End of the ordeal

December 06, 1991|By The Los Angeles Times

SO AT long last the brutal and needless ordeal has come to an end. Terry Anderson has regained his freedom, 2,455 days after being snatched off a Beirut street by Lebanese Shiite terrorists. In less than four months, beginning Aug. 8, all of the Americans and Britons who remained hostages were freed. "They realize it doesn't pay," was Sutherland's explanation for the action by the Islamic Jihad organization in finally moving to let him and other captives go.

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who retires at the end of the year, asks that proper credit for bringing this ugly matter to an end be given to the United Nations and especially to his special assistant, Giandomenico Picco. Fair enough. It was Perez de Cuellar and Picco who facilitated the release of the hostages by devising a multinational plan under which Israel would order the release of Shiite prisoners held by its allies in southern Lebanon, in exchange for information about its own men missing in Lebanon and freedom for the Westerners. But it does not detract from the United Nations' role to note that much more was involved.

The White House ascribes the hostages' release to a tough U.S. policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists, and to changed attitudes in the region arising from the gulf war. Again, fair enough. But the most notable changes in attitude have come from Syria, which wields considerable power in Lebanon and Iran, which has enormous influence over terrorist groups. Both countries, their economies suffering, see the expedient appeal now of improving relations with the West. Both, it's inescapably clear, could, if they had wanted, have won release of the hostages long ago.

Terry Anderson and those who were freed before him were guilty of no crime against Lebanon or the interests of their captors. They were kidnapped simply because they were hated Westerners who were vulnerable in an anarchic land. They suffered, long and grievously, for no other reason. And now they are home to nations glad to see them, and to families who fervently hope that no others will ever again have to endure such futile pain.

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