Brian Keenan, who spent 4 1/2 years as a hostage in Lebanon, today called for negotiations to release others from a captivity he recalled as “a silent screaming slide into the bowels of ultimate despair.”
“It’s time to talk. It’s obviously time to talk. There is a willingness. Why not talk?” Keenan said at a news conference.
Keenan, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was released by his captors last week and handed over to Irish authorities in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday. He was released from the private Mater Hospital in Dublin this morning.
Speaking slowly, sometimes pausing to avoid crying, Keenan talked at length about life in captivity.
“Hostage is crucifying aloneness. There’s a silent screaming slide into the bowels of ultimate despair,” he said, reading from a handwritten statement.
“Hostage is a man hanging by his fingernails over the edge of chaos and feeling his fingers slowly straightening.”
“Tiny, tiny cells, constant blindfolds, prolonged days in the dark, sometimes weeks without light, create kinds of insanity that drive men deep, deep into themselves,” Keenan said.
Keenan, who was teaching English in Beirut when he was kidnaped April 11, 1986, spoke with particular affection of British journalist John McCarthy, with whom he was held.
“Other people one begins to look at with strange mistrustful apprehension, but the irrepressible wit that is the golden kernel of John coped ultimately and always emerged,” he said.
Jill Morrell, McCarthy’s friend who was seated behind Keenan, broke into a bright smile as Keenan talked about his fellow captive.
Keenan described American hostage Terry Anderson, the chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press, as “a bulky and belligerent newspaperman” with a voracious appetite for intellectual conversations.
Thomas Sutherland, a Scottish-born American who was acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut, gave the other hostages long lectures on genetics, animal husbandry and his beloved 27-year-old Volvo car, Keenan said.
Keenan said Anderson suffered from a digestive ailment and was often in pain, but he took it stoically “for in truth all pain and illness was generally dismissed by our keepers, though they would eventually supply us with some form of antibiotics.”