On Dec. 4, 1991, the 2,454th day of his captivity, two men came into Terry Anderson's cell and told him that he would be released that day. He had spent almost seven years as a hostage of Islamic Jihad, an offshoot of the nascent Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, a Shiite group. No other American was ever held hostage as long as Anderson in the history of the Middle East. He had spent his last hours of freedom playing tennis with an Associated Press colleague in Beirut. Now he was about to be driven to Damascus to be reunited with the Madeleine Bassil, the Lebanese woman who was seven months pregnant with his child when he was abducted--and his now-6-year-old daughter, Sulome.
"They game me a shirt, a pair of trousers, and some shoes, then left," Anderson would write of his last day in captivity in Den of Lions, the memoir of the seven years he published in 1993. "I've been sitting here most of the day playing solitaire by candlelight--the electricity is out again--and listening to the radio. It's very strange--all the news reports say I've been turned over to the Syrians already, and I'm on my way to Damascus. They say there's a delay because of snow in the mountains between Beirut and Damascus. Of course, I'm in the Bekaa, and there's no snow. It's been interesting, listening to the news analyses, and the recaps of the last seven years. The newscasts are full of praise for me--I don;t know for what, except perhaps for surviving. It's like listening to your own obituary."
Strangely enough, one of his captors, when it's time to hand him over to his final ride to freedom, hands him a bouquet of flowers, half a dozen carnations. "Give this to your wife," he says, "and tell her we're sorry."
In 2000, appearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson in a $100 million lawsuit against the government of Iran over the hostage years, Bassil said she felt uprooted, moving from Lebanon to the United States to have her daughter, then to London, then to Cyprus, where she and Sulome awaited Anderson's release. "I don't forgive easily. I don't forget easily. They (Iran) haven't admitted they're wrong. And they should pay," she told the judge. With her was Sulome, then 14, and she recalled for the judge what it was like seeing her father for the first time that December night in Damascus: "I froze. It was scary to see the man instead of the picture."
The Kuwait Connection
Did Anderson owe his freedom to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait? It's possible: In exchange for the release of Anderson and other American hostages, Islamic Jihad had always demanded the release from a Kuwaiti jail of 15 "Dawa" prisoners.
Dawa, or "The Call," was a Shiite terrorist cell that masterminded the Dec. 12, 1983, truck-bomb attacks at the French and American embassies in Kuwait. The bombs left four people dead and wounded 87. The leader of the cell was Mustapha Badreddine, brother-in-law of Imad Mugniyeh, himself the Hezbollah mastermind behind the bombings of the French and Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, several terrorist acts and the coordinating of hostage-taking in Beirut.
When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the Dawa prisoners were released. Mustapha Badreddine immediately returned to Beirut and even, according to Terry Anderson in Den of Lions, chaired meetings with Western hostage negotiators, replacing Mugniyeh in that role. In the prisoners' release, Hezbollah had what it wanted.
On March 26, 2000, Judge Jackson ordered the government of Iran to pay $24.5 million to Anderson, $10 million to his wife, and $6.7 million to their daughter, in addition to $300 million in punitive damages. It was for show: the judge and Anderson had no reason to think Iran would comply, and the Clinton and Bush administrations either did little to help him (and others in his situation) collect the money from frozen Iranian assets, or, as in the Bush administration's case, opposed the claim outright.