Comments from a 1979 Iranian hostage about the current British hostage crisis

By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

29 March 2007: Although we only spoke once and it was about a year ago, I immediately recognized the ma’s voice on the other end of the telephone even before he identified himself last evening. His voice was passionate, almost quivering with a flurry of emotions, having again viewed the news clip of the Iranians parading the British female hostage before the cameras. He is a member of a unique group of 52 Americans who spent 444 days in Iranian captivity, something he says that he has put behind him, having spent the last 25 years trying to lead an ordinary life. “That was another lifetime, I’ve long since moved on and don’t talk about it anymore. It took me a long time to get to where I am, and I cannot - I don’t want to go back.” By his own choice, he is not on the talk circuit, and makes no public appearances.

Something, however, compelled this man to break his silence, and he wanted to tell me about it.

“It was the news clip [of the female British hostage]- that look - the ‘confession’ and description of the ‘humane’ treatment- it just brought back a flood of emotions I haven’t felt in a long, long time,” this former hostage said. He talked rapidly and passionately at first, then leveled out after regaining control of what seemed to be a cross between anger at the Iranian captors and empathy for the British captives. “What people aren’t seeing is the sick bas***** holding the gun to her head just out of camera range. I’m sure that most [rationale] people know it [the gun] is there, but few realize - can realize — the incredible emotions gripping that hostage as well as the others.

That single news clip, that one image, brought it all back for me,” added this brave American. During our conversation, he corrected me when I referred to him as an American hero, saying that there was nothing heroic associated with being held as a hostage. “I’m no hero, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for better or worse, it changed my life, but I’m no hero.”

I asked this seasoned and well-spoken man, who has since spent the last quarter-century in private life and defensively protects his past and anonymity for reasons he declines to discuss, what it is then, he wanted to make known about the current situation.

“First of all, as someone who has been watching this situation closely for obvious reasons, I want people to know how eerily reminiscent this event is of the embassy takeover in 1979. I’ve heard reporters comparing this incident with the 2004 [hostage] incident, which is wrong. This is much worse, much more dangerous. Whether or not the British strayed over into Iranian waters is perhaps the least important point of this whole incident. What I feel is more important is the initial level of confusion surrounding the taking of the British hostages. Just as the ’students’ reportedly acted ‘independently’ and outside of official Iranian channels, the current Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy seems to have done the same in this incident, but nonetheless under the tutelage and with the blessing of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was himself involved in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy.”

As the conversation progressed, I asked him a near impossible question to answer, but one that I am certain is on the minds of most people in the West: As a former hostage by the Iranians, how do you expect the current situation with the Brits to end? To that question, his response was quick and even terse:

“I don’t know, I have no idea. But 27 years later, we’re still dealing with the same people, the same players. The various governments, the reporters, the networks - they all talk about regime change. Ahmadinejad was there back then, and he is managing this situation the same way right now. Lines were drawn and redrawn in the sand then, as I am sure they will be now. You tell me, what has changed in the last 27 years? The longer this hostage situation goes on, the worse it will become for the hostages. I know this from experience. For their sake, I hope there is a quick solution and they are returned. But personally and having been there, counting the days until I lost count, I’m not holding out much hope, not until we get rid of this problem permanently and forever.”

So, I asked, “how do we do that - what’s the answer?”

After a long pause, he said, “to my knowledge, our own government hasn’t even acknowledged Ahmadinejad’s role in the embassy takeover 1979, and never - not once - talked to me or any of the others [former hostages] I’ve been in contact with about him. To arrive at an answer, it seems to me that you have to address the problem. The West had a quarter of a century to do just that. Twenty-seven years later, and it’s de’ja-vu. My heart goes out to those who are being held. It is just absurd that this is happening in 2007.”

As we concluded our conversation, I asked him if he had changed his mind about being identified by name for the purposes of this article. After all, I reasoned, a lot of time has passed since his days in Tehran. “Exactly,” he replied, and “not now” for that very same reason.