A FLURRY OF NEGOTIATIONS RAISES HOPES FOR A DEAL TO FREE THE HOSTAGES IN LEBANON
THE AGONY OF WAITING
A FLURRY OF NEGOTIATIONS RAISES HOPES FOR A DEAL TO FREE THE HOSTAGES IN LEBANON
“I hope both sides realize it is a humanitarian question. There are families who are suffering. ” —UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, on the possible release of Western hostages in Lebanon
Over the past seven years, at least 87 foreigners, all men and mostly civilians, have vanished into the bloody lawlessness of war-ravaged Lebanon. One by one, the victims have been snatched from the streets, from their homes, their offices, their cars—some from their Israeli military units—by Islamic extremists or Palestinian guerrillas. Their captors demanded ransoms, political concessions or the release of comrades, several of whom sit in foreign jails. The kidnappers let some hostages go only hours after their capture. They released others after months or years, and the freed men told stories of dark cells smeared with excrement,
of contemplating suicide, of occasional, inexplicable kindnesses. Still others were hanged or shot in the head. But last week, following the release of three more hostages, new and intense talks among the United Nations, the Israelis and Moslem leaders in Beirut raised hopes of a deal to free the 10 remaining
Westerners and seven Israeli military personnel listed as missing. If the deal materializes, it will also mean freedom for those who shared the nightmare of the hostages— their families.
On June 8, 1985, at Denver International Airport, university professor Thomas Sutherland kissed his wife and daughter goodbye and boarded a plane for a flight halfway around the world.
The next day, two carloads of gunmen shot out the tires of the car driving the 54-yearold Sutherland into Beirut from the airport and took him hostage. The only reports of him since have come from other released hostages. One said that Sutherland spent five weeks alone in a basement and then was chained to the wall in another room. Another said that the Scottishborn scholar was alive and well when he last saw him in early 1989.
Month after month, Sutherland’s wife, Jean, has waited in Beirut for word of her husband. Last week, his daughter Kit, 31, an animal researcher at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, said: “Every day, you walk through the house and you think, T remember when Dad used to do this or Dad had this.’ ” She and her boyfriend have postponed their marriage until her father comes home. Said Kit Sutherland: “.You feel that you don’t want life to continue until he’s here to be a part of it.”
In Geneva last week, UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar discussed the release of the hostages with representatives of Western governments, Israel and Iran, which, along with Libya, has backed some of the 17 organizations that have taken captives. Asked whether an as agreement to free some of the hostages apz peared likely soon, Pérez de Cuéllar replied: “I s don’t know. Perhaps days or weeks. It depends 2 on how quickly I have a reaction from both sides.” Israel has already said that it might give back some of the 375 prisoners captured during the fighting in south Lebanon if it received verified information about the Israeli personnel missing in action. “What the Israelis are asking for is sensible,” said Pérez de Cuéllar, who later left for a vacation in Portugal.
There was certainly cause for optimism: Moslem extremists had released three hostages over a three-day period. The Islamic Jihad freed John McCarthy, a 34-year-old Briton, on Aug. 8. And although—just a few hours after McCarthy’s release—a group calling itself the Organization for Defending Prisoners’ and Hostages’ Rights seized 26-year-old French medical worker Jerome Leyraud, it freed him three days later after widespread condemnation of the act in Lebanon. Later in the day, the Revolutionary Justice Organization released 63-year-old American Edward Tracy.
But the kidnappers stressed that they would produce no others until Israel returned some prisoners. In addition to the Lebanese men, the Israelis hold an estimated 10,000 Palestinians detained for their alleged part in the intifadeh, or uprising, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. And in a letter from Islamic Jihad
that McCarthy delivered to Pérez de Cuéllar on Aug. 11, the group demanded freedom not only for its “fighters” in the occupied territories, but also for those held in European prisons— including some awaiting trial for such major crimes as murder and hijacking.
In 1971, Yona and Miriam Baumel, their two sons and a daughter left their home in Brooklyn, N.Y., and emigrated to Israel. In mid-1982, their 20-year-old son, Zachary, drafted into the Israeli army, was assigned to an armored unit in south Lebanon. On June 11, Baumel’s tank was disabled in a battle with Syrian armored units. Palestinian guerrillas captured, and later released, the tank commander. The Syrians released another crewman in 1984. But the fate of Baumel and the fourth crewman, Zvi Feldman, remained a mystery.
For years, Yona Baumel has journeyed to Tunis, Turkey and Jordan to ask officials of the PLO for word of his son. Last week in his Jerusalem apartment, the phone rang repeatedly. After one call, Yona said: “That was a contact of mine in France ringing to tell me that he has just received information from Lebanon that Zach is alive.” He shrugged. “We get these calls fairly frequently, but there is never any proof.” Miriam Baumel said that she remembers the day a soldier rang the doorbell to report that Zachary was missing. “I had a cold chill,” said Miriam. “I wanted to go to sleep and wake up when it was over.”
