WORLD

CLOUDS OF DOUBT

FREED HOSTAGE TERRY WAITE RETURNS TO A RAPTUROUS WELCOME-AND NEW CRITICISMS

ANDREW PHILLIPS December 2 1991
WORLD

CLOUDS OF DOUBT

FREED HOSTAGE TERRY WAITE RETURNS TO A RAPTUROUS WELCOME-AND NEW CRITICISMS

ANDREW PHILLIPS December 2 1991

CLOUDS OF DOUBT

WORLD

FREED HOSTAGE TERRY WAITE RETURNS TO A RAPTUROUS WELCOME-AND NEW CRITICISMS

Suddenly, he was back—a little thinner, a little greyer, but in the limelight once again and apparently loving it. Terry Waite, freed by his shadowy captors in Beirut last week after 1,763 days chained to the wall of a windowless room, flew back to England and immediately proved that his ordeal had not dimmed his eloquence. In a hangar at the Royal Air Force base where he touched down in a driving rainstorm, Waite pleaded for an end to hostage-taking, worked the crowd like a campaigning politician and even managed some touches of understated British humor. Greeting Robert Runde, the former Archbishop of Canterbury whose special envoy he was when kidnappers took him prisoner on Jan. 20, 1987, Waite said: “Dr. Runde, I presume?”

Waite’s welcome was rapturous, with church bells ringing out across the land at 7 p.m. on the day of his arrival. Also released was American Thomas Sutherland. But Waite’s imprisonment had always seemed the most cruel: he went to Beirut precisely to free other hostages and, as the archbishop’s representative, carried with him the church’s holy aura. But that aura could not protect him last week from renewed questions about his hostagefreeing missions to Lebanon in the mid-1980s. Reports presented new evidence that Waite had been a front man—witting or unwitting— for U.S. arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, an operation conducted from the White House by former national security aide Oliver North.

The release of Waite, 52, and the 60-yearold Sutherland was the clearest sign yet that the entire hostage saga might be drawing to a close. Since UN mediation started in August, Israel has freed 66 Arab prisoners and returned the bodies of nine guerrillas, while kidnappers have released two Britons and two Americans. And Waite brought a message from

his abductors that within days they intended to free two other Americans, Joseph Cicippio and Alann Steen. Cicippio’s brother, Thomas, who has marked the passing days on a board containing all the hostages’ names outside his home in Norristown, Pa., told Maclean’s last week: “I feel very excited—perhaps this time, it’ll happen for us.”

Waite also said that, according to his captors, they would soon release U.S. journalist Terry Anderson, whose seizure in March, 1985,

makes him the longest-held hostage. And for the first time, the abductors did not tie the Westerners’ freedom to that of Arabs held by Israel and its allies in south Lebanon. Finally, it appeared, the kidnappers’ sponsors in Iran and Syria were determined to close the hostage file—one of the main obstacles to those countries’ ability to open wider channels of aid and trade with the West.

Some analysts said that there might be a link between last week’s releases and recent Amer-

ican and Scottish indictments of two Libyans for planting the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December, 1988, killing 270 people. And although few suggested that there was any direct deal, the Americans’ specific exoneration of Iran and Syria, once prime suspects in the bombing, certainly improved the hostages’ prospects. Said Robert Kupperman, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank: “Iran and Syria are cozying up to the West for

diplomatic and economic reasons, and they are the only ones with influence on the release of the hostages. Were we not to exonerate them, but to accuse them instead, it would make the release of the hostages more difficult.”

For Waite, luxuriating in his hero’s welcome, suspicions about his role in the Irangate affair were clearly an unwelcome intrusion. Even before he disappeared in Beirut, it was widely known that he was involved with North, the controversial lieutenant-colonel at the centre of American efforts in 1985 and 1986 to trade arms for hostages. Last week’s evidence, re-

vealed chiefly by the BBC television program Panorama, showed that Waite’s contacts with North were much more extensive than previously known.

