Photo of the Day

In this Dec. 4, 1991, file photo Terry Anderson, who was the longest held American hostage in Lebanon, grins with his 6-year-old daughter Sulome as they leave the US Ambassador’s residence in Damascus after Anderson’s release. In 1991, six-year-old Sulome Anderson met her father, Terry, for the first time. While working as the Middle East bureau chief for the Associated Press covering the long and bloody civil war in Lebanon, Terry had been kidnapped in Beirut and held for her entire life by a Shiite Muslim militia associated with the Hezbollah movement. AP Photo/Santiago Lyon

Journalist Terry Anderson Taken Hostage In Beirut …

As chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, Anderson covered the long-running civil war in Lebanon (1975-1990). On March 16, 1985, he was kidnapped on a west Beirut street while leaving a tennis court. His captors took him to the southern suburbs of the city, where he was held prisoner in an underground dungeon for the next six-and-a-half years.

Anderson was one of 92 foreigners (including 17 Americans) abducted during Lebanon’s bitter civil war. The kidnappings were linked to Hezbollah, or the Party of God, a militant Shiite Muslim organization formed in 1982 in reaction to Israel’s military presence in Lebanon. They seized several Americans, including Anderson, soon after Kuwaiti courts jailed 17 Shiites found guilty of bombing the American and French embassies there in 1983. Hezbollah in Lebanon received financial and spiritual support from Iran, where prominent leaders praised the bombers and kidnappers for performing their duty to Islam.

DATE: Saturday, March 16, 1985

SLUG: Reporter Kidnapped


Terry A. Anderson, Chief Middle East Correspondent of The Associated Press, was kidnapped by armed men off the street in mostly Moslem west Beirut on Saturday morning.

Donald Mell, a photographer for the AP, witnessed the abduction and said three bearded men, two armed with pistols, forced Anderson into a green Mercedes and sped off.

The abduction took place in the Ein Mreisse section of west Beirut just after 8 a.m.

G.G. Labelle, Middle East news editor for The AP, said the agency was informing police, government and militia leaders and asking their assistance in gaining Anderson’s release.

Nate Polowetzky, foreign editor of The Associated Press, said in New York: “We are deeply concerned about the events in Beirut, and are seeking all possible information regarding the welfare of Associated Press correspondent Terry Anderson. We will, of course, pursue all avenues for his release and safe return.”

Terry Anderson, left, in Beirut in 1988; Robert Levinson, right, in 2013. Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared while traveling in Iran in 2006, became the longest-held American hostage in history. He replaces Terry Anderson who spent 2,454 days in captivity before being released.
Photo: Corbis, Levinson Family

Over 24 years since being released in Lebanon by Hezbollah militants — who held him nearly seven years, making him then the longest-held American hostage — Anderson doesn’t walk as briskly as he once did. His time reporting on four continents is now a memory. And he has chosen life on a rural Virginia horse farm over an urban war zone.

He’ll likely never fully escape his past. It’s not just acknowledging his obituary will be headlined, “Former hostage Terry Anderson…” It’s coming to grips with what happened to him.

Anderson once convinced himself, and others, he was fine. He’d say, “I’m a Christian, and I’m ready to forgive.”

“I discovered that it’s not that easy.”

His anger can flare, like when he saw the head of the guards who held him on TV and yelled, “You son of a bitch! You stole seven years of my life.” But Anderson insists such moments are rare, that he doesn’t think about his captivity often.

“I’ve found primarily that I didn’t want to be angry,” he said. “I didn’t want to hate anybody.

“I had my life back. And it was turning into a very, very good life.”

Anderson was born in Lorain, Ohio and raised in Batavia, New York. He graduated from Batavia High School in 1965. A professional journalist, he was in the United States Marine Corps for six years, serving as a combat journalist. He also served two tours of duty in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. After his discharge he enrolled at Iowa State University, graduating in 1974 with dual degrees: one in journalism and mass communication, the other in political science. He then joined the Associated Press, serving in Asia and Africa before being assigned to Lebanon as chief Mideast correspondent in 1983.

Beirut. 8 A.M. March 16, 1985. The green Mercedes, sparkling clean in the weak morning sunlight, drifted to a gentle halt in the narrow road, just a few yards up the hill from the graffiti-covered monument to Gamal Abdul Nasser. Don Mell, the young AP photographer I was dropping off at his apartment after our tennis game, had noticed it earlier at the sports club but hadn’t mentioned it — it didn’t seem important. Now, though, it struck him as odd, especially the curtains drawn over the rear window.

