Terry Anderson, Devalued (The New York Times)

The New York Times, March 16, 1988

SINCE THE MORNING of March 16, 1985, when Terry Anderson, an Associated Press correspondent, was dragged from a car in West Beirut, his whole world has been a series of damp basements and cramped rooms. His companions have been a blindfold and a chain. Fear, loneliness and doubt have kept vigil with him through the long nights.

Terry’s daughter will soon be 3 years old, but he has never touched her face, never held her in his arms. He has seen her only as a fleeting image on a videotape his captors allowed him to watch. Terry does not know that his father and brother are both dead; he does not know that they died praying to see him one last time.

Yet there are many things Terry does know. From the letters and occasional newspapers that have reached him, he knows that the Reagan administration negotiated to win freedom for hostages on a TWA jetliner. He knows the administration swapped a Soviet spy for an American newsman, Nicholas Daniloff. He knows that it traded arms for some of the other hostages in Lebanon; he watched three of them walk from his cell to freedom. Now, he knows, the deal has collapsed and he’s been left behind.

Terry is not alone in his suffering. Eight more Americans and at least a dozen other Westerners share his ordeal. After Terry, Thomas Sutherland, dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, is the longest serving hostage. He recently marked his 1,000th day in captivity. Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins is the latest arrival, living testimony to the fact that, even after a parade of disaster, the Reagan administration still does not understand the nature of Lebanon.

When the president, at a news conference on Feb. 24, virtually dared the faceless men in Beirut to try to torture information out of Higgins, the comment could not be clarified away by the White House media managers. The captors closely monitor administration remarks.

The kidnappers have specific demands. They want 17 terrorists held in Kuwaiti jails to be freed. Although Algeria offered to act as an intermediary in negotiations, the White House instead sent a group of amateur spies and adventurers to deal with Iran. The result: More hostages were taken.

In Washington, the people who helped put those Americans in chains are running for cover. The hostages have become a hot political issue, one that is being filed away for the next administration. As one bureaucrat told Terry’s sister, “The hostages have been devalued.” A grim thought after a grim anniversary.

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