The report said that despite extensive publicity at the time giving him credit for negotiating the freedom of several Americans, Waite had almost no part in their release. Instead, it said, the envoy had been drawn deeply into North’s intricate operation. Waite had, in effect, been used, perhaps unknowingly, to provide a public explanation for the release of hostages whose freedom was in fact a result of North’s then-secret arms deals with Iran. Said Michael Ledeen, a consultant to the U.S. National Security Council at the time: “He provided cover for North’s operation.” Those contacts, in turn, may well have convinced the Islamic militants who took him prisoner that Waite was not an independent envoy, but an American spy.

The evidence of Waite’s close ties with North jarred with his almost saintly public image. Ever since he took up the case of the hostages a decade ago, the media have portrayed him as a selfless crusader, a gentle giant—he towers six feet, seven inches—untainted by conventional power politics, and a man motivated by deep Christian faith. He first negotiated the freedom of three British missionaries in Iran in 1981. Then, in 1984, he successfully appealed to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi for the freedom of four Britons held there. His influence, Waite said then, flowed from his position as an independent representative without ties to any government.

But in 1985, when he turned his attention to the Westerners held in Lebanon, he entered a much more complicated arena. Through leaders of the American Episcopalian Church, he met thenVice-President George Bush, whose advisers referred Waite to North as the key White House official responsible for the hostage issue. Waite and North met in May, 1985—the first, according to Panorama, of nearly 20 meetings and “countless” phone calls between them. At least one meeting took place at Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s headquarters in London, in the presence of Runde himself. An Episcopalian priest with extensive Middle East contacts, Canon Samir Habiby, acted as the link between Waite and North.

On Waite’s first mission to Beirut, in Novem-

ber, 1985, he succeeded in doing what no other Western envoy had done: he made direct contact with the kidnappers. On his return to London, he met with North, who, according to some reports, asked him to wear a tracking device that would have allowed American agents to pinpoint his location if he disappeared on a subsequent mission in Beirut. Eugene Douglas, the U.S. ambassador-at-large responsible for refugees in the mid-1980s, said last week that Waite accepted it. North, however, denied giving Waite such a device. In any case, Waite made four subsequent visits to Beirut after North informed him that a hostage was about to be released. On at least one trip in 1986, he used U.S. military helicopters to travel in the region. By then, according to later reports, he was acting largely independently of Runde—and sometimes in opposition to the archbishop’s wishes.

As a result of North’s guidance, Waite was present when hostage Benjamin Weir was freed in 1985 and when Rev. Lawrence Jenco and David Jacobsen were released the next year, and Waite received much of the public credit. But after North’s arms-for-hostages plan became publicly known in November, 1986, it became clear that the men had been freed as a direct result of Iran receiving shipments of missiles and anti-tank weapons from the United States. Rupert Allason, a British MP and authority on intelligence matters, said last week that “the motive for involving Terry Waite was to provide a plausible explanation for the release of hostages, which were in fact the result of deals worked out by Oliver North.”

No information that emerged last week provided any direct evidence that Waite knew about North’s secret arms deals. In December, 1986, after the Irangate operation had become a scandal, Waite flatly denied any knowledge of it. He declared: “If other people have tried to use me, that is their problem.” Last week, Runde also acknowledged that the church had been “used” by others. North himself denied that Waite had known about the arms-trading or had acted as an American agent. “He was an agent, if anything, for humanity,” North added. Waite, secluded at the airbase with his wife, Frances, and their four children, made no comment. But his cousin John Waite said that he is anxious to clarify his role in the affair, adding: “This is a man of integrity.”

When he has recovered from his ordeal, Terry Waite will undoubtedly face more pointed questions. The Times of London noted in an editorial last week that the British media have voluntarily censored their references to Waite over the past five years to avoid endangering him or other hostages. But with Waite home and the other Westerners apparently near freedom, the paper said that it was time for the full story to be told. The Church of England, it said, should appoint an independent panel to investigate the hostage affair—and Terry Waite’s role in it.

ANDREW PHILLIPS in London with HILARY MACKENZIE in Washington

HILARY MACKENZIE