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Daniloff Tells of Soviet 'Mental Torture' in Jail

September 15, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — American correspondent Nicholas Daniloff said Sunday that he was subjected to "mental torture" during two weeks in a KGB prison and that all foreign journalists in Moscow could suffer the same fate just for doing their jobs.

Telling a news conference about the strain of his 13 days in Lefortovo prison, where he was interrogated for more than 30 hours, the veteran correspondent of U.S. News & World Report seemed to shudder at the memory.

"Even though I was not cold, I was not hungry, I was not abused in any physical sense, the mere fact of being transferred into a prison cell, being isolated from your family, from your friends, not being allowed under the Soviet system to have legal counsel, being interrogated four hours a day for two weeks, is a very, very hard burden," he said.

'You Have to Defend Yourself'

"You have to try as best you can to say what is the truth and what is the case, and to defend yourself. And the end result is that when you go back to your cell, you can't get your mind off of the problem, the misfortune which has occurred to you.

"And frankly, I have to tell you it's mental torture. Mental torture."

The 51-year-old journalist could face a prison term of 7 to 15 years or the death penalty if convicted of the espionage charges that the Kremlin has lodged against him.

He said that his case is different from that of Gennady F. Zakharov, a Soviet physicist accused by the United States of spying, who was released from prison in New York at the same time and under the same general conditions as Daniloff was freed in Moscow, each now being in custody of his nation's ambassador.

"As far as I know, Zakharov is a KGB line officer and I am not (an intelligence agent)," Daniloff said. "I am a journalist carrying out his journalistic activity."

Addressing a large group of reporters, Daniloff said that the KGB could have picked any one of them as a bargaining chip for Zakharov's release.

"All of you are potential targets for this sort of action, and it's deplorable," he declared. "One has to ask: Is this an acceptable way of behaving, snatching people off the street in order to gain political leverage in some other case?"

Daniloff urged diplomats to resolve his case before it becomes an important issue in talks starting Friday between Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.

"I don't want that," Daniloff said. "I want to see Soviet-American relations move on a course of improvement. I don't want to see my case preempting a serious negotiation."

Daniloff, who must remain in the ambassador's custody in the Soviet Union while an inquiry into the spying charges against him continues, forcefully declared his innocence.

'God's Full Truth'

"And that, please believe me, is the God's full truth," he said in a voice shaking with emotion.

Daniloff, appearing much thinner than usual, was in a happy mood at the start of the news conference, but at times he seemed to be struggling to control his emotions.

"I am a person of Russian background," he said at one point. "I have many, many dear friends here. . . . I have always tried to be straight . . . and to have this sort of thanks given to me as I am about to depart--it's sad, it's sad."

One problem he anticipated, however, did not arise. Former CIA officer Edward L. Howard, who defected to the Soviet Union to avoid prosecution on espionage charges in the United States, was interviewed on Soviet television Sunday night.

Contrary to expectations, he never mentioned Daniloff by name, although he said in passing that CIA agents sometimes masqueraded as reporters.

Concerned for Colleagues

Daniloff was especially concerned about his colleagues in the large foreign press corps in Moscow, urging them to go beyond official statements and dig for facts despite the risk of drawing attention to themselves.

"I suppose all of us in this room believe that our telephones are bugged," he said, warning that a Moscow assignment can bring unpleasantness and even arrest without reason.

"We have to show elementary courage, and we have to stand up for what we think is the truth," he said. "We know that in coming here there can be unpleasantness, there can be risks. We accept that when we take on this assignment."

Daniloff said he felt that Misha, a 27-year-old teacher from the Republic of Kirghizia whom he regarded as a friend, was asked by the KGB to deliver a package with secret maps to him on Aug. 30. Misha, a nickname, was identified by Daniloff as Mikhail Anatolyevich Luzin, according to an account published Saturday in U.S. News & World report.

After he took the package, eight KGB officers arrested Daniloff. He said he trusted Misha and had no reason to suspect what was in the package until he saw the contents at the KGB prison.

"Once you have been sandbagged . . . you wonder: Why the hell did I do that?" he said. "But I knew this man Misha for several years. I trusted him."

He said it was normal for two friends to exchange presents at a farewell meeting, and he had just given Misha some books.

"If you pursue this to a logical extreme, you won't open your mail because you'll be afraid to find some terrible compromising thing in the envelope," he added.

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