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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 February, 2004, 21:50 GMT
Ex-hostage Waite free from bitterness
By Hugh Sykes
BBC Radio 4 in Beirut

Terry Waite
Terry Waite: 'I'm glad I did it'
Terry Waite, held hostage for five years in Beirut, this week made his first return trip there since his 1991 release. He shared his philosophy on life and his sense of humour about his ordeal with the BBC. "Don't be bitter," he says.

"If you are bitter, it will eat you up and do you much more damage than the people who have hurt you."

This is from the man who went to Beirut in 1987 to try to negotiate the release of western hostages, and ended up as a hostage himself for nearly five years.

He was interrogated, tortured, and subjected to a mock execution. Back in Lebanon now, he says he is not troubled by ghosts.

And he laughs at some of his memories. "I spent a lot of time in the boot of cars, so I didn't get much time for sightseeing!" he jokes.

Surprise encounter

Then he adds thoughtfully: "On the way into town from the airport, my driver told me we were passing through the area where I was most likely kept for most of those five years.

"I looked out of the window into the Beirut night and wondered..."

I spent a lot of time in the boot of cars, so I didn't get much time for sightseeing
Terry Waite
Terry Waite had a surprise encounter here this week: Hussein, the driver who unwittingly delivered him to his last Beirut contact in 1987.

"He was lucky not to be killed," Hussein told me, "but I am so pleased to see him again. I was sick after he was taken captive, but I am so happy now."

Waite spent four of the five years in solitary confinement, blindfolded much of the time and chained to a radiator.

He knew the dangers he had faced going to Beirut, but he could not have borne the thought of one of the hostages dying while he stayed at home in Britain.

"I'm glad I did it," he told me.

"I'm glad I had the courage of my convictions to do at least one thing that I believe to be right. And that one thing I stand by."


He is scathing about the cycle of cynicism that was being stoked by the US in the 1980s - cynicism that helped set the trap that he walked into in Beirut.

The US supported Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

At the same time, Washington secretly paid ransom for US hostages in Lebanon by selling arms to Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

And they deliberately created the impression that Terry Waite had negotiated the hostages release when he had not.

With such "duplicity", Waite is not surprised that his contacts in Beirut thought he too was part of the scandal. But his captors believed him in the end and apologised to him for keeping him for so long.

And now, Terry Waite has received an invitation to visit Shia Muslim groups in Beirut. He says he will happily accept on another occasion as his schedule this time was too tight.

Terry Waite was in Beirut as President of Y-Care, the international branch of the YMCA.

He has visited Palestinian refugee camps where Y-Care support infant schools and job creation programmes for young people.

And he says the problem of "so-called terrorism" will not be solved unless western nations address some of the issues that he believes lead to violent international protests, such as the poverty and unemployment that he has seen here himself, and the unresolved dispute between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

What is your reaction to Terry Waite's return to Beirut? Send us your comments using the form below.

Your comments

Terry Waite is an inspiration. He turned his horrific ordeal into something to be learned from, instead of letting it make him bitter. I am in awe of his strength and his determination to show that peace cannot be achieved through war-like means but through opening your eyes to what is right in front of you.

A very admirable and brave man, willing to risk his own life for the sake of others. I agree with his thoughts regarding "terrorism".
John Scullion, Glasgow, Scotland

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