Donald Trump promised to work to free Americans held captive abroad. Here's what happened next

Donald Trump promised to work to free Americans held captive abroad. Here's what happened next

First, let's address the headline on Time's new story on President Donald Trump's efforts to free Americans held captive abroad: "The Art of the Hostage Deal."

Kudos to the magazine for a clever take on Trump's 1987 bestseller "The Art of the Deal."

Now, to the story itself: It's excellent. It's thoroughly reported and compellingly written. But that's no surprise given the byline: Elizabeth Dias. She's the Time correspondent who covers religion (often mixed with politics), and her Godbeat work has won frequent praise from GetReligion.

So yes, it's obvious that this is a fantastic piece of journalism. But is it my favorite Time piece from a religion reporting standpoint? If I'm honest, it's probably not. I'll explain why in a moment.

Before I get to that, a few readers may be wondering right about now: What exactly does hostage dealmaking have to do with religion anyway? 

Good question.

This story doesn't deal overtly with religion, but religion figures — at least figuratively — throughout the piece. 

The first mention of church appears in the second paragraph of the graphic opening scene:

RIVERTON, Utah — Armed Venezuelan police stormed Thamara Candelo's apartment complex at dawn on June 30, 2016. It was two weeks after her wedding day, and Candelo's American husband, Joshua Holt, was lying in their bed in Caracas. One officer demanded to see his visa. Others ransacked the rooms, took Holt's phone and finally ordered him to get into a pickup truck. For the next five hours, his gun-toting captors mocked and hit him. Then they took him to the Helicoide, a prison home to the Venezuelan intelligence police. He has not been allowed out since.
Holt, 25, sent this account of his capture in a letter last August to his parents, who live south of Salt Lake City in his childhood home. It was only the beginning of an ordeal his family could never have fathomed when the young couple met online through their church that year. Holt was accused of arms possession, though witnesses told his family and lawyers that they watched agents plant firearms in the apartment after the arrest. He and Candelo have been held without trial. Five preliminary hearings have been canceled, with no explanation other than judges or courts were unavailable.
According to his family, Holt has lost more than 50 lb. subsisting on the prison's diet of uncooked chicken and raw pasta, meals former Helicoide inmates have claimed are mixed with feces. He was denied medical care for bronchitis, a kidney stone and pneumonia. When an infection spread from his jaw to his eye, authorities pulled a tooth and filled the hole with cement, right atop his exposed nerve. Holt became suicidal. On July 3, the 368th day of his imprisonment, he fell from his bunk when guards woke him, sustaining what his family fears was a concussion and a back fracture. "Demons stroll the hallways," Holt wrote of the prison. "I have been told by 10 or 20 people, prisoners and guards, that I am here because I am American."

Later, Time refers twice to families placing their "faith" in Trump.

Also, there's this note:

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UN Human Rights Council silly season continues; journalists look away, again

UN Human Rights Council silly season continues; journalists look away, again

Little more than a month ago I posted a piece here about Saudi Arabia winning a key role at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the world body's very own exemplar of hypocrisy -- where governments run by despots get to shield each other from global scrutiny while drawing attention to those nations they find it convenient to skewer.

That post was written on the occasion of the absolute monarchy's ascendence to the chair of the UNHRC panel that selects investigators to report on allegations of human rights violations made against specific nations. Choose the investigator and you've largely assured that the outcome will be to your liking.

This post is occasioned by last week's UN General Assembly vote that appointed  or reappointed 18 UNHRC members, seven of whom were reelected to serve a second consecutive three-year-term. (The United States, it's second term three-year-term now up, leaves the UNHRC at year's end in accordance with UN term-limit rules.)

The results were largely predictable. Nations with terrible human rights records were added or reelected to the UNHRC. They include Togo, Burundi, Venezuela and United Arab Emirates.

All four nations have been accused by human rights watchdog groups of curbing freedoms of speech, press, religion, and assembly. Additionally, they've been accused of having government-corrupted legal systems and have voted against UN resolutions meant to aid victims of human rights abuses in various global conflict zones.

But while the Saudi Arabia story received some elite media coverage, the UNHRC election appears to have been largely ignored by American news outlets.

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AP not sweating details on stories

A reader passed along this gem from the Associated Press that begins:

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The 10 people Chávez meets in heaven

A story I have yet to see in the Anglo-American press is the apotheosis of Hugo Chávez. The Venezuelan strongman died on 5 March 2013 after fifteen years in office leaving Venezuela with 25 per cent inflation,  public debt at 70 percent of GDP, a shortage of basic consumer goods, a crumbling electrical grid with frequent power outages, widespread crime and a serious contraction of the oil industry — the source of 95 per cent of the country’s exports. Since 1998 U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude have fallen by half.

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Jesus, the Mahdi and Hugo Chavez

A note of condolence written by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, upon the death of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez has been the occasion of some of some mirth in the press. The Washington Post and the Huffington Post have made arch references to President Ahmadinejad’s statement that Hugo Chavez will be resurrected at the end of time. The Washington Post observed:

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