head?

Butler: As soon as they got me in the police car. I believe the militia guy that took me took his off and put it on me back to front.

Pizzey: How do you breathe through something like that? It is wool.

Pizzey: Itchy then?

Butler: Itchy, especially as my hair grew. But they kindly gave me a haircut with some shears, if you'll excuse the pun.

Pizzey: Thankful for small mercies and all that. So there you were with a hood over your head. You are hearing things around. What kind of sense can you make of it? My impression is that you would be totally disorientated and panicky almost.

Butler: Well, you build a picture from what you can hear, and you then obviously develop more reliance on your hearing because that is all you have got. So you use it to your advantage. You need to occupy your mind with something. So you occupy it with things like how long does it take for them to answer a phone, do you hear them walking to answer their phone? If they are walking to it, they have not got it in their pockets. How many different ringtones are you hearing? How many different footsteps are you hearing. How many steps from the bathroom to where they are holding you? Can you hear them playing with their AK-47s, making them ready? Can you hear them stripping a pistol or loading a pistol? You listen to those things because … you need that information if you are going to be a part of your own rescue, and also it helps occupy your mind.

Pizzey: Did you think that you could rescue yourself, as it were?

Butler: All the time you are looking for the ingredients that you would need to be able to do that. You work out what you need, how you could work an opportunity to do that. But it's always one of last resort, and at no time in the whole time that I was held were all the ingredients in place that I would need to do that.

Pizzey: So you had a hood on your head, you are manacled. Were you attached to anything? Were your feet tied up?

Butler: I have had times where my - one leg was handcuffed to a chain which was attached to something else, but that was to help me out. That wasn't punishment because it is difficult to sleep when you are handcuffed and - actually the house I was rescued from, I had been there earlier in the kidnapping. One day they decided to move me from my room at night to this hidden room in a wall which they accessed through a little door in the wall, and they actually plastered the door up once I was inside, and I didn't like that at all. They did that three nights running.

Pizzey: They actually sealed you into a wall?

Butler: They sealed me into it and I couldn't see any way that air was getting into it. It was quite a large space. It was long enough for me to stretch out and touch the walls at both ends. So that makes it 6 foot 3 long. It was three and a half feet wide and high enough for me to stand up without hitting my head on anything. So that makes it above 6 foot 3 high. But I didn't know how long you could breathe on the oxygen in there. So I didn't like that experience at all. The reason they gave for putting me in there I didn't like either, which is that, "Bad people may come to this house, so it is for your protection". That had me thinking, if bad people come to the house and take you guys, who is going to know I am in here?

Pizzey: If these guys were sealing you into a wall, claiming bad people are coming, how bad are these guys going to be?

Butler: Exactly. So the first time they put me in there, they became back to get me out early the next morning. So although I didn't like it, it wasn't that distressful. But the second night it was as though they had forgotten me, and (a) I needed the toilet desperately, (b) I was concerned about the oxygen. So when they let me out, I made a play of being short of breath and dizzy and not being able to walk. The third morning, which was again late, I made a big play of not being able to get out without sticking my head out through the door and sucking air for about ten minutes, and I feinted vomiting as well and they never put me back in there.

Pizzey: Did you force yourself to vomit?

Butler: No, I was spitting up stuff. I didn't vomit, but I made out that I was retching.

Pizzey: Let me go back a bit. You say that you occupy your mind with trying to figure out what is going on, build a mental picture of what is about you. Do you think about your family at all?

Butler: No. I purposefully knew that that would be a mental area that would be very hard on me, and I couldn't influence that. You know, you want to not be doing this to your family, but you can't change it there and then. So if I couldn't effect a change, if I couldn't be part of doing something positive, for my own protection I had to shut them out completely.

Pizzey: That is very hard to do.

Butler: Yes, it is.

Pizzey: What were they going through? You have now talked to them. Could you compare what you were thinking or trying not to think, if you will, to what was happening to them?

Butler: It is much harder for family and friends and colleagues than it is for the person that has been taken because you know you are still alive. They don't. They are not getting daily updates. There are periods when they don't hear anything for days, weeks, even months in some people's cases, or years. So it's very hard for the family, and my family have been through a tough time. So have my friends and my colleagues, particularly my colleagues at CBS that were part of the team that I was working with because I am out there, off the radar, and they are carrying the responsibility and also degree of guilt for the fact that I am there. So it is pretty tough on them too.

