Ex-Hostage Calls for Talks to Release 13 Others From ‘Bowels of Despair’ : Mideast: Brian Keenan, held 4 1/2 years in Lebanon, says captives feel humiliation, death wishes. He recalls Terry Anderson as ailing but stoic.
Brian Keenan, who spent 4 1/2 years as a hostage in Lebanon, Thursday 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 told 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 Thursday 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 hand-written statement.
“Hostage is a man hanging by his fingernails over the edge of chaos and feeling his fingers slowly straightening.
“Hostage is the humiliating stripping away of every sense and fiber of body and mind and spirit that make you what you are.
“Hostage is a mutant creation full of self-loathing, guilt and death-wishing, but he’s a man, a rare, unique and beautiful creation of which these things are no part.
“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.
“There is a famous quotation from John Milton: ‘The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven.’ The problem with that eloquent sentence is that, how can you control the mind when the mind itself has already chosen to go its own way, independent of one’s will, one’s desire, one’s need?
“Each of us fathomed the depths of mania, of despair, that awful howling wilderness where one felt like no more than a speck of dust in an alien cosmos.”
Keenan, who was teaching English in Beirut when he was kidnaped on April 11, 1986, spoke with particular affection of British journalist John McCarthy, with whom he had been 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.
“In John-boy, I saw a man grow, I saw a man deepen, and it was a real joy to be a witness to that. John-boy’s ever-present good nature and sanity touched us all with light and thrust us back to the world. John was the youngest, and our evening benediction frequently was a chorus of ‘Night, John-boy. Night, John-boy. Night, John-boy.’ John-boy was not pleased.”
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 A. Anderson, the chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press, as “a bulky and belligerent newspaperman” with a voracious appetite for intellectual conversations.
Thomas M. 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.
Thirteen Westerners, including six Americans, are believed still held in Lebanon by extremist groups supposedly with ties to Iran.
Anderson, the longest-held Western hostage, was kidnaped in Beirut on March 16, 1985.
McCarthy was abducted April 17, 1986, and Sutherland on June 9, 1985.
Keenan said Anderson suffers from a digestive ailment and was frequently 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.”
Keenan said Anderson sometimes kept him awake for hours of conversation.
“I think he debated with himself a lot while we tried to plug our ears,” Keenan joked. “Terry would also have his periods of despair and seek solace in his family. Terry and myself would sit through those long nights and speak with great pain and remorse and longing for his daughter (Gabrielle).
“With many tears, he would elaborate his plans when he was finally back in the States to help her to shape and discover her future.
“In those confessional moments, which were common to us all, a deep and enduring and unbreakable bond was formed.”
He said Anderson talked of starting a project for delinquent boys in the United States.
Keenan said he last saw Anderson 11 months ago and that they had spent eight months together.
“The ‘doyen of hostages,’ as he has been called, is a man who felt so committed to these things that he inspired us to our own survival projects,” Keenan said of Anderson.
To a reporter who asked how he felt about the prospect of returning home to Belfast, Keenan said: “I’ve been locked up in a hole in the ground for four years. How would you feel?”
Keenan appealed to journalists to be careful about their reporting.
“All of us are but teeth on a comb, and if one of us is snapped off in a sudden rage, it cannot, cannot be put back.”