Terry Anderson's Long Battle For Dignity Amid Degradation
Dec. 09, 1991
WIESBADEN, Germany (AP) _ Chained to the opposite side of the same wall, journalist Terry Anderson managed to tap out some of history's most amazing news stories to an astonished audience of one: Terry Waite.
Anderson says he taught his fellow hostage a tedious language of raps on the wall - then delivered in one terse but awesome burst the events that Waite had missed.
''One tap, 'a,' two taps, 'b' - have you ever tried to spell out a word that way?'' Anderson said. ''But we were able to establish contact. We were talking to each other.''
Then came the bombshells. It was late 1990, six years into Anderson's captivity in Beirut. He had had a radio for some time.
Waite, the Anglican Church envoy taken hostage after he tried to negotiate freedom for Anderson and others, had been in total isolation for four years.
''I just kind of dumped on him, boom - Soviet Union is having democratic elections for president. Germany is reunited,'' Anderson said.
''All of eastern Europe, Communism is dead, gone to a free market society. South African apartheid has been repealed, there are talks about a multi- racial government.
''We've had a gulf war. The Americans are kicking the crap out of the Iraqis.''
''Things like this. All at once, boom boom boom, all through the wall at him, in about an hour,'' Anderson said.
''And he told me later, it all sort of numbed his mind. You've got to remember this is a world he left four years ago.''
Anderson, 44, left the world nearly seven years ago and returned to it last Wednesday.
In a phone call to The Associated Press, the AP chief Middle East correspondent talked at length on Friday about some of the small victories that helped him through the ordeal.
''There are assaults on your dignity as a human being ... that you just can't accept,'' Anderson said.
Anderson called his captivity in Beirut a long struggle to wrest at least a modicum of respect from his contemptuous captors. He said he refused, for example, to eat food flung on the floor by guards.
''A man throws you food on the ground, throws a sandwich on the floor. I mean, I'm not a dog. I'm not going to eat off the floor,'' he said angrily. ''These are the kinds of arguments we had.''
His captors finally ''at least recognized that I was going to demand to be treated with at least a minimum amount of dignity and respect.''
He said that his captivity was marked by fear that his intellect would decay.
''I was desperate to keep my brain alive,'' Anderson said. ''I was deadly scared that I would lapse into some kind of mental rot.''
He said he regrets that he initially lacked sensitivity and used his fellow hostages, such as American Thomas Sutherland and Irishman Brian Keenan, as learning tools.
''I will be blunt,'' he said. ''I am a very domineering man at times. I can be arrogant and I can be, I guess ... I can be very forceful.
''Brian said to me once that he felt like I was just kind of sucking everything out of his brain,'' Anderson said.
He says he got Sutherland to teach him French until he became fluent. He badgered his captors for books until they brought them by the boxload. He demanded a radio every day until he got one.
He argued long and passionately with his cellmates about selected topics, then baffled them by abruptly pursuing the opposite view, an exercise to keep his mind limber.
During one period, Anderson said he suddenly recalled the rudiments of sign language he learned in high school. He made up the rest and felt compelled to teach Sutherland.
Then the two were put in solitary confinement. Anderson said he was able to see Keenan and British newsman John McCarthy, and taught them the sign language. That enabled the four to communicate without their guards' knowledge.
Anderson stayed at various times with several hostages, including William Buckley, the former CIA station chief in Beirut.
Anderson believes Buckley died in the room they shared.
''He was at the time extremely ill,'' Anderson said. ''I could hear him talking to the guards occasionally,'' he said. ''He was delirious and I could hear him moaning and saying things.''
Anderson said he and other Western hostages were moved 15-20 times during captivity. Sometimes they were in solitary confinement and sometimes they were together, sometimes in small cells and sometimes in a fortified apartment.
Some guards were relatively decent and some were ''very vicious,'' kicking, slapping or shoving hostages if they violated the strict rules of behavior, such as keeping blindfolds in place as soon as a guard entered the room.
Hostages were allowed one trip to the bathroom daily, whenever the guards came to get them.
''Once I beat and hammered on the door ... a couple of hours before someone would actually come,'' Anderson said. ''I tell you what, that's not only humiliating, it's damn painful.
The books that Anderson steadfastly demanded showed up about two and a half years ago, a period when ''treatment markedly improved.
''We got boxes of books ... bad books, cheap books, thrillers, Barbara Cartland, political science textbooks ... we must have got over a thousand of them over a period of a year,'' said Anderson.
But the books and occasional radios became powerful tools of punishment for the Shiite Muslim radicals holding the hostages.
''When we got in an argument (with the guards) they would take the radio, the books and we would be left in the bare room again,'' he said.
While Anderson lost a large part of his life in Lebanon, he found his muse. When McCarthy was freed earlier this year, Anderson felt the hostage ordeal was ending and, spontaneously, began writing poetry.
''That stunned me at the beginning, when I began doing poetry,'' he said. ''It was kind of a catharsis. The end was coming close ... All of a sudden, it just came pouring out.''
Now that he's out, he's not sure what to do with the poems. Merely re- entering society after a long, stifling stint in chains, blindfolds and tiny cells is the biggest task.
He took a walk around the city of Wiesbaden on Saturday and found the crush of people too much to handle. He had to leave.
''When I got out I was flying higher than a kite,'' Anderson said in another interview on Sunday, as he jogged around the hospital grounds. ''But the world all of a sudden seemed pretty big and confusing.''
Captivity, he found, ''had a lot bigger effect than I bargained for.''
A stocky ex-Marine who described himself as forceful and domineering - who badgered guards and bullied cellmates - now has trouble deciding what kind of juice to have for breakfast.
''I had to back off and slow down a little bit, and say 'Hey, I'm not in control of this yet,'' he said. ''I've forgotten the skills of just kind of getting through a normal day.''