By
Weekends With Alex Witt
updated 6/14/2013 5:15:47 PM ET 2013-06-14T21:15:47

"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.' "

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.”

Video: Richard Engel offers insights on humanity after his kidnapping

  1. Closed captioning of: Richard Engel offers insights on humanity after his kidnapping

    >>> in this week's office politics , i talk to nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel . most of you are probably aware richard and his crew were kidnapped in december while covering the war in syria. i asked richard about his kidnappers and what he was thinking during that harrowing time. i began by asking him what would normally be a very simple question for which he has a complicated answer.

    >> people ask me all the time, where do you live? i feel like i'm trying to be evasive. i don't really -- i have a little footprint in new york . i spent some time in new york . and i have an apartment in istanbul . and the reality is i'm not in neither one of those places most of the time. but i'm trying to spend more time in istanbul these days as a base and then using that to jump off to different places. but i have family in new york . i'm from new york . i was born in new york city .

    >> are you from new york ? i didn't know.

    >> i'm from new york city . i was born on manhattan island . when i come back here, i come back to the building, look around, talk to you, and then i also go see family. so it's a good way to come in and check out what's going on on this side of the pond and then go back overseas and usually we'll go to istanbul and then jump off from there to wherever.

    >> i imagine, given what you do, does your family try to grab time with you when they're here -- when you're here? is think about that.

    >> of course. and i'm very close to my parents. i speak to my mother probably every single day. i always have.

    >> i bet you do. she worries about you.

    >> is she does worry about me. but this was even before twitter and skype and facebook and things like that. so just regular phone calls. i speak to her probably every single day, my father as well. so when i'm here, i go and see them.

    >> i'm glad they get some time with you. and i know part of the reason they're going to want to always connect with you, you had your kid p kidnapping in syria.

    >> they didn't appreciate that, not at all.

    >> none of us did.

    >> i'm not going to say it was just frightening, that's the obvious answer. of course it was frightening. it was frightening. but what was more disturbing intellectually was that i thought to myself, all right, this is it. my life is going to be over, and it's going to be ended by these people for a conflict i'm not a part of, and this is going to be it. i'm going to die in this dirty little room or outside against some sort of wall, and that's going to be it. i have other things that i want to do, and these guys are going to be the ones who get to terminate this one. this person in a ski mask playing cat and mouse with us for the last five days is going to be the one who gets to pull that little trigger and decide to end my slice of time on this planet. so it was frustrating. it wasn't so much -- obviously, there's fear, but it wasn't just the, oh, no, i'm going to die. it was this is it? this is how it ends? this is the guy who's going to do it?

    >> you were angry?

    >> of course.

    >> i read about the shabia, and i'll tell you when i first started reading the article, i had to stop when it talked about the barbaric way in which they will kill people.

    >> this is the worst group.

    >> you see this. how do you not lose your faith in humanity?

    >> who told you i had any faith in humanity?

    >> got to have some. going back, come on.

    >> believe me, i just go back to get that faith. i have a very confuseded view of humanity, frankly. i sometimes dethsee this sort of dualism in mankind or humankind. 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. these guys were enjoying it. they like the power. they like 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, very dark side of their humanity, that i think is in all of us. so do i have faith in human nature ? i'm very skeptical of human nature . i think we have the capacity for very great and also very, very

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