“A hamster-mobile,”he remarked, using the nickname given by journalists to all the armed young men swarming in and around Beirut.

The joke, already worn, seemed even less amusing when three unshaven young men threw open the doors and jumped out, each holding a 9mm pistol in his right hand, hanging loosely by his side.

My mind seemed to stall for a few seconds, and by the time I realized what was happening, one of the men was beside the driver’s door of my car, yanking it open and pushing his pistol at my head. “Get out,” he said fiercely. “I will shoot. I will shoot.”

“Okay,” I answered quickly. I pulled the keys from the ignition and dropped them between the seats. “Okay, no problem. No problem.”

He reached in and pulled the glasses from my face. As I slid out of the seat, half crouched, he put his hand around my shoulders, forcing me to remain bent over.

“Come, come quickly.”

I glanced up at Don, just a vague blur on the other side of the car, willing him to run, but not daring to shout the words. He just stood, frozen.

The young man, dark and very Arab-looking, perhaps twenty or twenty-five, pulled me along beside him toward the Mercedes, just four or five yards away, still forcing me to remain half bent.

“Get in. I will shoot,” he hissed at me, pushing me into the backseat. “Get down. Get down.”

I tried to crouch in the narrow space between the front and back seats. Another young man jumped in the other door and shoved me to the floor, throwing an old blanket over me, then shoving my head and body down with both his feet. I could feel a gun barrel pushing at my neck. “Get down. Get down.”

The car lurched into gear and accelerated madly up the hill a few yards, almost slid around a corner, then another, and up a short hill.

The front-seat passenger leaned over the back of his seat. “Don’t worry. It’s political,” he said in a normal tone as the car lurched back and forth, the driver cutting in and out of traffic.

The strange comment, apparently meant to be reassuring, wasn’t. As my mind began to function again, it made me think of the other Americans kidnapped in Beirut for political reasons. William Buckley, missing twelve months. The Reverend Bejamin Weir, missing ten months. Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, missing two months.

There wasn’t any real fear yet — it was drowned by adrenaline. Just a loud, repeating mental refrain: Anderson, you stupid shit, you’re in deep, deep trouble.

The car rocked as it careened around corner after corner. The left side of my face was pressed hard against the carpeted floor. The rough blanket made breathing difficult. Someone’s foot was still resting on my head, skidding across my skull as its owner swayed with the car’s motion. I could follow the route — I’d been through these streets so many times, in danger and for pleasure: through Basta, the slum area filled with Shiite refugees above the port, then up the hill into Hamra, down Bliss Street in front of the American University campus, tires screeching down the twisting, steep descent to the Corniche along the Mediterranean. Then a long, straight stretch in heavy traffic, the driver cutting into the oncoming lane and blasting the cars away with his horn. Down the coast to another slum — Ouzai, on the edge of the airport.

There was no conversation in the car, except for an occasional muttered “Down, down,” and a shove with the foot, or a poke with a gun into my back. The gunmen said nothing to each other.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, the car turned off the main highway straight into what seemed to be a garage. A metal door clanged down, cutting off the street noise. The doors were yanked open, and hands grabbed at me, pulling me upright, but careful to keep the blanket over my head. There were mutterings in Arabic, short, guttural, incomprehensible.

Someone slipped the blanket away, slipping a dirty cloth around my head at the same time, then wrapping plastic tape around and around. Other hands grabbed at my tennis shoes, yanking them off. Someone pulled at the gold chain around my neck, fumbled with the fastening until it opened. Then the gold bracelet on my right wrist, the watch on my left, also went.

“Don’t,” I said, involuntarily. “They’re gifts. Don’t take them.”

“We are not thieves,” one of the men said. He stuck my watch into my sock. Not the chain or bracelet. I never saw either again.

He was blindfolded and chained pretty much all the time. He was beaten pretty regularly [and endured] psychological torture; they would put a gun to his head and tell him he was about to die but it wouldn’t be loaded. When they would move him from place to place, they would wrap him in duct tape from head to toe with only his nose sticking out and throw him in a compartment under a truck. It was pretty much the worst possible circumstances you could imagine.

