Hostage Support Group Planned : Families of Ex-Beirut Captives Aim to Help Others Adjust

Times Staff Writer

As a chocolate souffle, the finale to a four-course dinner, was set before him, former hostage David Jacobsen took in the scene at Jimmy’s, a fashionable restaurant on the fringe of Beverly Hills--the soft lights, fine wine, tinkling piano. And his thoughts turned to Beirut and his “brothers,” Terry Anderson and Thomas Sutherland, still held captive there.

“Right now,” he said, “it’s about six o’clock in the morning,” though in their small, windowless basement cell “they don’t know it’s daylight outside. Tom and Terry have been out twice to see the sun and once to see the moon.”

Breakfast for the hostages would be about four hours off--tea and pita bread and a few ounces of cheddar cheese. Or maybe, Jacobsen mused, this was “burrito” day, when the pita is stuffed with yogurt and five olives--"always five olives, unpitted. Terry and I always pre-pitted our olives” he recalled, because the last thing they wanted was a broken tooth.

Formal Papers Drafted


Jacobsen, together with Father Lawrence Martin Jenco, another former hostage, had joined this dinner gathering after a meeting at the Century City law office of Marilyn Barrett to draw up incorporation papers for the International United Hostage Assn., which will be dedicated to providing emotional, psychological and economic support to hostages of political terrorism and their families.

David Collett, 29, an audio-video salesman in the San Fernando Valley and the group’s charter president, is someone who understands that need only too well. “I’m the only person at this table who has actually suffered a loss,” he observed. His father, Alec, a 64-year-old British journalist on assignment in Beirut for the U.N. Works Relief Agency, was kidnaped in March, 1985 and, it is almost certain, was hanged by his captors, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims, in April, 1986 in retaliation for U.S. air raids on Libya.

When David Collett needed emotional support, he said, none was offered because no effective hostage family network existed. Although his father was a British citizen, he had lived in the United States for 20 years, he said, and the British did not seem vitally interested while, at the same time, Americans viewed Alec Collett as “a British problem.”

One result, Collett said, was “I felt left out,” not a part of the hostage families’ dilemma.


For family members, psychological trauma is a major problem and one of the stated objectives of the new group is to make available both professional crisis intervention and long-term counseling for families. “They’re victims too,” Jacobsen said, coping with misinformation or lack of information. “The hostages know how they are, where they’re being kept and who’s keeping them"--and they know they are of more value to their captors alive than dead. “Their families don’t.”

Dr. Calvin J. Frederick, a UCLA psychiatry professor who will serve on the association’s board, notes that psychiatric trauma is commonplace for hostages and their families, that both go through comparable cycles of denial, bargaining, anger and depression.

Upon a hostage’s release, he has found both hostage and family are subject to severe psychological stress as they adjust to changes in one another and try to bridge the emotional gaps created by lengthy and anguished separations.

‘Power of Unity’

From conversations with relatives of former hostages, Frederick has identified a need for “power of unity among hostage families” as well as support, skill and direction in dealing with the media and in establishing non-adversarial contact with government officials.

Focusing initially on assistance for victims of the Lebanon hostage crisis, the association hopes eventually to make its services available to victims of political terrorism throughout the world.

“I know what my family went through,” said Father Lawrence Jenco, 52, a Roman Catholic priest who was released by his captors, the Islamic Jihad on July 26 of last year after 19 months as a hostage.

While Jenco was held, his family, operating on a shoestring, took their cause--his release--from his home in Joliet, Ill., from state to state, mounting an “awareness campaign” complete with balloons, T-shirts, posters and meetings with the media. Meanwhile, they dealt with conflicting reports from Lebanon about his health and whether all the American hostages had been executed by a firing squad.


“Most of the families are not well-to-do,” Jenco said, and though they desperately need to communicate their “emotional, spiritual and physical isolation” to others in the same predicament, the cost of long-distance phone calls can be prohibitive. The new organization, through private donations, hopes to help out.

