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Oregon State University Official Who Escaped From Kuwait Arrives Home

November 17, 1990

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ On the 700-mile trek to freedom across the desert from occupied Kuwait, Ernest Briskey knew the consequences if he was captured.

For him, it would have meant life in prison, he said. For those who were hiding him, it would mean death.

Disguised as an Arab, the 59-year-old Oregon State University official successfully made the seven-day journey from Kuwait City to Amman, Jordan.

″I now appreciate what life is all about,″ he said.

Sporting a beard he grew as part of his disguise, Briskey smiled through tears as he was greeted by his family at Portland International Airport Friday.

He wouldn’t talk about the details of his escape because he feared for the safety of those who helped him. Asked if he was concerned that he would be caught, he joked, ″if I’d have sneezed, maybe.″

″There were about 100 points, perhaps, between Kuwait City and crossing the border where one has to be especially sensitive,″ he said. ″There were a lot of soldiers.″

Briskey, assistant vice president for international program development at Oregon State, spent 110 days in hiding. Many of the Americans he knew were taken hostage. Others were able to return home. Some still are in hiding, he said.

A food technology expert and former dean of agriculture at Oregon State, Briskey was working as a senior adviser to the Kuwaiti Institute of Scientific Research when Iraqi forces invaded the country on Aug. 2.

″It’s been an incredibly brutal destruction of a people and a country,″ he said, ″actually much worse than what has been portrayed perhaps to the American people.″

Briskey said everything of value that could be removed has been taken from Kuwait.

″They took dairy cows, all the chickens, all the computers, all the cars,″ he said. ″They took anything moveable, hospital supplies.″

And he said he heard many tales of brutality.

″I personally know that they did shoot members of families if they found anything American,″ Briskey said. ″I know people who saw this happen. They shot people including a 70-year-old grandfather because a passport was found. I also know that a pregnant woman was stabbed in the abdomen when she complained about medical facilities.″

Asked how he spent his time, Briskey said, ″I listened to the BBC every hour on the hour and I read a lot. I read the Bible twice.″

He said he supports President Bush’s actions in the region and only wishes the buildup of forces had come sooner. He hopes war can be avoided but said he saw no signs that Saddam Hussein is willing to withdraw his forces.

″Kuwait is not Kuwait anymore,″ he said. ″It is all bunkered. Ridges are built out of sand with machine guns and all the barbed wire and the mines.″

His wife, Marge, said her husband looked tired.

″He said he hasn’t slept for 12 days,″ she said.

She also wasn’t impressed with the beard.

″We’ll be getting rid of that,″ she said.

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