John McCarthy, then a 29-year-old journalist working for Britain’s Worldwide Television News, was kidnapped on April 17,1986, on the road to Beirut airport. His ordeal as a captive lasted 1,943 days and, despite his confident, smiling appearance when he was released on Aug. 8, his troubles seem far from over. McCarthy spent all of last week at RAF Lyneham airbase, west of London, where he was undergoing medical and psychological tests. His father, Patrick, and brother Terence were staying with him, and his friend Jill Morrell, who
spearheaded lobbying efforts on his behalf, went there to visit. When he appeared in public, handing over the kidnappers’ letter to Pérez de Cuéllar, he looked somewhat shaky, at times stumbling over his words. Asked about the change, McCarthy, who is taking sleeping pills, joked: “It’s the drugs.”
Dr. Gary Jackson, a psychiatrist at London’s Middlesex Hospital, told Maclean ’s that most hostages should remain in seclusion for a time “because they have a vast number of adjustment tasks.” Freedom’s initial euphoria, he said, wears off quickly. Dr. James Thompson, senior lecturer in psychiatry at the hospital’s medical school, said that families must be told that life with an ex-hostage cannot simply resume. Said Thompson: “You’re getting someone back who is closely related to the
person you lost—but not exactly that person.” The former hostages themselves have talked movingly of the consequences of freedom. Belfast-born Brian Keenan, a onetime English lecturer at the American University of Beirut, wrote in The Times of London last week about the months after his release on Aug. 24,1990, following 4V2 years in captivity. He reported: “The constant thought that I owe so many so much combines with worry, unreasoned guilt and remorse for those left behind, to gnaw at the heart and imprison me.” Added Keenan: “We need to lick and heal the wounds, gradually and unmolested.”
For two years, Anglican Church emissary Terry Waite flew back and forth between Britain and the Middle East, trying to win the release of Western hostages. On Jan. 20,1987, on his fifth visit to Lebanon, he went to a house
where he had planned to meet representatives of Islamic Jihad. When the owner of the house returned, Waite had disappeared. Earlier this month, ex-hostage McCarthy, who had also been an Islamic Jihad prisoner, told Waite’s brother, David, that Terry was in good spirits. The family may not be doing as well. Of the current negotiations to free the captives, David Waite said: “It’s very difficult. You begin to prepare for something big to happen. You get up and then you go down again. It’s the uncertainty you constantly live with.” He added: “I think we are all hostages until they are all out.”
Exactly how long that will take now appears to rest largely with the hostage-takers and the Israelis. The Americans have been careful to avoid any appearance of negotiating with hos-
tage-holders after the damaging Irangate scandal of the Ronald Reagan administration. But while remaining pointedly on the sidelines, President George Bush is known to have received messages from both Iran and Syria, which have influence over the hostage-takers and want better relations with Washington. In addition, some insiders say that the British government is effectively representing the Americans in pressuring Israel to compromise.
One U.S. official involved in Middle East diplomacy told Maclean ’s on condition of anonymity that once Lebanon’s Moslem kidnappers have given Israel information about its missing military personnel, the Israelis may release “a hundred or more” Arab detainees. At that point, he added, the hostage-holders, the Israelis and Pérez de Cuéllar would begin negotiating directly for the release of all Western and Israeli captives in return for all the Lebanese and some of the Palestinians in Israeli custody. Said the official: “We are expecting significant developments by this fall, but it could take until the end of the year.”
For Edward Tracy, the interminable wait for freedom ended last week when he was released in Beirut. Bom in Vermont of Italian descent, and a convert to Islam, the 63-year-old Tracy had wandered the globe for 30 years from Trinidad to Australia before settling in Beirut, where he lived by selling Arabic translations of foreign books. After Tracy’s release in Lebanon, Yihya al-Aridi, the Syrian journalist who interviewed him, said that the ex-captive was “incoherent,” constantly switching subjects. Tracy went on to Damascus and then to a U.S. air force hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany, where he ate pizza with his son, Lawrence, and underwent medical tests. Base commander Col. Earl Ferguson said that although Tracy was in good physical health, “he has obviously been in a very stressful situation.”
But at least Tracy is home. Italian businessman Alberto Molinari, who had lived in Lebanon for 30 years, vanished without a trace on Sept. 11,1985, and nothing has been heard of him since. Last week, there were unconfirmed reports that he had been killed at the time of his abduction. Molinari’s daughter, 40-year-old Tullia Erensoy, wife of a Turkish diplomat in Ottawa, said that she would continue to believe that he was alive. She added: “You go from moments of deep depression to just thinking how it is for him—in what kind of conditions is he held, does he ever see somebody?” Molinari family members gather once a year in Ottawa, she said, and “we talk about my father and we talk through the events of 1985—there is a chronology, and we always repeat the chronology.” For the families of the remaining hostages, the object of the painful waiting game is to reach the final date—the date of release.
RAE CORELLI with MARY NEMETH in Toronto, WILLIAM LOWTHER in Washington, ANDREW PHILLIPS in London, DAVID HOROVITZ in Jerusalem and correspondents’ reports
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.