Minority Report

Article excerpt


An interesting thing failed to happen last August 18. After what seemed an interminable period of humiliation for U.S. policy toward the American hostages held in Beirut, and after a long period of misery inflicted upon those people's families and friends, one of the captives--Charles Glass of ABC TV--made a spectacular escape. And the absence of fanfare was deafening. There was no suggestion, as there has automatically been in the past, of an official welcome for this gallant fellow who had done what so many have dreamed of doing: worked free of his chains, eased past his captors, locked them in the stifling prison they had created for him, and thrown away the key. As Alexander Chancellor put it, writing for the new London daily The Independent:

Here was a new American hero waiting to be made, and a much more wholesome hero, one would have thought, than the deluded and deceitful Oliver North who only the month before had been elevated by the media to this status. But something very strange happened. Instead of giving him the hero's welcome and White House reception by President Reagan accorded to all previous released hostages, the American government and media went out of their way to make Glass look at best foolish and at worst a somewhat sinister and undesirable character.

Chancellor did not understate the situation. Within hours of Glass's escape, the television screens were filled with members of that most degraded fraternity, the terrorism experts. Basing themselves, as is customary with their pseudo-discipline, on no evidence and no analysis, these specialists pronounced that Glass had not escaped at all. He had been "allowed' to escape, most probably as a result of intervention by the government of Syria. His freedom, in effect, did not count as anything but a triumph of "quiet diplomacy.'

I should declare my interest and say that I have known Charlie Glass and his wife, Fiona, for many years. Without his reporting from the Middle East in the past decade, the pit of ignorance in which American perception of that region is sunk would be even more abysmal than it currently is. I went to see him very shortly after his escape, and heard of the ingenious way by which he had tricked his kidnappers into loosening his chain. Had any of the terrorism experts or government flacks contacted him for his side of the story before going public? No, they had not.

On the morning of his escape a State Department spokeswoman told those imbibing the daily press briefing that the Reagan Administration was most grateful to the Syrians for securing Mr. Glass's release. It is not every day that the United States has a kind word for Syria, so one journalist asked what it was that the Syrians had done. Well, said the spokeswoman, they had facilitated Mr. Glass's journey from Beirut to Damascus. Mr. Glass told me that he had wanted to fly straight from Beirut to London but that the Syrians, to whom he had taken himself as the local guardians of law and order, were adamant that he do them the honor of coming to their capital for his press conference. He was, he said, given no choice.

The only other comment made by the State Department was to the effect that Mr. …