The US Air Force hospital in this West German spa has prepared an intensive program for the 52 Americans -- no longer "hostages" but "returnees" -- who might spend up to a week here before reuniting with their families and loved ones in the United States.
Although United States officials indicated that they will expose "Iranian brutality" shortly, they feel it is "premature for any attempt to judge their [ the returnees'] medical and psychological condition."
Speaking at a press conference Jan. 21 at the Lindsay Air Base here, deputy State Department spokesman Jack Cannon, nevertheless, revealed the first bits and pieces of the "sufferings" of the former hostages. On board the plane that brought them from Tehran to Algiers, the 52 Americans were together for the first time since the Nov. 4,1979, occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran.
"After they were airborne from Tehran, everyone loosened his seatbelt and immediately wrapped together in a great get-together," Mr. Cannon said.
Pointing to the fact that "We have had very little time to talk to them," Mr. Cannon added that some of the hostages had only been informed of their departure from Tehran 15 to 20 minutes before the two Algerian airliners actually took off. Immediately upon their arrival early Jan. 21 at the US Rhein Main Air Base in Frankfurt, they were whisked to the nearby Wiesbaden military hospital in police-escorted buses.
"You are free, after all we are Americans," said a banner welcoming the Americans at the hospital gate. The 52 will spend their next days here in hospital rooms with two to four beds each, a telephone at each bedside. yellow ribbons decorate the doors to the rooms; the walls bear posters made by the children of US families here.
The Americans have access to various recreational facilities in the hospital. Among them are a movie theater, television sets, and a post exchange store.
After "a very heavy run on the telephones," the returnees spent most of their first day in Wiesbaden resting from their strenuous 14-hour journey. Late Jan. 21 they were visited by former President Jimmy Carter.
Spokesman Cannon told reporters that the 52 Americans were "very interested in discussing what is going on in the world." He added that "they talked with the support crew in the C-9 [Nightingale hospital planes that took them from Algiers to Frankfurt] in an animated fashion" and shared with each other "experiences they had in the past 14 months."
US officials here are doing their best to "erase the term 'hostages'" but find it often difficult to refer to the 52 Americans as "returnees."
Said Mr. Cannon: "Today we attempt to bury the awful word 'hostages' and restore to the family of our nation 52 of our fellow citizens . . . . Like most Americans, this spokesman will attempt to erase the term "hostages" from his vocabulary with the hope, like other Americans, that those who perpetrated this deed will attempt to erase it from their behavior."
This appears to be one of the guidelines for the "decompression" process for the returnees. US military hospital sources told the Monitor Jan. 21 that Americans would first meet each other and then be briefed on the "history" of the last 14 months. A film is said to have been prepared as a means for bringing the hostages up to date.
The 52 will undergo medical exams and debriefings by various US government agencies before returning to the United States. Psychiatrists attacked to the military hospital traveled to the United States several times in the past year for meetings with the hostage families in preparation for the liberation of the 52 Americans.
Although US authorities will not prevent the returnees from speaking to the press during their stay in Wiesbaden, they will definitely not encourage them to do so.