Terry was given just hours to live
2005: Former Beirut hostage Terry Waite talked of his five years in captivity and how he sees the current terrorist attacks around the world, when he spoke at Norwich's Salvation Army Citadel. Major Rosemary Dawson reports.
The worst moment of Terry's captivity was after ten months in the hands of his captors when he was told he had just five hours to live.
"I was so emotionally exhausted that I just laid down and slept," said Terry. "Then my chains were taken off, and I was taken into the next room. I asked if I could write some letters to my family and friends, but was only allowed to write one – still blindfolded – and say a prayer.
"A gun was put to my head. I was afraid – not of death itself, but that the bullet would hurt when it went through me. After a few minutes they said: ‘Another time’.
Terry Waite hit world headlines during the 1980s when, as special adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he successfully negotiated the release of Western hostages in Iran and Libya. In January 1987, while bravely negotiating the release of hostages in Lebanon, Terry was taken prisoner.
"I was blindfolded and taken from the doctor's surgery to a large garage under a block of flats. They opened a trap door in the floor, and told me to jump down. I found myself in a tiled cell with no light. I remembered hearing that tiled cells made it easy to wipe blood off the walls after interrogation," said Terry.
"I was determined to show some measure of independence and freedom, so the first week I refused to eat. I was angry - angry with myself for taking the risk and getting into this situation, and angry with my captors. Anger is a normal human reaction, but we must never allow it to turn into bitterness, which can destroy our lives.
"During my first year of captivity I was interrogated and sometimes beaten on the soles of my feet. I was kept blindfolded and chained to the wall by my hands and feet. I had no books, no television, no radio, no air and frequently no exercise. I was only allowed to use the toilet once a day.
"I was determined not to lose my identity; it was very important to me to maintain my faith and find something to hold on to. I found that my belief, which was not weakened by the experience, grew even more simple. My captors had the power to break my body and bend my will, but not to possess my soul – that belonged to God."
Terry didn't have access to a Bible or other books, so he tried to keep his mind alive by other means. "I went on a journey of discovery back through my life," he says. "I wanted to get to know myself – the good side and the evil side – and try to understand the inner centre of harmony that's within all of us. I discovered that human beings have a great capacity for self-deception; we're very good at pretending to be something we're not.
"I can't honestly say that I felt closer to God during that time; in fact, I felt isolated and alone. Despite that, my faith was always there in the background, and gradually I understood something of the loneliness of Jesus on the cross when he cried: 'My God, why hast thou forsaken me?' I was glad to be able to stand firm on God's truth, contained in the essential message of Jesus.
"Religion isn't an insurance policy. It doesn't insulate us from life, but it does give us the inner strength we need to cope with it. Fear strengthened my faith, and enabled me to get through my period of difficulty.”
Terry was held for 1,763 days – spending almost four years in solitary confinement. His release on 19 November 1991 was an occasion of national rejoicing.
Now he uses that experience to help people affected by similar issues through Hostage UK, which supports hostage families and encourages research into post-release care and other related issues.
Terry believes that the current increase in terrorist attacks around the world is a symptom of a much deeper disorder. "It's the heart of the disease that has to be dealt with,” he says.
“There are many root causes, but one example might be taken from the Middle East refugee camps which are a breeding ground for terrorist recruitment. These people have no hope, and that reflects a massive failure of international diplomacy. We need more intercultural understanding in order to tackle these problems more fairly.
"Suffering is no respecter of persons. In this unfair world, the innocent are always going to encounter hardship and difficulty. I know how hard it is to pull yourself up from the depths of despair, but I sincerely believe that it needn't destroy your spirit. It's possible for something creative to emerge from it.”
Top, Terry Waite pictured at Norwich’s Salvation Army Citadel. Picture courtesy of EDP
Article first appeared in the War Cry, the Salvation Army newspaper