Two who triumphed over terror. Books by former hostages in Lebanon are spiritual odysseys of trial, suffering, forgiveness, and eventual freedom
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During his final 10 weeks, five of the six American hostages were brought, one by one, together. With Weir, the Rev. Lawrence Martin Jenco, David Jacobsen (also now free), and Terry Anderson and Tom Sutherland (both still in captivity) lived, learned, and prayed together.Skip to next paragraph
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Sutherland, dean of agriculture at American University of Beirut, taught them about animal husbandry and genetics. Weir helped Anderson learn Arabic, fashioning flashcards from milk containers; they were often corrected by guards, who also conducted seminars on Shiism. The one hostage none of them saw was William Buckley, former CIA station chief in Lebanon, who died in captivity.
Weir did not know at the time that the end of his 14-month isolation was due to the TWA hijacking and a change in the political atmosphere that was eventually to lead to his own freedom - and the Reagan administration's worst policy disaster.
IT took only two hijackers to commandeer TWA 847 and the 153 people on board. For three days, the plane shuttled between Lebanon and Algeria until the weary TWA crew faked an engine failure. The unsophisticated Shiites apparently had no game plan beyond a dramatic move to draw attention to the 766 Lebanese imprisoned in Israel - a violation of the Geneva Accords on treatment of prisoners of war, which the US had earlier condemned.
The murder of US Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem is a telling episode. The hijackers, one of whom often ran up and down the aisle yelling ``New Jersey, New Jersey,'' had singled out US military personnel for repeated beatings. Testrake recalls asking, ``What has he got against New Jersey? It's not my favorite place either, but why is this guy so violent about it?''
The USS New Jersey had fired at Muslim areas during the deployment of the US Marines in Beirut between 1982 and 1984. Testrake later learned that the hijackers and several subsequent captors had lost friends or relatives in the bombardments. ``I tried to talk to guards about Stethem's death and what a senseless tragedy it was. And every time they would bring up the New Jersey.''
Although the crew remained on the plane while 36 American men were held in small groups in Beirut, Testrake's experience was typical. Threats were mixed with small treats. A gun was held to his head as he was allowed to talk to American reporters. His wedding ring and other personal goods were taken, but food was so abundant he gained weight. With guns often left lying around, the crew could have escaped; they did not know where to go in the middle of a war zone. But encounters and discussions with their captors are also this book's highlights.
After 17 days, the 39 TWA hostages were finally freed on July 1 in a ``no-deal deal'' brokered between the US, Israel, Syria, and Iran. Tehran officials pressured the Shiite extremists to release the Americans on the understanding that the 766 in Israel would later be freed as Israel had said before the hijacking that it was eventually planning to do.
AT this critical juncture, Washington recognized that Tehran, not Damascus, was the more viable channel through which to negotiate on hostages. That developed a new framework contributing to the subsequent ``arms for hostage'' swap. Weir was the first to be released in September 1985.
Together, the two books make powerful reading, particularly the striking conclusions of two very different hostages. One had lived in Lebanon for 31 years; the other candidly admits his earlier ignorance of the region's history. Each vehemently denies being a victim of the so-called Stockholm syndrome, when hostages become sympathetic to their captors due to dependence and trauma.
Both men, whose strong religious beliefs also make their ordeals spiritual odysseys, demonstrate tolerance and forgiveness. One captor asks Weir whether he would try to capture the Shiites after his release. ``No,'' the missionary replied. ``I want you to know that I forgive you.''