Former U.S. hostage Terry Anderson, left, and his sister Peggy Say at a Dec. 6, 1991, news conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, just two days after he was released. (Doug Mills / Associated Press)

Anderson was pushed into a Mercedes sedan, covered head to toe with a heavy blanket, and made to crouch head down in the footwell behind the front seat. His captors drove him to a garage, pulled him out of the car, put a hood over his head, and bound his wrists and ankles with tape. For half an hour, they grilled him for the names of other Americans in Beirut, but he gave no names and they did not beat him or press him further. They threw him in the trunk of the car, drove him to another building, and put him in what would be the first of a succession of cells across Lebanon. He was soon placed in what seemed to be a dusty closet, large enough for only a mattress.

Blindfolded, he could make out the distant sounds of other hostages. (One was William Buckley, the C.I.A. station chief who was kidnapped and tortured repeatedly until he weakened and died.) Peering around his blindfold, Anderson could see a bare light bulb dangling from the ceiling. He received three unpalatable meals a day — usually a sandwich of bread and cheese, or cold rice with canned vegetables, or soup. He had a bottle to urinate in and was allotted one five- to ten-minute trip each day to a rotting bathroom to empty his bowels and wash with water at a dirty sink. Otherwise, the only reprieve from isolation came when the guards made short visits to bark at him for breaking a rule or to threaten him, sometimes with a gun at his temple.

He missed people terribly, especially his fiancée and his family. He was despondent and depressed. Then, with time, he began to feel something more. He felt himself disintegrating. It was as if his brain were grinding down.

A month into his confinement, he recalled, “The mind is a blank. Jesus, I always thought I was smart. Where are all the things I learned, the books I read, the poems I memorized? There’s nothing there, just a formless, gray-black misery. My mind’s gone dead. God, help me.”

He was stiff from lying in bed day and night, yet tired all the time. He dozed off and on constantly, sleeping twelve hours a day. He craved activity of almost any kind. He would watch the daylight wax and wane on the ceiling, or roaches creep slowly up the wall. He had a Bible and tried to read, but he often found that he lacked the concentration to do so. He observed himself becoming neurotically possessive about his little space, at times putting his life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on his bed. He brooded incessantly, thinking back on all the mistakes he’d made in life, his regrets, his offenses against God and family.

His captors moved him every few months. For unpredictable stretches of time, he was granted the salvation of a companion — sometimes he shared a cell with as many as four other hostages — and he noticed that his thinking recovered rapidly when this occurred. He could read and concentrate longer, avoid hallucinations, and better control his emotions. “I would rather have had the worst companion than no companion at all.”

In September, 1986, after several months of sharing a cell with another hostage, Anderson was, for no apparent reason, returned to solitary confinement, this time in a six-by-six-foot cell, with no windows, and light from only a flickering fluorescent lamp in an outside corridor. The guards refused to say how long he would be there. After a few weeks, he felt his mind slipping away again.

“I find myself trembling sometimes for no reason,” he wrote. “I’m afraid I’m beginning to lose my mind, to lose control completely.”

One day, three years into his ordeal, he snapped. He walked over to a wall and began beating his forehead against it, dozens of times. His head was smashed and bleeding before the guards were able to stop him.

Terry Anderson says that it took him years to understand the psychological toll of his time in captivity. Free to move from state to state, as he does every year or so. Free to fall in love, marry, get divorced. Free to own businesses, see them fail, then move on. Free to dive into horse training and scuba diving. Free to make friends and catch up with old ones. Free to recognize mistakes and do good things. Free to be himself — vibrant, passionate and busy, even at 68 years old.
After so much time chained to a wall, there’s no holding him back from enjoying his new life. “I have a life that’s filled with interests. I don’t often get bored,” he said. “What do I have time to be bored about?”

Some hostages fared worse. Anderson told the story of Frank Reed, a fifty-four-year-old American private-school director who was taken hostage and held in solitary confinement for four months before being put in with Anderson. By then, Reed had become severely withdrawn. He lay motionless for hours facing a wall, semi-catatonic. He could not follow the guards’ simplest instructions. This invited abuse from them, in much the same way that once isolated rhesus monkeys seemed to invite abuse from the colony. Released after three and a half years, Reed ultimately required admission to a psychiatric hospital.

“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam — more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again. A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam, many of whom were treated even worse than McCain, reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.