Jenco, who was in Fort Collins, Colo., earlier this week for an observance of the second anniversary of the capture of hostage Thomas Sutherland, with whom he and Jacobsen once shared a cell, wonders about Americans’ interest in the eight Americans still held in Lebanon. “No one seems to care,” he said, “they’re so caught up with the contra hearings. . . .”

Not ‘Playing God’

It was at these hearings that former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane spoke of his anguish at being asked to “play God” in 1985 when, after the initial Israeli arms sale to Iran, Lebanese terrorists made it known that they would release only one American hostage. McFarlane chose William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut.

“In reality,” Jenco said, “he did not have to play God. Our guards gave us the option of choosing and we voted for the person we wanted to go home. I voted for Terry Anderson.” Why? “Because Ben Weir said no and I said no--my feeling was I was newly kidnaped and I felt Ben should go. But he didn’t want to go and Terry Anderson (who was chief Middle East correspondent for Associated Press) had the avenues to make the cause available to the American public.”

But the captors decided to release Weir, a Presbyterian minister. Said Jenco, “It had nothing to do with God.” He added, “If William Buckley had been alive, they probably would have excluded him from the vote. They keep people who are important to them. I wonder why it was so important to the American government to get Buckley back, what did he have in his head?”

Jimmy Murphy, the proprietor of Jimmy’s, had stopped by the table to tell a few Irish jokes. Earlier, he explained that this dinner party for the hostage group was “my birthday present to myself,” his 49th.

By the time coffee was being served, the pianist was waxing patriotic, interspersing red-white-and-blue songs with piano bar ballads. And Jenco and Jacobsen were swapping hostage stories. Jacobsen, 56, frowned as Jenco, who has had heart problems, lit a cigarette--"I told him in captivity, if I ever caught him smoking, I’d break his arm.” Jenco, although offered cigarettes by his captors, said he didn’t smoke because “it would have been unkind” in a small cell with no ventilation.


Then the two were laughing about their Beirut fitness program, about Jacobsen’s 500 daily push-ups. Said Jenco, “They were all trying to get body beautiful. I didn’t have to worry about that. I had no wife or fiancee to come home to. The day we were released, I did a symbolic push-up. One.”

Rosary From a String

Jacobsen remembered too how Anderson, a Catholic who had come back to his religion, made a rosary from a mattress string for Jacobsen, a Protestant, as a gesture of friendship. And he told about “vicious, nasty, blood-curdling, violent” games of hearts with homemade cards, of chess games with chess pieces Anderson made from bits of cheese.

The next moment, Jacobsen was angry: “My brothers who are still in chains are being forgotten” while, in Washington, “a few politicians are trying to maximize their public images” at the Iran-contra hearings. He “resents” their implications that the Americans still held hostage were mercenaries, he said--"We were there with the full knowledge of the American government. We were never asked to go home.”

Jacobsen, from Huntington Beach, was administrator of the American University Hospital in Beirut when he was seized by kidnapers in late May, 1985. He was released on a Beirut street last Nov. 2. While captive, he taped a message stating that the American government “really doesn’t care about me” but now he tells everyone, “I’m alive today because of Ronald Reagan. . . . someday the world will know why.” (U.S. officials said at the time of his release that it was the result of long secret negotiations between his captors and the Administration.)

He is convinced, he said, that the U.S. government “did everything they possibly could do, short of someone in the State Dept. walking into Beirut and saying, ‘Here I am. I want to talk to you.’ ”

And that, some in this group suggest, might not be such a terrible idea. Said Collett, “Quiet diplomacy isn’t going to get them out.”

Both by philosophy and because of legal constraints on nonprofit organizations, the International United Hostage Assn. (213) 552-1613) is designed to be apolitical. But, Collett acknowledges, “This is not an apolitical situation.”

The group represents a political spectrum. Only six months ago, Jacobsen both heaped praise on the President and hailed former National Security Council member Lt. Col. Oliver North as “an American hero.” Collett, a British citizen, is angry at Reagan for ordering the bombing of Libya that may have led to his father’s death and angry at British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for permitting U.S. planes to take off from British air bases on that raid.

