Former Hostage Sutherland Says He Is Not Bitter Toward Captors
WASHINGTON — THOMAS SUTHERLAND has returned from 6 1/2 years in captivity seemingly unencumbered by the bitterness one might expect from a man who has been robbed of so many years of freedom.In a series of meetings and phone conversations, Mr. Sutherland talked about how he spent most of his 2,354 days as a hostage in Leb-anon chained to the wall or the floor. He was in 16 separate locations, and in 25 different rooms. There were four long moves to new hiding places when he was wrapped in strapping tape like a mummy, and several shorter transports when he was covered by a sack and stuffed into the trunk or the wheel-well of a car. The Scottish-born educator fancies himself a specialist in pigs and cows. He was a professor of agriculture at the American University in Beirut (AUB) when he was seized by kidnappers on June 9, 1985. As he talks about his days in confinement when "there was darkness at noon" and "cockroaches were companions," Sutherland's pale brown eyes are thoughtful, his speech composed, and his train of thought on track. He cautions restraint and wisdom in this post-cold war, post-hostage era, "when the question is, how the massive power of the US can best be used." Retribution, he'd like to tell George Bush, should be out of the question. "It would be very stupid. Violence begets violence. Now is the time for peace." In his best Scottish brogue he recites a poem by 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns, which he uses as a metaphor for dynamics between the United States and the Lebanese Shia community, the home of his "hosts" since 1985. "In the mouse's place, put the Shia [a Muslim population in Lebanon that he sees as repressed]. And in the Hired Man's place [who is to stomp on the mouse], put the United States," he says. Does he feel that the US government could have done more to secure his release? "I took the responsibility," he says. "I made the decision to go back to Beirut. I thought it would be safe ... but the US Embassy warned us." While Sutherland faults Ronald Reagan for negotiating with the Iranians and supplying them with arms in return for US hostages, he says he is indebted to the Bush administration for "holding firm, determined not to negotiate for a hostage release." Sutherland is troubled by rumors now circulating that Bonn is about to broker the release of two German hostages by letting two Middle Eastern terrorists tried and convicted in German courts go free. Such a compromise, he says, will breed further abuses. "If we send a message to Lebanon that it's OK to kidnap Westerners, the Westerners will be kidnapped." Confinement actually broadened his "understanding of world affairs," says Sutherland. He devoured books on history, economics and other topics. He even read "trashy" romance novels several times each. Although he says he didn't especially like the latter, he learned to appreciate them. "As [co-hostage and cellmate] Terry Anderson said 'They're words on the page, man. By reading the Economist, Business Week, and Fortune magazines, all of which were available while he was in chains, Sutherland says he learned a lot about finance. "I had a whole portfolio organized until I came home and found out my wife spent all my money," he says with a laugh. He also learned much about classical music, thanks to programs he heard on the BBC and Voice of America. "Through Terry Anderson, I even learned to like the Beatles and hard rock. And I never would have believed that." What next for the 60-year-old husband of Jean Sutherland and father of three grown daughters? "[Even] if the State Department doesn't let me back to Beirut, I will maintain my commitment to AUB," he says. "We need to rebuild College Hall [the University center destroyed in Beirut]. "Maybe I can do a soft shoe, pass the hat around, and get people to empty their billfolds," he says of a probable future fund-raising effort for his beloved Lebanese university. He's already getting unsolicited donations of a more personal nature. As soon as word got out that he looks forward to skiing in Colorado, his home state, Sutherland received free season passes for the entire family from several nearby ski facilities. He's a bit overwhelmed by all the attention. President Bush asked Sutherland to come to the White House yesterday to take part in the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony. But, anxious to arrive in New York in time for an AUB party hosted in his honor, his first inclination was to decline the president's invitation. The White House offered to move up the ceremony, and then AUB rescheduled. So, last night, on the White House lawn, Tom Sutherland had his chance to give George Bush some advice.