The 2,454 Days of Terry Anderson

December 06, 1991

The hearts of the nation go out to Terry Anderson, who emerged from nearly seven years of inhuman torture and incarceration whole in body and buoyant in spirit. Neither his government nor the world was allowed to forget him. For that, credit goes to his sister, Peggy Say, and to his employer, the Associated Press. For his survival, the credit is to his own inner resources.

Mr. Anderson is the longest-held surviving American hostage seized by terrorists in Lebanon in the anarchic 1980s, kidnapped on March 16, 1985. He was a newsman, doing a job in a dangerous place, as were the educators, aid workers and others seized, held as ransom for terrorists who committed crimes in Western countries. Several Western hostages were murdered, including the only two U.S. government servants seized, CIA station chief William Buckley and Lt. Col. William Higgins, a marine on United Nations duty. Their remains have not been returned.

Much as Americans rejoice in the freedom of Mr. Anderson, the hostage episode is not ended. Two German aid workers remain captive, the asking price still the release of two terrorists sentenced in German courts for hijacking, kidnapping and murder. If that price is met, kidnapping will have paid off and travelers will remain fair game. Six Israelis remain, dead or alive, as hostages, as do more than 200 Lebanese held by Israel, the only country that seized counter-hostages. This must be ended for peace between Israel and its neighbors to have a chance.

What the United Nations-mediated diplomacy that freed the hostages entailed we may never know. The White House denies that any amnesty toward kidnappers and murderers is part of the deal. It is reasonable to expect a thaw with Iran, as the hostage situation was the reason for withholding relations. Iran's regime should be left in no doubt, however, that its long-standing incitement to murder a British citizen in Britain, Salman Rushdie, continues to obstruct its acceptability in the world community.

Hostage-taking is on the wane. With the end of both the Cold War and Soviet support, terrorists lack former subsidies and sanctuaries. Iran and Syria clearly want to regain Western acceptance. Libya hopes, at a minimum, to elude reprisal.

But it is not possible to say that terrorism is ended, only that it has ebbed. The need to combat it is as great as ever, to insure that terror is never rewarded. The American public is entitled to satisfaction that the last living American hostage is freed after 2,454 days in hell, but not to self-satisfaction that hostage-taking is thwarted. That would be premature.

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