Weapons for Hostages

Collett hopes Peggy Say of Batavia, N.Y., hostage Terry Anderson’s sister and an outspoken critic of the Administration’s failure to keep hostage families informed of efforts to win the hostages’ release, will join the association. Say, who has come in for her share of public criticism, said in April, “If somebody said to me, ‘We have a chance to trade weapons to anybody and get your brother out,’ I’m pretty sure I’d have to say ‘thank you, but let him be.’ ”

Arms-for-hostages is a question on which association members are split. Collett seconded what Say had said, adding, “You’re talking about killing other people for the freedom of one person. I’m not a man of war. I’m a man of peace.”

Jenco said he has no patience with those who “come across as being patriots, selling arms to kill men, women and children. To me, they are the great terrorists.” Yes, absolutely, he would have turned down any deal offering his freedom for arms.

Jacobsen, however, said, “If you were held as long as I was, you wouldn’t give a damn how you got out.” To those who protest otherwise, he said, “I suggest they go and take the place of the present hostages if they feel that strongly. Tom and Terry and Joe (Cicippio) want to be home. They’re not going to ask any questions, nor would any other American in their shoes.”

Collett is convinced that “the movement of arms through Israel to Iran was a move to get money to the contras, the Nicaraguan rebels, and they’re using the hostages as an excuse. They’re not interested in Palestine. They’re not interested in hostages. They’re interested in Communists.”

In his view, one way to secure release of the hostages may be to set up an international non-governmental organization, with neither profit motives nor political motives, and he sees this as a possible long-range goal of the International United Hostage Assn.

Another goal frequently mentioned by organizers is to educate the American public about the Middle East. For starters, Jacobsen suggested, there is a need to address the “fallout against anything that’s Arab,” the stereotype of all Arabs as “Bedouins riding camels over the sand.”

He added, “My heart still goes out to the poor Lebanese people (among them the 2 million homeless Palestinians) who are as much a hostage as I was. Their children hurt as much as our children hurt.” There must be better understanding, he said, of the Shias who, after centuries of persecution, “really have a right to live in peace. I have Shia friends who every day risked their lives looking for me.”

Humanitarian Programs

He would like to see U.S. humanitarian programs to provide milk and staples to both Christians and Muslims, vaccines for all the children, medicine for all the adults, programs to compensate for the 13-year disruption in basic education. “Young men in their 20s who only know how to fire an automatic weapon should be taught to become plumbers and electricians.”

That, said Jacobsen, “is a lot cheaper than selling weapons to Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Collett concurs, “There’s an awful ignorance in this country about the Middle East. Israel is there, and there are terrorists--that’s all people know. . . . anyone seen on American television who is an Arab is a terrorist. It’s like saying all the Irish in Northern Ireland are terrorists.”

Eight Americans are among 21 foreigners missing in Lebanon after being kidnaped in the last two years. In addition to Anderson and Sutherland, the former dean of the agriculture department at American University in Beirut, they include Alann Steen from Boston, a communications professor at the university; Joseph Cicippio of Valley Forge, Pa., who was the university’s acting controller; Frank Reed of Malden, Mass., director of a private school in Beirut; Edward A. Tracy, an illustrator and book salesman from Rutland, Vt.; Robert Polhill from New York and Jesse Turner from Boise, Ida., both of whom taught at American University.

Terry Waite, special envoy from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who helped negotiate the release of both Weir and Jacobsen, disappeared in Beirut Jan. 20.

Like Jenco and Jacobsen, Anderson and Sutherland, who once were their cellmates, were kidnaped by the Islamic Jihad, a radical fundamentalist Shia Muslim faction demanding release of 17 accused truck bombers held prisoner in Kuwait after blowing up parts of the U.S. embassy and other facilities.

Collett hopes through the association to get the message across: “They don’t take hostages because they have nothing better to do but because they’re frustrated” at the refusal of the U.S. government to talk to them. Citing Waite’s one-on-one approach, Jacobsen said, “Talking to the terrorists is not conceding.”