Pizzey: You seem to feel sorrier for the rest of us than you do for yourself, Richard.

Butler: That is because I was there. I knew I was alive and there were only a few moments when I thought, "This is probably the end," and they were very short. So they fade away and you just … human beings are very adaptable to situations. So you adapt the best way you can. As I say, you know you are alive. They don't.

Pizzey: Did you at any point think you were going to die?

Butler: Yes.

Pizzey: At what point was that and in what way?

Butler: When they moved us from the police station, which I am guessing they held us in for about an hour, I was aware that we were driving out into a quieter area. I couldn't tell where exactly we were going, but I was aware that there were no more streetlights, for instance, and there were no more dogs barking. You didn't hear any cars. So I thought we were being taken out into the desert and, you know, we were just being shot in the desert.

Pizzey: What goes through your head when that is happening to you? It is resignation, defiance? What is it?

Butler: I mean, you are trying to think, "If they are going to take me, I am going a take couple of them with me. How could I do that?" That is just a natural act of defiance that you feel. But you never know when to actually start doing anything because all the time you are alive, you are buying time. So it never actually, as it turned out, we weren't go there anyway. So it didn't arise.

Then on the third … second or the third day, they actually put plastic bags in our mouths and taped us up to move us somewhere, and again it was at night. So again I thought this is probably going to be the end.

Pizzey: Plastic bag in your mouth; how do you keep from gagging?

Butler: With difficulty.

Pizzey: So everything that you are doing here is all geared down to a very narrow level of staying alive?

Butler: Yes, but that is what you have to do. You have to, when these situations arrive, you have to go with it. I mean, you don't have a great deal of choice when you have got a few AK-47s pointed at you and you are handcuffed, hooded and taped up. You are fairly limited in what you can do and it becomes a mental battle. They might have the guns, but they are not going to win on a mental battle.

Pizzey: So how do you fight that mental battle? How did you go about gaining, if not an advantage, ground on them?

Butler: Building relationships. The more you can build a connection to them as a human being, the harder it is for them to actually take the ultimate sanction and shoot you.

Pizzey: How did you make that connection? In what form did the connection come?

Butler: It takes different forms, depending on the situation you are in. But an example is in the house, one of the houses or several of the houses that we were held, they still had their families there. So I could hear a female voice and I could hear children's voices. So you always are interested in children. You can hear their voices. So you ask them how many children they have got, how old they are, and they love talking about their children, and every time you do that, they will go out their way to talk to you about their children. They ask you how many children did I have, and I have a son and a daughter, which they wanted to know all about. So that process is building a relationship. You are no longer just a piece of meat with a hood on your head. You are a father with children, and that is what they are. So it gives them something to relate to.

Pizzey: Were any of them more receptive than others?

Butler: The ones with children. Particularly if it was their children in the house. Every time that that situation arose, and I spoke about their children, every time they told me the names of their children, they lifted the head up and called their children so I could see their children. I shook hands with the sons, a three and a half year-old boy.

Pizzey: So these people have got you in manacles with a hood on your head and they are introducing their children to you?

Butler: Yes.

Pizzey: That's a bizarre concept.

Butler: Not really, I don't think, no. Because any father, the most important thing in his life is his children and it is no different for the people holding me.

Pizzey: But if you and I were doing something as, to us, evil or as cruel as holding someone under those conditions, surely we wouldn't want our children to see what they were doing.

Butler: Yes. I don't think it was for any psychological advantage for them. I don't think it was any form of mental torture that they were trying to inflict on me. They love children. Anyone who spends time in the Middle East knows how much the family means to those people and how strong their bond is with their children.

Pizzey: Did that relationship manifest itself in any way in greater kindnesses?

Butler: Yes, it did. Initially, for instance, the food that I was getting was more than I could eat. It was like a banquet turning up on a tray. They would bring me
Ice cream in the afternoon, and tea and Arabic coffee.

They always kept me supplied with cigarettes. So yes, it did definitely manifest itself.

Pizzey: But the food ran out, I gather?

