WHEN American Warren Weinstein was captured in Pakistan in August, 2011, his family feared he would become another statistic — another aid worker executed by al-Qaeda.
They were right about half of that. He would become a statistic, but it wouldn’t be the enemy whose hands were stained with his blood, it would be his own countrymen.
“It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur,” US President Barack Obama said during an emotional address in January last year.
For the first time since the world learned how Dr Weinstein died, new information has revealed how his family struggled with his kidnapping, how they spoke at length with his captors, how they offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for his return, and, eventually, how their world was torn apart by a bomb dropped from an unmanned US drone.
Dr Weinstein’s wife Elaine says now that when the President phoned with his condolences, she wanted to scream back at him.
‘‘What I would have liked to say and what I said are two different stories,’’ Elaine told The New York Times.
“‘Where the hell were you when I needed your help?’ No, I couldn’t say that. It was, ‘Thank you, Mr President, thank you for calling’.’’
She felt helpless to express her grief and demand more from those overseeing a war increasingly fought from behind closed doors and behind computer screens. She’d felt helpless before, too. It started when her husband left for Pakistan to devote his life to helping those less fortunate that him.
On August 13, 2011, Dr Weinstein, then 73, was snatched in the eastern city of Lahore in Pakistan, only days before he was due to return home to the United States.
He was the country director of US-based consultancy J.E. Austin Associates, which does contracting work for the US government’s development agency USAID.
Mrs Weinstein said he “spent his entire life working to benefit people across the globe and loved the work that he did to make people’s lives better”.
She said he “loved and respected the Pakistani people and their culture. He learned to speak Urdu and did everything he could to show his utmost and profound respect for the region”.
In December that year, al-Qaeda released a video declaring they had captured the Jewish-American and demanding compensation for his release. She didn’t know it then, but Mrs Weinstein would soon hear from the enemy directly.
In messages obtained by the Times and published this week, Al-Qaeda operatives appeared friendly and polite.
‘‘Hello madam are u online. We are the waren secourty we want to free him,” the first exchanges read.
‘‘Is Warren there?’’ she wrote back.
‘‘No he is not here because there is alot of dangeres.’’
For months the two parties communicated. Seated behind Mrs Weinstein were FBI agents who talked her through the negotiations.
“Please tell Warren I love him,” his wife wrote.
‘‘Ok d.not warry abut warran.. I say to warran she sad I love warran.’’
When there appeared to be a breakthrough, negotiations stalled. When she told her husband’s captors she couldn’t afford the figure they demanded, the messages stopped altogether. For months they heard nothing and lost hope.
There were sporadic communications. A video in May, 2012, then in September, then in December the following year. A month later, Dr Weinstein was dead.
“This morning, I want to express our grief and condolences to the families of two hostages. One American, Dr Warren Weinstein, and an Italian, Giovanni Lo Porto, who were tragically killed in a US counter-terrorism operation,” the President said in April after the pair were confirmed victims of a drone strike.
“Warren and Giovanni were aid workers in Pakistan devoted to improving the lives of the Pakistani people. After Warren was abducted by al-Qaeda in 2011, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to find him and to bring him home safely to his family. And dedicated professionals across our government worked tirelessly to do so. We also worked closely with our Italian allies on behalf of Giovanni, who was kidnapped in 2012.
“Since 9/11, our counter-terrorism efforts have prevented terrorist attacks and saved innocent lives both here in America, and around the world. And that determination to protect innocent life only makes the loss of these two men especially painful for all of us. Based on information and intelligence we have obtained, we believe that a US counter-terrorism operation targeting an al-Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region accidentally killed Warren and Giovanni this past January.
“Yesterday, I spoke with Warren’s wife Elaine and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy. As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today. I realise that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there is nothing that I can ever say or do to ease their heartache.
“Today, I simply want to say this: As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter-terrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni. I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”
Dr Weinstein and Mr Lo Porto were not the first civilian casualties of a CIA drone strike, nor were they the last. The list is long.
Mr Obama, to his credit, was sincere when he apologised. He told the family as soon as he knew. He also took steps to ensure US strikes were subjected to greater transparency.
It’s little consolation to the family of Dr Weinstein who, a year after his death, are still living with raw wounds. Compensation, too, has eluded them. Despite a promise of a payout in April last year, the family has received no money.