The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Den of Lions: Memoirs of Seven Years
Terry Anderson (New York: Crown Publishers, 1993)
Terry Anderson

"Former hostage Terry Anderson was awarded $341 million from Iran on Friday 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

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.

More tape, around my wrists and arms. I was pulled out of the car and guided clumsily to the side of the garage, pushed down onto a filthy blanket smelling of oil and gasoline.

My legs were taped rightly, around the ankles, knees, and thighs. I could no longer sit upright and slid sideways. One of the men lifted me up by my arm and shoulder and propped me against the wall.

The men talked among themselves for a few minutes, then several left. Only one seemed to be still with me, pacing back and forth.

After a while -- twenty minutes? An hour? No way to tell -- they came back. I was pulled upright, guided across the floor, and seated again.

"What is your name?" a voice asked, heavily accented.

"Terry Anderson. I am a journalist."

"Your company?"

"The Associated Press. A wire service."

The man seemed uninterested in my answers. Either he understood "wire service" -- unlikely -- or he didn't care.

"Why have you taken me? Who are you?"

Muttering in Arabic. "Quiet. We ask questions. Do you know where you are?"

"No." Explaining my deductions didn't seem wise.

"You are a spy."

"No. I am a journalist. I work for the Associated Press. What do you want from me?"

The interrogation went on, almost aimnlessly, without heat. Accusations. Denials.

"Why do you have this?" A hand shoved something at me. Peering along my nose, through the small gap it made in the tape around my head, I saw a gold charm from my chain -- an inscription from the Koran.

"It was a gift."

"You are Muslim?"

"No. Christian."

"Why do you wear this?"

"My wife gave it to me."

"She is Muslim?"

"No. Maronite. Catholic."

"You are not Muslim. Why do you wear words from the Koran?"

"They are beautiful. They are the words of God."

He was obviously unsatisfied, and muttered to his companions. Then more serious questions.

"What other Americans do you know? Who works at your office?"

"I can't tell you that."

"We can make you."

"I know you can try. You can hurt me. But I can't give you the names of my friends."

"We have electricity. You know?"

"Yes. I know. But I still won't give you names. They are my friends. I can't help you kidnap them." I decided to take a chance. "Can you call my office? Tell them I am alive? My wife will be very, very worried."

"You want your wife here? We can go get her, bring her here."

"She is pregnant. You would not harm her. You cannot be so evil."

"We will take her, too. No one can stop us."

"God will stop you. No one has to stop you. You will not do this."

"Give us the names."

"No. I'm sorry. I can't. Do what you want to. I still can't."

More demands. Refusals. Strangely, the procedure was still without heat. It didn't seem as if they really meant the threats. It was hard to believe they might carry them out, though nothing I had ever seen in Lebanon gave me any confidence in their humanity or reluctance to inflict pain. They just didn't seem serious about it.

It ended after perhaps thirty or forty minutes. The men got up and left, except for one. He shoved me back against the wall, resumed pacing.

I could think of nothing except Madeleine, still in bed, sleepily kissing me goodbye at seven a.m. Six months pregnant, her belly making a mound of the blanket. She would know soon, probably knew already. Don would have gone straight to the office, alerted the AP people there. They would have gone to our apartment, just a few hundred yards from where I was kidnapped.

I began crying silently, rocking forward and back against the wall, my knees shoved tightly between my taped arms. Who would tell her? How? I twisted my wrists against the tape, struggling against it. The guard came, bent over and, surprisingly gently, put his hand on my arm. "No. No. No good."

I stopped struggling and tried to compose my mind. Breathe evenly, smoothly, gently. Calm. Don't think. Calm.

After a time, listening to traffic sounds outside, and people moving around inside the building, I realized several hours had passed. I needed to urinate. I groped mentally for the scraps of Arabic I had picked up the past two years. "Hello. Excuse me. Chebab." Mister.

"Shu?" What?

"I need toilet. Toilet."

He pulled me upright, back against the wall, awkwardly balancing with my taped legs and arms. Then he picked up a tin can and held it near the front of my tennis shorts. I pulled them down in front with my thumbs, and tried to urinate, but couldn't, through embarrassment and awkwardness. "Sorry." Without replying, he put down the can, then lowered me to the floor.

A few minutes later, he brought me half a hamburger in a bun to me, and a can of Coke. "Jowan?" Hungry?

"Thank you." Taking a bite, I realized I hadn't eaten since the night before. I finished the half-can of Coke, which he held, then again told him, "Toilet." He helped me up, picked up the can, and held it. This time, success. Relief. Back to the floor.

It was probably around midnight before the others returned. They checked and renewed the tape, adding more around my mouth. Two of them picked me up by legs and shoulders and carried me back to the car, dumping me in the trunk. The lid closed.


Copyright 1985 by The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved
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."