And what happened to them was physical. EEG studies going back to the nineteen-sixties have shown diffuse slowing of brain waves in prisoners after a week or more of solitary confinement. In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious or, yes, solitary confinement. Without sustained social interaction, the human brain may become as impaired as one that has incurred a traumatic injury.

Peggy Say hugged her brother Terry A. Anderson in 1992. Ms. Say lobbied for several years for the United States to orchestrate the release of Mr. Anderson, who was held hostage in Lebanon. Credit William Foley/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

Peggy Say, spent nearly seven years on a tireless quest for the release of her brother, Terry Anderson, and fellow hostages from kidnappers in Lebanon.

A self-described housewife, Say quickly became her brother’s most prominent public champion, keeping his fate and that of the other hostages in Lebanon in the public eye as the years went by.

“We were allowed a radio from time to time, and we did hear about her efforts and the efforts of other hostages’ families on the radio, and of course it was always a great comfort,” said Anderson, who was held by the pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim militant faction Islamic Jihad for 2,454 days.

Say’s activism wasn’t without critics. Some Washington officials at the time contended her vocal approach prolonged the hostages’ captivity by compromising behind-the-scenes efforts to free them.

She was dismissive of those arguments.

“I did what I had to do as his sister,” she said on the eve of her brother’s release in 1991. “I don’t think the United Nations would ever have intervened if we had not kept the plight of Terry and other people alive.”

She rallied his fellow journalists, ordinary Americans, humanitarian groups and world figures, including President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa and Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader.

All the while, she withstood invective from critics who accused Mr. Anderson of leaving himself vulnerable to the vagaries of civil war in Lebanon, and who warned that Ms. Say’s public lobbying on his behalf jeopardized delicate private diplomacy and prolonged his captivity.

Negotiations with Iranians and others by Giandomenico Picco, a special envoy representing Javier Perez de Cuellar, the United Nations secretary general at the time, eventually produced an agreement in which the militiamen would release 10 Western hostages, including Mr. Anderson, over several months while Israeli-backed forces in southern Lebanon freed dozens of Arabs they had seized.

After her brother was abducted, Ms. Say took a leave and moved back to Batavia to campaign for his release with the support of The Associated Press.

“In a very short time, she made herself into a national figure as the family face of long and frustrating efforts to win freedom for her brother,” said Louis D. Boccardi, who was president of The Associated Press at the time. “She never took ‘no’ for an answer.”

She believed it was the U.N.’s intervention that eventually won freedom for the final American hostages.

Anderson admits that he and his sister “had some adjustments to make and expectations that were different. I don’t know a single hostage whose return was smooth.” Anderson says he and Peggy have put their problems behind them—not for the first time. Growing up in Batavia, N.Y., they were two of six children of Glenn Anderson, a truck driver, and his wife, Lily, a waitress—both alcoholics. Peggy left home at 17 to get married and went through two marriages in 15 years, the second an abusive one. Terry, meanwhile, became the first in the family to graduate from high school and, later, from Iowa State University. “As Terry’s star was rising,” Peggy once wrote, “I stumbled along.”

But in her third husband, building contractor David Say, Peggy said she found a man “who made me strong enough to stand on my own.” She enrolled in Florida’s Daytona Beach Community College at 42 to earn a degree in social work, but took a break from her studies during Terry’s captivity and David’s recovery from a shattered ankle suffered in a construction accident and a subsequent near-fatal infection. Just before finishing her degree, Peggy saw a want ad for a counsellor’s position at a local shelter for battered women. “I said, ‘There’s my job,’ ” she recalls. “I had never thought of using the experience of being battered until that moment. I thought, ‘I know about that. I can help.’ ”

Anderson said that one of the first things his sister asked him about upon his release was whether her activism had caused him to be held longer. He said he didn’t believe that to be the case.

“I told her that I was pleased with what she had done for a number of reasons,” he said. “One, was to give us hope when we heard about it. And two, that it gave the families a sense that they were actively engaged in trying to do something.”

Her efforts, which were supported by the AP, were marked with disappointments along the way.

In 1985, President Reagan ruled out negotiating with terrorists. But then she saw the United States cut a deal with hijackers of a TWA jet in Beirut to free their prisoners.

Peggy Say died in 2015 after a lung illness. She was 74.

On December 4, 1991, Terry Anderson was released from captivity. He had been the last and the longest-held American hostage in Lebanon.