Butler: Yes. The moment when Prime Minister Maliki brought his army down to Basra was a bad time. The previous 10 days I had been very ill anyway. I think I got some sort of food poisoning. I was running a high temperature and vomiting and couldn't eat. They brought a doctor in to see me during that time, and he made a diagnosis and went away and came back about an hour later with medicine and gave me some tablets to take and gave me two injections. An antibiotic injection was one of them. I had just started to pick up a bit and, I think it was a Tuesday, all hell broke loose, fire fights and I could hear mortars being launched. I could hear cartouches being launched, lots of small arms fire from what appeared to be on the roof, outside the door, and they shut down the area of Basra that I was in. So they couldn't get food anymore. So that was a pretty tough time.

Pizzey: What did you live on?

Butler: Not a lot.

Pizzey: How much is not a lot?

Butler: An example, the last 12 days of captivity, I had one tangerine and four boiled eggs.

Pizzey: In how many days?

Butler: The last 12 days.

Pizzey: 12 days?

Butler: Yes.

Pizzey: A couple of tangerines and boiled eggs?

Butler: I had two boiled eggs the morning I was rescued.

Pizzey: How much weight did you lose?

Butler: Three stone.

Pizzey: That is about 42 pounds?

Butler: Yes.

Pizzey: What with your captors? Were they suffering the same thing?

Butler: Yes. They went without food. When they brought me the tangerine, there were two tangerines. But I knew the gunman holding me hadn't eaten either. So I insisted he had the tangerine. He didn't want to. I had to force him to take it.

Pizzey: What was his reaction?

Butler: I think he was touched.

Pizzey: Not touched enough to let you go?

Butler: Who knows?

Pizzey: It must have been pretty disconcerting to be hooded and unable to go out and the fire going on all around you and you don't what it is and you happen to be in the middle?

Butler: The thing that was worrying me the most was I could hear the American jets screaming over the top. You know, I have witnessed J-DAMs go into buildings all over Iraq. So I was thinking, "Oh no, please not that way."

That would be just too much of an irony.

Pizzey: The ultimate indignity.

Butler: Yes. Let me go some other way.

Pizzey: You took a lot of pictures in Afghanistan of people in the situation you were in, people hooded, their eyes taped, their hands tied up, kept in small cages. You must have had a lot of empathy from your situation with what you saw. Did you remember all that stuff?

Butler: Yes, I did it is quite ironic. I was very pleased that I wasn't being kept in such harsh conditions that they were kept because I have seen them be put in stress positions for every waking hour, and at least they weren't doing that to me. I had loose handcuffs, whereas they had plastic tie wraps that were very tight, and they were also taped round their mouth the whole time and hooded.

So yes, I was relieved that my captivity wasn't as harsh as I have witnessed being applied to suspects taken from Afghanistan.

Pizzey: You were saying it is better to be kidnapped by Shi'ites in southern Iraq than by Americans in Afghanistan.

Butler: I was pleased I wasn't being mortarboarded in Guantanamo or being held for six and a half years like an al Jazeera cameraman, for instance.

Pizzey: Did they mention that sort of thing, your captors? Did they not make the comparisons?

Butler: No, but there was one incident which I was grateful for cheap and nasty electronics because they took me into a room with a television and a video disk player and took my hood off and put a disk in which was a dramatisation of an incident that took place in Basra with the British army where they actually kicked to death a suspect, and just as it got to the crucial point, where they are about to lay into this Iraqi suspect with a hood on his head and his hands strapped behind his back, the video disk pixilated and wouldn't play. They tried to fix it, but it wouldn't play ball. I thought they were warming themselves up to give me a taste of that.

Pizzey: Looking for a bit of inspiration?

Butler: I don't know.

Pizzey: Did they say anything or was that your impression?

Butler: That was my impression. The people holding me at that point didn't speak much in the way of English and I am afraid my Arabic is almost non-existent.

Pizzey: So you were handed from one group of captors to another?

Butler: My understanding is that I was held by the same group throughout, but the people that were tasked with being my hosts at the various houses changed, and also they would occasionally rotate people in to give them a break, that were looking after me.

Pizzey: So then you have got to start again, building a relationship?

Butler: Yes, although I would see occasionally the same people returning.

Pizzey: When you say "see"?

Butler: Hear. I could make out through the woolen balaclava, I could make out form. I could make out the sides and the shape of them.

Pizzey: What happens to you while you are being hooded like that? Suddenly the hood is taken off after two months, and you can see.

Butler: Mm-hm.

Pizzey: What do you see? What happens to your eyes?

