Hostage Recalls Basra Kidnapping Ordeal

60 Minutes: CBS News Producer Was Held By Gunmen For Months In Southern Iraqi City

To understand how Iraq has changed in the last year, look to the southern city of Basra, the heart of the Iraq's oil wealth. Earlier this month the city held peaceful elections. Iraqis walk the streets freely, and there's a semblance of law and order.

But last year at this time, Basra was in total chaos - run by warring Shiite factions, many of which were taking orders directly from across the border in Iran.

Back then Basra was the most dangerous city in Iraq, virtually cut off from all western media. Residents of the city lived in constant fear for their lives, and we found out firsthand what that meant when, in February 2008 one of our own, a producer working for 60 Minutes, was kidnapped.

Correspondent Lara Logan reports how Basra was transformed, how our colleague survived and what lessons the city's transformation may hold about the future of Iraq.

The gunmen who were holding Richard Butler made a video of their hostage some three weeks after he was kidnapped from his hotel room. "My name is Richard Butler. I'm a freelance producer-cameraman. I'm in Basra, I'm asking the Iraqi government and the British government to help me get released," he said into the camera.

Asked what happened to him, Butler told Logan, "Two-thirty in the morning, police burst into the room with their fatigues on, and their AK-47's."

He said the gunmen were wearing police uniforms, and took him in a police car to a police station. Most of the men, he told Logan, were hooded.

He knew it wasn't a good sign.

The police who kidnapped him, it turned out, were also militiamen. In fact, Iranian-backed Shiite militants had long taken over the Basra police force, even when the city was still under British control.

Then in the summer of 2007, when British forces withdrew from the city, dozens of militias - armed Shiite gangs - took full control of the streets.

Large-scale attacks that had been aimed at British troops dropped dramatically, but instead of getting better, life for the people got worse.

Basra became a city of fear and death. More than 100 women who didn't adhere to strict Islamic dress code ended up murdered. Most Iraqis who were kidnapped never came back, and the bodies of five American hostages taken in Basra were recovered after Richard Butler was kidnapped, along with his translator.

"They put plastic bags in our mouths, and taped our mouths up," Butler told Logan. "We had a bad feeling. And in fact, my interpreter said, 'You know, they're gonna shoot us.' And I thought he was probably right."

At that point, Butler acknowledged that he thought he might face death. "I actually thought that was probably gonna be the outcome."

Butler's translator was released within a few days, but his fate was far more uncertain. He was moved at least six times to different locations, often tied up in the trunk of a car, hooded and shackled most of the time.

Asked if he knew who was holding him, Butler said, "Not exactly. I actually was shown one Hezbollah propaganda video. And I heard the same soundtrack being played on their mobile phones as ring tones. So…"

To Butler, it indicated an Iran connection, because Hezbollah is supported by Iran.

  • Lara Logan

    Lara Logan's bold, award-winning reporting from war zones has earned her a prominent spot among the world's best foreign correspondents. Logan began contributing to 60 Minutes in 2005.