Wednesday, February 16, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Anderson family: Life after ordeal in Beirut had its share of torture

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Sulome Anderson first knew her father as a worn photograph, "hugging it all the time, kissing it, talking to it."

When she met him in person at age 6, "I froze. It was scary to see the man instead of the picture," the 14-year-old daughter of former hostage Terry Anderson told a federal judge in her family's $100 million lawsuit against Iran.

A hearing resumed today after U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled Iran in default yesterday because it failed to send a representative to the court. The size of the judgment is the only remaining issue.

Anderson, 52, the former chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press who now teaches journalism at Ohio University, was the longest-held U.S. hostage in Lebanon. He was released in 1991 after 2,454 days. He accused Iran of financing and directing the Islamic fundamentalist Beirut terrorists who kept him captive.

After a day of emotional testimony by Anderson, his Lebanese-born wife, Madeleine Bassil, and their daughter, Sulome, the judge declared that in his 18 years on the federal bench, "I have never heard testimony as compelling as I have today."

In a similar case against Iran, Jackson in August 1998 awarded $65 million to fellow American hostages David Jacobsen, Joseph Cicippio and Frank Reed, and the wives of Cicippio and Reed.

That suit and the one by the Anderson family were filed under a 1996 law that lets Americans subjected to terrorism in foreign countries sue in U.S. courts if the State Department lists those nations as sponsors of terrorism. Iran has been on the list since 1984.

No money has been collected because the 1996 law lacks an enforcement mechanism. But a bipartisan effort appears to be growing in Congress for legislation to allow winning plaintiffs to tap into frozen assets of such countries. The White House also has signaled a willingness to try to work out a way to obtain compensation.

"My kidnappers were Lebanese. . . . But they were trained by, funded by and sometimes led by Iran," Anderson said.

Former diplomat Robert Oakley, the State Department's counter-terrorism chief at the time, today cited "a direct link" between Iran and the hostages in Beirut.

Iran used kidnappings with "shrewdness and total ruthlessness" to increase pressure on the Reagan administration, resulting eventually in covert arms shipments to Iran, Oakley said.

Anderson yesterday recounted the experience of being in chains for nearly seven years, but freedom started a different ordeal for Anderson and his family. He said he drifted for years, having problems in making decisions, relating to his family, feeling comfortable in crowds and expressing emotions.

"I was damaged a great deal more than I was aware of - than anyone was aware of," he testified.

Life was equally difficult for Bassil, seven months pregnant when Anderson was kidnapped. "It was very hard, the waiting. It was agonizing."

At the time, they lived in a Beirut apartment and Anderson was in the process of divorcing his first wife. Bassil and Anderson were married after his release.

Bassil said she felt uprooted, moving to the United States to have her daughter, then to London, then to Cyprus, where she and Sulome waited for Anderson.

"I don't forgive easily. I don't forget easily," she said. "They (Iran) haven't admitted they're wrong. And they should pay."

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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