Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent, reflected on his kidnapping last year in Syria Sunday in an interview with msnbc’s Alex Witt.
“I won’t just say it was very frightening because that’s the obvious answer,” Engel said. “Of course it was frightening. But what was more disturbing intellectually was that I thought to myself, ‘Alright, this is it. My life is going to be over and it’s gonna be ended by these people for a conflict that I’m not a part of.’ “
Engel and his four-person crew were abducted by the shabiha militia last December. They were held for five days and released after a gun battle between their captors and Syrian rebels at a checkpoint.
Engel said he saw a dualism of mankind at work in his kidnappers.
“We are capable of such incredible things and such beauty and such kindness, and we can create symphonies and works of art in stone—and then do horrible atrocities to people and gang rape and torture and abuse and enjoy it. And enjoy it,” he said. “These guys were enjoying it. They liked the power; they liked the control that they had over us. And then they went home. They had families with them, I heard kids in the room downstairs. So they were not monsters, they were normal people that this war was bringing out a side of their humanity—a dark side of their humanity that I think is in all of us.”
He explained there are no easy answers when it comes to the future of Syria.
“The region is totally mixed. It is very complicated because you have every country in the region wanting something totally different for Syria. Turkey wants to see Bashar al-Assad go and wants to kind of expand its sphere of influence into Turkey so its Ottoman glory or Ottoman past are once again project into the Syrian provinces. That’s kind of what Turkey’s vision is. Jordan just wants this war to end and it wants this situation across the border to calm down and for this problem to go away. Saudi Arabia and Qatar both want Bashar al-Assad to go but they both don’t necessarily want some of the factions that are fighting to win. And the two countries are also supporting different factions. Israel certainly doesn’t want the rebels to win. It has had a very long comfortable relationship with Bashar al-Assad but doesn’t like Hezbollah and has attacked Syria. It’s a tough one.”
Engel said there are four stages reporters go through when covering a war.
“Right now as I’m sitting here, I feel very quite comfortably in Stage 2. Stage 2. You know, you don’t really back to Stage 1, by the way. The Stage 1, the whole I’m invincible, I’m superman thing goes away once something happens and you hear a, you know, a crack of a bullet nearby. You get out of Stage 1 pretty quickly and you don’t generally go back to it. Stage 2 is a happy, comfortable place for me. What I’m doing is dangerous and I might get hurt. That’s reasonable. Stage 3—I’m probably gonna get hurt—is a darker place, because then you think every day that your hourglass is draining. And Stage 4 is there’s just a few grounds left in the hourglass and you’re just a dead man walking.”