Butler: Well, it was a very bright day when I was rescued and it was slightly difficult to adjust to the brightness of the light, and also you get - I got color fringing like little rainbows in the side, which lasted about six hours. Then that started to fade away, but the biggest shock was I had lost my near vision. So I couldn't focus on anything closer than 2 feet.

Pizzey: Will your vision come back?

Butler: I hope so. I've got some exercises to do with my eyes and I have seen a specialist for an initial consultation.

Pizzey: Let me be personal and ask you what other after-effects are there that you can talk about to this kind of captivity, that kind of experience?

Butler: The most obvious one from the lack of movement is the muscle wastage. A lot of the weight has gone from just losing muscle tone. So I am pretty allergic to gyms at the best of times, but now I have got to find some discipline from somewhere and spend a couple of months in a gym, but I am not looking forward to it.

Pizzey: You can repair the muscles with exercise. What about your head?

Butler: I am pretty good with my head because I am more concerned for the family and the colleagues of mine. Because, as I say, it is easier for the hostage than it is for the family, much easier.

Pizzey: Will you go back and do this kind of thing again?

Butler: Yes.

Pizzey: You have a reputation of doing stories in bad places, going to dangerous places, places other people don't want to go. Has this put you off?

Butler: No, it doesn't put you off. You learn from your experiences every time. There are certainly places where I wouldn't go. There's always been places that I wouldn't go. One of the reasons why I like working for CBS is that I don't ever get put under pressure just to go into these places. You know, I demand time on the ground to build relationships. I don't like being put on a deadline. In fact I won't work on a deadline in these places and CBS 60 Minutes allow me that time. They have always said, "If this isn't right, walk away." So I wouldn't go back into Basra next week. I am not saying I will never go back into Basra, but I wouldn't go back into Basra next week. I also don't think it would be visible for me to go to Iran right now.

Pizzey: No, you would probably have to pick your places.

Butler: Yes.

Pizzey: Let me go back on something you mentioned. You said "cheap electronics." You also got to make what is known as a proof-of-life video, some way of showing that you are there. Tell me how that came about and what you did.

Butler: The first one was actually more the demands that I felt they were making. It was the day that … my translator, was released. All of a sudden they asked us to stand up and again they taped us … they put a plastic bag in our mouths and taped our mouths up, but they didn't take us out of the house. It was also in the morning, and every movement before then had been made at night.

So that was slightly easier on us, I think, that it was daylight. We knew it was daylight outside. They actually took us from the lower part of the house, up some stairs to a room upstairs with a lot of natural daylight where there were no curtains, and they sat us down or they sat me down on a chair, and then they took my hood off and I was able to see them with their hoods on, in this little Sony videocam set up on a tiny tripod, and they told [the translator] what they wanted me to say, which was basically that I request the British authority and the Iraqi authority and my family to do everything they could to secure my release, and that was it.

Then they did the same with [the translator] in Arabic, and then later that day I was aware of them talking to [the translator] a lot, and then [the translator] left the room, which was disconcerting. He was taken out of the room and I was left there. There was one of my guards spoke a little bit of English and I asked him what they were doing with [the translator], and they said he is taking the tape to Baghdad. I actually could buy into that at that time, because I thought maybe they don't know how to get the tape into the right hands and they couldn't know how to pass off any channels of communication they want to, be it e-mail or cellphones. So I was quite relieved at that point, because if [the translator] was out, then it meant my responsibility was less. But then I had doubts a couple of days later, and I had a different guard that spoke English and I asked him what they did with [the translator] and they told me they had killed him. So that made the following two and a bit months harder.

Pizzey: So you didn't know [the translator] was all right until you were released?

Butler: Even when I was released, when they got me up the road to an armored Humvee, with an Iraqi general, he spoke good English. I asked him whether there was any news on my translator and he said to me, "I am sorry, they cut his throat".

So that was, from the elation of being released to getting that, was just a rollercoaster because then I was right down. Then it wasn't until I got to Basra Palace, which was about 15 minutes later, and there was a British colonel there, and the first thing I asked him was if he had any news on [the translator], and he said, "Yes, he is fine. CBS have looked after him".

Pizzey: That must have been a relief.

Butler: It was, yes.

Pizzey: So you made the videos. They made you say, "Do anything to secure my release." Were you aware of any demands they were making for your release?

