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My Life as a Hostage

March 01, 1987|David P. Jacobsen and Ray Perez | Ray Perez, a Times staff writer, covered David Jacobsen's family during his captivity.

AT 10 MINUTES PAST 8 ON THE COOL, CLEAR MORNING OF MAY 28, 1985, DAVID P. Jacobsen of Huntington Beach was kidnaped at an intersection near the American University Hospital in Beirut. Jacobsen, the hospital's administrator, was forced into a van by six gunmen after a brief scuffle. He had visited California just weeks earlier and was expected back again in less than a month for his son's wedding. But it would be almost a year and a half before Jacobsen would see California again. In the meantime, he would live the ordeal of a Mideast hostage, held captive in turbulent West Beirut by Shia Muslims hoping to force the release of compatriots imprisoned in Kuwait. Today, dozens of foreigners are held hostage in Lebanon, pawns in the religious and political warfare that has torn that country apart. Among them are two Americans--Terry A. Anderson, a correspondent for the Associated Press, and Thomas Sutherland, acting dean of agriculture at the American University--whom Jacobsen befriended in captivity. Here, Jacobsen for the first time paints a detailed portrait of their world.


OUR FIRST ROOM WAS ABOUT the size of the living room of a two-bedroom apartment. It had little wooden partitions to block the view. I was kept blindfolded, but I could tell there were other hostages. I didn't know how many, but I could hear them being asked, "Are you hungry?" When I was taken to the toilet, I had to step over their bedding.

I was chained and put to the floor and told to remain silent. My clothes had been taken from me during interrogation, so I just had my underwear and a cotton tablecloth that served as a blanket. It had little fringes on the end. Fortunately, it wasn't cold. (The weather in Beirut is some of the finest around, similar to Santa Monica's.) Though I was chained by my right ankle and right hand, I was able to turn and to do push-ups and even leg lifts. I couldn't do sit-ups, but sometimes after I was taken to the toilet, I'd say, "Hey, I need some exercise," and would jog in place for a couple of minutes.

After five weeks, I was taken to another room, this one about 12 feet wide, with high ceilings. I had my blindfold on and was chained, but after the door was locked I lifted my blindfold to see where I was. A guy was sitting in the other corner, peeking through his blindfold. It was Terry Anderson.

We were alone for a month, and during the day, when the door was locked, we chatted very quietly. Anderson had 74 days' seniority on me as a prisoner and had picked up a little information. We knew there were Americans next door, and Anderson--who had reported on their kidnapings for the Associated Press--had guessed that they were Father Lawrence Martin Jenco and the Rev. Benjamin Weir.

The guards brought us a Bible, but I didn't have glasses so everything was just a fuzz. Anderson had his glasses, but they were broken. Even so, he would read the Bible to me an hour a day when we were permitted to have it.

Our third room brought us all together. We were moved there in July, 1985, when the shelling in Beirut got too close. Waiting for us was Tom Sutherland. I knew him from the university, but not all that well. The guards were going to put Jenco and Weir in another room, but we said, "Hey, stay with us. The more the merrier."

So the five of us were finally together, and each of us had a chaise longue pad. The room was just big enough to fit four pads abreast, with one at the foot. Each day, we were allowed to go to the toilet one by one. We had 15 minutes to take a shower, wash our clothes, empty our urinals, get fresh water and clean our plastic bowls, spoons and cups. The guards got very unhappy if it was 16 minutes, because there were five of us, and the whole procedure took up at least an hour and 15 minutes of their time.

We were not permitted to see our captors. We had instructions to put on our blindfolds whenever they came in the room. When we heard them coming down the hall, we put on our masks. It wasn't a pleasant experience. It was hell. But they weren't pulling out our fingernails. They weren't breaking our bones. They weren't torturing us. We were just kept like rabbits in a cage, without any privileges. We lost all of our freedoms except two: the freedom to think and the freedom to pray.

The first time Anderson and I saw the sun, we weren't even outside. We were taken to a window and permitted to look out for a few minutes. I saw bottle-brush trees and eucalyptuses and was reminded of California. There was a little breeze. Later, we were taken outside to exercise in an enclosed patio, but we were blindfolded most of that time.

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