Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Terry Anderson talks tough

Ex-hostage would like to tell Daniel Pearl's kidnappers, 'You've made a mistake. It's never going to work.'

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ATHENS, Ohio — Terry Anderson, the former Associated Press reporter held hostage for more than 6 years in Beirut, pounded the bar while talking about the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

        “Most radical groups have understood for the past 10 years that kidnapping Americans — particularly American journalists — does not help their cause,” says Mr. Anderson, 54, international spokesman for the non-profit Committee to Protect Journalists.

Born: Terry A. Anderson on Oct. 27, 1947 in Lorain, Ohio. Raised in Batavia, N.Y.

Vietnam War: Was a U.S. Marine combat correspondent (1969-70).

The Associated Press: Worked in bureaus in Detroit, Louisville, New York, Tokyo, Johannesburg and Beirut, where he was AP's chief Middle East correspondent.

Hostage: Abducted on a west Beirut street on March 16, 1985 by pro-Iranian Shiite Muslims, and held 2,454 days before being released Dec. 4, 1991.

Author: Wrote Den of Lions 1993 (Mass Market Paperback; $6.99).

Teaching: Taught three years each at Columbia University in New York and E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University. Retired last year.

Family: Lives on 163 acres in Athens County with his wife, Madeleine Bassil, 51, and their daughter, Sulome, 16. His brother, John, is ranch manager. A daughter from a previous marriage, Gabrielle, 25, is a paralegal in Tokyo.

        “There haven't been many Americans kidnapped for political reasons in the past 10 years, since the Lebanon kidnappings, because most everybody who might contemplate such a thing understands it's a very bad idea. This guy didn't get the message.

        “(Kidnapping) discredits their cause, even if there is some merit in their cause. All they're going to get is bad publicity. Who is paying attention to what the kidnappers of Danny Pearl are demanding? Nobody!”

        Mr. Anderson, who quit teaching journalism at Ohio University and opened a blues bar after receiving a multimillion-dollar settlement from frozen Iranian assets, was talking about Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. The Islamic militant was arrested Feb. 12 and charged with kidnapping Mr. Pearl on Jan. 23.

        The parallels in the two cases are striking.

        Mr. Anderson's wife, Madeleine Bassil, also was six months pregnant when pro-Iranian Shiite Muslims abducted the AP correspondent in March 1985. (He was freed in December 1991.)

        Like Mrs. Pearl, she heard conflicting reports about whether her husband was alive or not.

        “It was like a yo-yo. That's how you feel,” says Ms. Bassil, who joined her husband and a reporter at their Blue Gator restaurant and bar last week. He also owns the Swindlefish dance club upstairs.

        The uncertainty about Dan Pearl “is not surprising,” Mr. Anderson says. “It's a roller coaster-type thing. We were very optimistic. Then there were reports Danny was killed. Then we were optimistic again. Now it's gone down again. It's confusing for everybody.

        “You would hope that (since) we caught the guy, this ought to be relatively straight-forward now. And it's proving to be very frustrating.”

        Since Mr. Anderson's release, he has been involved with the Committee to Protect Journalists, which helps foreign correspondents in danger. He's honorary co-chairman with former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.

        In the past month, Mr. Anderson has spoken to Mr. Pearl's parents and sister.

        “They are very nice people. Obviously, they're in a lot of pain,” he says. “We've talked to the Wall Street Journal. Our information from Pakistan has been coming in. But we're not there necessarily to be more clued in than the news services.

        “We have a specific goal: How do we finally get Danny out? What can we do to help?

        “We can make public statements. We can try to send messages to the kidnapers saying: "You've made a mistake. It's never going to work.' ”

        Mr. Anderson declined some interviews in December, on the 10th anniversary of his release. A month later, he returned to the spotlight to help Mr. Pearl. Today he's in Chicago, taping an Oprah Winfrey Show about reporters in danger. It airs Wednesday (4 p.m., Channels 9, 2).

        “I'm speaking for the Committee to Protect Journalists,” he says. “Danny Pearl is a perfect example of what we do.”

        Terry Anderson's 6 3/4 years as a hostage captivated Americans back home in a way he never expected.

        When he traveled the U.S. speaking about his experience or promoting his Den of Lions book, he heard from people who put his picture on their refrigerators.

        “I didn't appear before a single audience in seven or eight years in which somebody didn't say to me: "We prayed for you.' And they meant me by name,” he says, while driving through Athens in his sports utility vehicle.

        “When I got home, everybody wanted to talk to me. So I used that . . . to do things that I thought were important and worthwhile.”

