AMERICAN media have done a disservice to the cause of world freedom by assuming that once the last US hostages in Lebanon were released, the case was closed. As Boutros Boutros-Ghali settles into his new role as secretary-general of the United Nations, he must address the issue of the forgotten hostages, sometimes called "the shadow people."
There is every reason to believe that a considerable number of people of Middle Eastern and even Western nationalities are still held in dark, unheated cells, chained to bedposts, or otherwise subjected to cruel, inhuman, and arbitrary detention. Getting them out is like trying to light a candle in the midst of a hurricane. But we cannot turn our backs on them.
Giandomenico Picco, the UN secretary-general's remarkable envoy and hostage negotiator, has expressed grave concerns about people remaining in captivity. Both Middle East Watch, the New York-based human rights organization, and Britain's Hostage Action Worldwide have drawn attention to the tragedy of the forgotten hostages. In addition, their families as well as freedom committees of volunteers are still phoning, conferring, faxing, and traveling around the world in search of answers.
As long as we have no proof of their death, we must consider that these shadow people have faces and names. They have lives, families, and friends.
HENRIETTE HADDAD, a dual Canadian-Lebanese citizen, was kidnapped Sept. 26, 1985, in West Beirut. She has an excellent reputation and has never been involved in politics. No official claim was made for the kidnapping. Her Montreal-based family has made thousands of contacts in an attempt to free her. They sent pleas for help to the Church of England (Terry Waite wrote back just before being kidnapped), the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and to several sheiks associated with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed extremist group suspected of holding her. It also contacted governments of five nations, all 15 Lebanese militias, and 18 former hostages, five of whom had seen her during their captivity. Recent informal contacts with a Middle Eastern government suggest that she may be released in 1992. In the meantime, Mrs. Haddad's husband, Elias, died Dec. 22, 1991.
The name of Faik Wareh, a Syrian Druze residing in the United States, appears on Hostage Action Worldwide's November 1991 list as a possible hostage. He was kidnapped on June 29, 1986, on the way from Beirut to Damascus, although no official claim was ever made. Mr. Wareh fell short of the residency requirement to become an American citizen. Yet surely someone should investigate his case.
Then there is Alberto Molinari, kidnapped Sept. 11, 1985. The big press agencies seem to have decided this Italian and long-time resident of Lebanon is no longer alive; the Italian government has been of little help. But his daughter, Tullia Molinari, a resident of Turkey, says she heard that her father had been sighted as recently as October 1991 in the Bekaa Valley. She understands he has been held with Lebanese hostages, although she has heard contradictory rumors over the last six years.
It may be hard to put a face on as many as 2,000 disappeared Lebanese (possibly held hostage), since their families live in constant terror and sometimes prefer secret contacts and inquiries to splashy media coverage. In any case, world media have shown precious little interest in reporting on their plight. Clearly a tracing agency must be set up to help.
International solidarity is absolutely vital. In December 1988 former hostage Jean-Paul Kauffmann, a French journalist who had been held for three years in Lebanon, visited Montreal to address the Canadian journalists who had helped secure his release. "For the hostages," he said, "silence is death. And falling into neglect means it's all over." His words are no less true for the shadow people today.