Keron Fletcher, was a former British military psychiatrist who had been on the receiving team for Anderson and many other hostages, and followed them for years afterward.

Initially, Fletcher said, everyone experiences the pure elation of being able to see and talk to people again, especially family and friends. They can’t get enough of other people, and talk almost non-stop for hours. They are optimistic and hopeful. But, afterward, normal sleeping and eating patterns prove difficult to re-establish. Some have lost their sense of time. For weeks, they have trouble managing the sensations and emotional complexities of their freedom.

For the first few months after his release, Anderson said when reached by phone said, “it was just kind of a fog.” He had done many television interviews at the time. “And if you look at me in the pictures? Look at my eyes. You can tell. I look drugged.”

Journalist Sulome Anderson is based in Beirut, Lebanon and New York City. Credit: Josh Wood courtesy Harper Collins.

In 1991, six-year-old Sulome Anderson met her father, Terry, for the first time.

Sulome was born soon after his abduction, and the trauma of that ordeal would shape her life.

“We got on an Army plane and flew to Damascus, Syria where I immediately fell asleep on a couch in the American Embassy. And my father woke me up. I remember thinking he didn’t look anything like I thought he would look like. And he said, ‘Hi, I’m your father.’ And then he took my hand, and all three of us, my mother, my father and I walked out of the embassy and into this media circus. It was just people everywhere — hundreds and hundreds of people, and noise and lights and cameras. And I just remember feeling his hand shake. And he had this big smile on his face. In all the news footage he’s beaming, but I remember him sort of recoiling from the noise and the lights.

I didn’t know exactly how bad the situation was. But, you know, throughout my childhood, I would get these little glimpses. I mean, I would watch parts of hostage videos, for example, because he would tell us that he loved us at the end always. But I always had this awareness that something really bad was happening to him.”

As the nation celebrated, the media captured a smiling Anderson family joyously reunited. But the truth was far darker. Plagued by PTSD, Terry was a moody, aloof, and distant figure to the young daughter who had long dreamed of his return—and while she smiled for the cameras all the same, she absorbed his trauma as her own.

“The public really wanted this to be, you know, a fairy-tale ending. People have followed this story very closely. But the reality was that my father, obviously, was very damaged by what happened to him and I think the problem was that he wouldn’t admit it to himself or to anyone around him. And by the time he got home, it was almost impossible for him to reach past that and form a bond with me. And I felt that very strongly as a child. And being so young. I just internalized it and thought it was my fault that my father didn’t love me.”

Years later, after long battles with drug abuse and mental illness, Sulome would travel to the Middle East as a reporter, seeking to understand her father, the men who had kidnapped him, and ultimately, herself. What she discovered was shocking—not just about Terry, but about the international political machinations that occurred during the years of his captivity.

Desperate to understand her father, Sulome began travelling back to the Middle East. She tracked down his captors, only to find out that the politics behind his kidnapping extended far beyond the surface of what was reported in the news.

Sulome Anderson set out to find her father’s kidnapper; in the process, she found herself.

The ways in which Westerners are kidnapped now in Syria is completely different. The motivations are different. When my father was taken, it was because my father was valuable, his life was valuable to them. He was essentially human currency. They wanted to trade him for certain political gains or concessions, and there was Iran-Contra, the hostage deals — he was valuable to them alive. Whereas now, when ISIS kidnaps an American, it’s because their death is more valuable to them than their life.

Sulome is now in her 30s and a journalist herself. In her book “The Hostage’s Daughter: A Memoir of Family, Madness and the Middle East,” she details how her father’s abduction shattered her young life, and her later efforts to find his kidnappers.

It’s very cliche to talk about how a book like this is cathartic, but it has brought my father and I much closer together. It’s helped me understand what happened to him, and process my own grief and loss and damage that this event had on my life. And the funny thing about my dad is he was so convinced for so long that there was nothing wrong with him, he even convinced the professionals that were assigned to treat him that he was okay. And until I started writing this book, I think he truly believed that. But when he understood what I was writing about and saw that my experience had been quite I different I think that he started admitting to himself that he had suffered much more psychological damage than he thought. And now I just see him having all these emotions. It’s like he accessed part of himself that was unavailable to him previously.

Former hostage Terry Anderson was awarded $341 million from Iran by a federal judge who said his treatment during his nearly seven years of captivity in Beirut was ‘savage and cruel by any civilized standards.'”

— Associated Press, March 2000

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