        His successful suit against the Iranian government enabled him to turn his celebrity into assistance for foreign correspondents, children in Vietnam (where he served as a U.S. Marine 1969-70), and the Appalachian poor.

        • He co-founded the Vietnam Children's Fund (www.vietnamchildren.org), which has built 18 elementary schools in Vietnam attended by 12,000 students. He plans on constructing eight more schools next year.

        • He established the Father Lawrence Jenco Foundation, with a $100,000 endowment, to honor people who do charitable or community service in Southeastern Ohio and West Virginia. It is named after the Rev. Jenco, the former Catholic Relief Services director in Beirut who also was kidnapped. The two men met in jail.

        “He was a man I admired greatly and loved,” Mr. Anderson says. “If we're going to do any charitable giving, we're going to do it here in Appalachia. There are a lot of people here who do the same thing he did, with very little reward, recognition or encouragement.”

        The Lorain, Ohio, native settled in Athens four years ago when OU's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism invited him to be a visiting journalism professor. He had spent most his adult years overseas working for the Associated Press in Tokyo, Johannesburg and Beirut.

        “People used to ask: "Where are you from?' And I'd say, "I don't know!” he says. “Athens is good. People are wonderful. It's beautiful country. There's between 10,000 to 20,000 acres of Appalachian hills and hollows that I can ride (horses) in.”

        He's also opened the Blue Gator. The blues bar draws regional and national acts, from Cincinnati's Greg Schaber to Delta blues legend Big Jack Johnson.

        “I've always loved blues, and there was no blues bar here,” he says. The Blue Gator is managed by Joel Schechtman, a 1987 Hamilton High School graduate.

        The cash payment from frozen Iranian assets has given him financial freedom. Computers and e-mail let him help people around the globe from his 163-acre farm.

        “I've been pretty lucky since I came home. People have given me an opportunity to do things that I wanted to do, including teach.

        “Everybody needs to give back. Now I have a chance to do things, and it's important to me that I do.”

        Though Mr. Anderson speaks with missionary zeal about Vietnam schools, the Jenco Foundation and journalism, he doesn't consider himself a missionary. Since returning from Lebanon, he has attended Catholic, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches.

        “I don't think God's going to check my ID card. He's going to check my soul, and he's going to want to know what I did,” he says.

        “I'm not an evangelist. I am a witness. I make a distinction. I believe God has done things in my life that I'm not allowed to forget, even if I could.

        “But I don't preach. I refuse to believe that God rejects a Muslim who is a good person. I just can't believe that's part of His plan. So I can't be an evangelist, can I?”

        His cell phone rings again. The Oprah Winfrey Show is calling for photos of his wife and daughter, Sulome, 16.

        For 10 minutes on Good Morning America, he refused to drive to either Columbus, Ohio, or Parkersburg, W.Va., and fly to New York. He insisted on a satellite interview from OU.

        For Oprah, he's going to Chicago.

• Committee to Protect Journalists: 330 Seventh Ave.., 12th Floor, New York, NY 10001. (212) 465-1004. www.cpj.org.

• Vietnam Children's Fund: PO Box 150, Unionville, VA 22567. (202) 347-2422. www.vietnamchildren.org.

• Father Lawrence Jenco Foundation: PO Box 783, Athens, OH 45701. (740) 662-0417. Web site under construction.

• Blue Gator bar and restaurant: 63 N. Court St., Athens, OH 45701. (740) 594-7271.

        “It's worth doing, because she has a huge audience,” he says. “They know nothing about the this, and nothing about what the CPJ is doing. It's a chance to preach a little bit about journalism too, which I really do believe in.”

        He gets on his soapbox, while driving U.S. 50 along the Hocking River.

        “Most journalists I know try to do the best job they can. And they believe in what they're doing — particularly the foreign correspondents, because you're not going to risk your life for a thrill.

        “You take risks because it's important,” he says with emphasis.

        “I like to say that to people. And I like to say: "Yeah, the media has got a lot of problems, but do you want to do without it?' You cannot have a free society without a free press. Period.”

        He stresses the importance of a free press when he meets with foreign governments for the CPJ. He's planning an April trip to Moscow.

        “There are very few qualifications on freedom of the press that are acceptable. If you don't like what they're saying, turn it off. But you can't live without it.”

        He pauses to catch his breath.

        “We are so sophisticated that we forget to talk about the basics sometimes. This is ninth-grade social studies: That the basis of a democracy is the free flow of information!” he says, while pounding his SUV dashboard.

        “There are no rights that are more important than freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. You can't have any of the others without those. Remember that!”


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