Butler: No. They made me make a second video, which was definitely a proof-of-life video, but I am guessing it was about two weeks after they made the first one, which was - they did it literally in the next room. I heard lots of voices, new people in the house, a lot of talking. They picked me up off the ground and took me through, and they took my handcuffs off, and they took my hood off. They had set up the same video camera and asked me to say a few things, and said I could send a message to my family, which I did. But I believe that that tape was never used as a proof of life. It did get into the hands of British, but in a roundabout fashion.

Pizzey: So you don't know why they took you, what they wanted in exchange for you, what did they want?

Butler: No, I don't know. I don't know the motivation for it. I don't know how it came to be that they targeted us in the hotel. I think that they were looking for a quick solution. I don't think they really were prepared for the Mahdi army to come out and say, "This is wrong," for Moqtada al Sadr himself to put the word out straight away that, "This is wrong, these are journalists, we want him released". I think they might have backed themselves into a corner.

Pizzey: So you sat in the corner until something happened?

Butler: Yes.

Pizzey: And that something was serendipitous.

Butler: Yes, and it was very dramatic.

Pizzey: Tell me how that happened. You were sitting manacled up, hearing a fire fight round you?

Butler: Actually, the reports that I was manacled up when I was rescued weren't true. I was hooded, but they had taken my handcuffs off me to let me eat my two boiled eggs, and I had also used the toilet. He had put me back in the room and went off to do something else and looked the door, and he hadn't bothered putting my handcuffs on.

Literally, it can't have been two minutes later, all of a sudden, I heard a knock at the perimeter gate to the house, which was a metal gate, and I heard voices which were very quickly raised in tempo, and then gunfire just everywhere. I heard doors being kicked in, lots and lots of gunfire, like three or four, maybe five or six AK-47s on full, running on full chat, and all of a sudden my door burst open.

I don't remember them unlocking it. It is as if they kicked it in, and straight away I was aware of someone came through the room with an AK47. I could make out the form of somebody with an AK-47 who was shouting at me, and I was aware then of another person, a taller man, coming into the room and they were shouting at me.

So I tried to say, "I am hostage, British, British," and I pulled my balaclava off, and to my right there was a taller Iraqi soldier with a bandanna on, and he got it straight away. He said something and pushed the other soldier's AK-47 away from aiming at my head, and he pulled me up. He put his body around me to shield me as we ran out of the house and down the corridor. He was firing with his left arm all the time with his AK-47, and there were other people in the house firing AK-47s, with the bullets ricocheting off the walls, and out of the house, into the courtyard and up the street, and the street was lined with Iraqi soldiers, all firing suppression fire. There were other soldiers trying to grab me, and this one wouldn't let them get me until he got me to his general, and he handed me over to his general.

Pizzey: You must have thought, "I have survived all this and this is the end."

Butler: I didn't, really. I didn't get a chance to think it until I was in the Humvee, just how close and how dangerous that could have been. The adrenaline was just running as I ran up that street.

Pizzey: What did you think when they burst through the door? Did you know it was the Iraqi army?

Butler: No, I didn't know it was the Iraqi army. I thought it could have been another militia group.

Pizzey: You didn't think: "Out of the frying pan into the fire?"

Butler: I didn't have time.

Pizzey: You are lucky the guy got it.

Butler: He got it, and he realized the risk wasn't over until I was with this general. He wasn't going to let any of the other Iraqi solders, who I think outranked him, he wouldn't let them take me. Everybody wanted me when they saw I was a westerner.

Pizzey: Did you get to talk to him or was he there and gone?

Butler: I did get to thank him, and brought me water and a chocolate bar and another packet of cigarettes, and there were other Iraqi soldiers coming up and hugging me and slapping me on the back. One came up with a silver bowel full of fruit, which I think he must have liberated from a house nearby. They were all very excited. They were the 14th division in Basra, and they were very excited and very pleased.

Pizzey: Were they actually looking for you or was this a total chance?

Butler: They told me that no, they weren't looking for me.

Pizzey: So does that mean nobody was looking for you during that time? You were just there until somebody stumbled upon you?

Butler: I think they were -- they had it in their mind that they were looking for me. But my understanding is that they had a tip-off about an arms cachet somewhere in that street.

Pizzey: And you happened to be --

Butler: I happened to be in the first house that they visited.

Pizzey: Do you believe much in luck, God, whatever?

