U.S. Captives: Don't Try A Rescue

In this Friday, July 25, 2003 picture released Friday, Sept. 12, 2003, Keith Stansell, right, sits next to a rebel of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, at an undisclosed location in southern Colombia. U.S. military contractors Tom Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, who are being held captive by Colombian rebels, were reportedly on an intelligence mission for Pentagon contractor California Microwave Systems when their single-engine plane crash-landed on Feb. 13.
Three American defense contractors kidnapped by Colombian rebels pleaded in an interview for authorities to negotiate their release and not risk a rescue, saying they would likely die in the attempt.

The interview by a Colombian journalist was the first since the men were captured after crash-landing their plane in the jungle-covered mountains of southern Colombia in February.

"I don't want to die. I don't want anybody dying trying to get me out of here," Keith Stansell, one of the captives, said in the interview, which was taped in July but will get its first public airing Wednesday when it is broadcast by the CBS program 60 Minutes II.

In the interview, Stansell, from Georgia, sits next to Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves, who are from Florida. They wear camouflage uniforms that match those of the armed rebels who surround them in what looks like a cramped wooden shed. The kidnapped men have no visible injuries.

"Don't stay up at night worrying about me," Howes, 50, says, addressing his family. "I'm going to be OK. There is no torture. My health is fine. I love you very much. I just want to get home to you guys as soon as I can."

In turn, each man makes a similar statement under the watch of their rebel captors.

The Colombian freelance journalist, Jorge Enrique Botero, has spent years covering the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a rebel group known as the FARC that is waging a 39-year war against the Colombian government. After an 11-day trek, Botero was allowed to interview the men for about two hours.

Botero and two Americans, Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, produced a documentary about the kidnapping called "Held Hostage in Colombia." An edited version will air Thursday on the History Channel and a director's cut will be released later.

The producers showed the men's statements to their families, and turned over copies to the FBI under the threat of a subpoena, Bruce said in an interview Sunday.

The kidnapped Americans say they are kept under tight security and mostly isolated from each other and from news about the outside world.

They described their crash-landing in territory controlled by the FARC. Howes said the single engine on their Cessna failed at about 13,000 feet, forcing them to land on a "postage stamp-sized" area in a mountainous patch of southern Colombia.

Rebels quickly surrounded the downed plane. "We had no chance to escape," Stansell said. "We crashed right on top of them."

Shortly after the crash, the rebels executed Thomas Janis, the U.S. pilot of the plane, and Luis Alcides Cruz, a Colombian Army sergeant aboard.

In the tape, the men questioned the wisdom of flying a single-engine plane over hostile territory.

"Would we do it again? I don't think any one of the three of us would put our faith in one motor in the mountains over Colombia," said Howes, the co-pilot.

Three other American colleagues also died when their plane crashed while searching for the captured trio on March 25.

Stansell, Howes and Gonsalves were in Colombia working for California Microwave Systems, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Corp. The company was measuring and photographing fields of coca, the raw material for cocaine, under contract for the U.S. government, Stansell said.

A FARC commander, Jorge Briceno, tells the men they will only be released in exchange for rebels being held in jail. Stansell and the others warn a rescue raid would be disastrous for them.

"We sit in the middle of the jungle. We are in the world of the FARC. We are not in our world," he said. "There are people around us at all times ... When you get there, we're going to be dead."

In the documentary, relatives of the men complain bitterly that not enough is being done to secure their release. Gonsalves' mother, Jo Rosano of Bristol, Conn., claims it's because the men are civilian contractors.

"I think that they think these three men's lives are worthless," she said. "Because if they were in the military, it would be a different story."