You wake up every day, summon up the energy from somewhere. You think you haven’t got it and you get through the day and you do it—day after day after day.
—Terry Anderson, Dec. 4,1991, Damascus
For 2,454 days, he struggled with despair, longing and the agony of isolation. Ever since March 16, 1985, when Islamic militants seized the American journalist from the streets of war-torn Beirut, most of his days were spent in chains. At times, his captors promised to free him—only to dash his hopes. Once, a former fellow hostage reported, an utterly frustrated Terry Anderson beat his head against a wall until it bled. Finally, last week, his ordeal ended. The longest-held hostage and the last American to be freed, Anderson, 44, arrived in Damascus to face the flashing cameras and cheers of his journalist colleagues. “I’ve thought about this moment for a long time,” he said, his voice breaking, “and now it’s here.” There, he was reunited with his fiancée, Madeline Bassil—and met their 6-year-old daughter, Sulome, for the first time. Together, they flew to the U.S. medical centre in Wiesbaden, Germany, where Anderson’s sister Peggy Say, who had campaigned tirelessly for his release, rushed across the tarmac to embrace him. In Wiesbaden, Anderson also greeted two other Americans released last week: Alann Steen and Joseph Cicippio.
Nearly seven years after his abduction, Anderson’s family joyfully celebrated his release. “It was wonderful,” said his cousin Eileen Motter from her home in Marietta, Ga. But it was more than a personal celebration. For Americans, Anderson’s freedom marked the end of an international drama that shaped U.S. foreign policy for almost a decade. Since July, 1982, when pro-Iranian militants kidnapped American academic David Dodge in Beirut, more than 75 Westerners, including 17 Americans, were abducted. At least two Western hostages remain: German aid workers Thomas Kemptner, 30, and Heinrich Struebig, 50. As well, Israel continues to hold about 250 Lebanese prisoners—and is seeking firm information about six Israeli servicemen who went missing in Lebanon in the 1980s. Said UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, who along with his special envoy, Giandomenico Picco, has choreographed the release of nine Western hostages since August: “I have closed the American chapter, I have closed the British chapter—now I have to close the German chapter, the Israeli chapter and the Lebanese chapter.”
Anderson’s release coincided with the inauspicious launching of the second round of Middle East peace talks that began in Madrid last month. Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian and Palestinian negotiators arrived in Washington for the conference’s scheduled opening on Dec. 4. But the Israelis, expressing irritation with the Bush administration’s co-ordination of the talks, refused to participate before Dec. 9. Still,
Israeli officials said that they would offer a proposal this week for Palestinian self-rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Because Anderson was the last American freed, he and other former U.S. hostages last week began to give more details about their suffering—and their enduring scars. Cicippio, 61, was financial administrator at the American University of Beirut when gunmen clubbed him with a pistol and threw him into the trunk of a car on Sept. 12,1986. After his release on Dec. 2, doctors said that the blow dented his head and left him dizzy and unable to walk for several weeks after his capture. He also suffered permanent frostbite damage to his hands and feet from spending a winter chained on a partly enclosed balcony. In Wiesbaden last week, a cheerful Cicippio said that he felt “very, very well.” But he appeared sombre when describing his captivity. “We kept within our bounds,” he said. “If you had done anything wrong, look out.”
Steen, 52, a journalism professor at Beirut University College, apparently provoked his captors’ ire by exercising in his cell shortly after his capture on Jan. 24, 1987. Dr. Uwe Fohlmeister, who examined Steen in Wiesbaden after his Dec. 3 release, said that Steen’s captors kicked him so hard that his head smashed against a wall and bruised his brain, causing slight but permanent damage that has resulted in periodic seizures and blackouts.
For his part, Anderson said that although his “treatment at the beginning was very rough,” he was not subjected to as much physical abuse as somè of his fellow hostages. A former U.S. marine who still holds the title of Middle East affairs chief for The Associated Press, Anderson walked confidently into a news conference near the Wiesbaden hospital last Friday. But as he began to talk about his ordeal, his voice trembled and he removed his glasses to wipe away tears. Anderson disclosed that William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut taken captive in 1984, died while they were sharing a cell. Anderson said that he thought his cellmate died of a serious illness, al¿ though Buckley was previously be2 lieved to have been tortured to death, g Anderson also talked about the diffi* culty that many hostages experience in resuming their lives. “You just don’t
walk out of a cell one day and into the
world the next,” he said. “I need time to try and get used to this world.” With the hostage drama apparently nearing its close, and with Middle East negotiators struggling to forge a lasting peace, it may, at least, be a better world for some to live in.
MARY NEMETH with HILARY MACKENZIE in Washington and correspondents’ reports
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