Butler: I do believe in luck, yes. I believe, you know, the harder you work at it, the luckier you get.

Pizzey: You spent a fair chunk of it this last couple of months.

Butler: I think I used up my fair share of luck for the next couple of months.

Pizzey: What are you going to do now?

Butler: I am going to go back to my home in France. I am going to try and stick to this regime in the gym. My wife has already been down there and made the arrangements. So I will be under instructions there. Put some weight on. Eat some good food, spend time with my family, and I guess in about a week's time I will be bored and getting itchy feet and looking for a story.

Pizzey: What do you think is going to happen? From what you have seen and what you have experienced and what you were trying to do, what do you think Basra means and what is going to happen there?

Butler: Well, I think Basra is a very, very important element in the future for Iraq. If Iraq is going to have a future, then they have to have Basra sorted out because so much of the country relies on Basra. I think the figure is 85 percent of Iraq's GDP actually goes through Basra. There's the oil fields, there is the port. It is the only access to the sea that they have. It's also very important politically. I also happen to believe that there is no solution to the political situation without Moqtada al Sadr and his followers. He is just too important within the Shia community to be marginalized and left on the sideline. Sooner or later they have to have a political settlement with Moqtada al Sadr.

Pizzey: Do you think, had you not been rescued, your fate would have rested on what Moqtada al Sadr would or would not do?

Butler: I think my fate would have ultimately depended on them having a way to release me without jeopardizing themselves. I definitely was given the impression by them that they never, ever had in mind to kill me as an objective. I mean, a couple of times I thought I was about to die, but they made it plain to me that it wasn't on their agenda. It was obvious I was losing weight. They were concerned about that. When I was sick, they were very concerned. So I never had the impression that it was in their plans, but the more I think about it now, and know more, and get more of exactly what was going on, I think that they backed themselves into a corner.

Pizzey: Do you think they understood that nobody was going to come and buy them out, or was money a question?

Butler: I never, ever got the impression that money was an issue. I said to them, "The British have a policy, they never pay money to have people released, least of all journalists". They said to me, you know, that money wasn't anything to do with it. They told me it was un-Islamic to request money, and I took the opportunity of pointing out that it didn't appear to be very Islamic to me to be holding me hostage when I came there to tell the story of the Shi'a people and to give them the chance to put their views to a western audience, and particularly an American audience through a show as high-profile as 60 Minutes.

Pizzey: What was their reaction to that?

Butler: I think it was difficult for them. One of them in particular, I definitely got the impression that that struck a chord and he had trouble rationalising that. I also received from him over the coming days and weeks little gestures. He brought me a cheap little radio, which unfortunately, partly due to the fact that it was cheap and nasty and partly due to the fact that BBC World Service is suffering budget cuts like the rest of us in the news media, I wasn't able to get much on it. But he brought me an Arab English dictionary, which, when I looked up the Arab word for "diarrhoea" and found it didn't have it, but it did have the word for "constipation", I found it was probably a waste of time. But he did little things like that. He bought me chocolate bars as well, and some extra fruit and more cigarettes. So he became a lot, lot friendlier. I think maybe some of that came off the fact that he was having trouble rationalising holding me as a hostage with his religion.

Pizzey: Just one last thing. I was in Baghdad when you were being held, so I know the concerns that went around and how we worried about you. Not that that did any good, but we did. Did you in any way have any sense that you were not forgotten, or did you feel abandoned at any point?

Butler: I knew I wouldn't be forgotten. I know that the media is a very close family, particularly in war zones. People think we do it for the adrenaline, which has nothing to do with it at all. As you know, it is 99 percent boredom anyway. If you want an adrenaline kick, there are far more realistic ways to go and get it than do what we do. We do it because of the relationship we have with the people we work with. It is a close community, and when the chips are down, everyone pulls together. So I knew I wouldn't be forgotten by the media. I knew CBS in particular, who have a reputation for looking after their people, wouldn't forget me, and I knew my family wouldn't. But the few times I was able to get the World Service, I was relieved not to be hearing my name because, firstly, I knew that level of publicity would just cause more distress to my family and friends, second thing, it would elevate my value in the eyes of my kipnappers, and thirdly, it would remind me of my predicament. The other thing, it's very unprofessional in our profession to actually become the story.

Pizzey: If it is any consolation, Richard, we know you didn't do it on purpose.

Butler: Thank you very much.