PARIS — Liberated French hostage Jean-Paul Kauffmann, nervous and wan, urged the United States on Wednesday not to "abandon its hostages in Beirut" but to "do something for them as soon as possible."
"It is urgent," Kauffmann told a news conference. "They are suffering."
But the 45-year-old journalist, imprisoned by a Shia Muslim fundamentalist terror group for almost three years, refused to say what he knows about the condition of any of the remaining hostages in Beirut, except that he believes that all nine American and three British hostages are alive.
"It is a question of their security," he said. "The smallest thing you say can have enormous importance over there. I don't want them to suffer because of the slightest thing I say. As a journalist, I understand these questions. But I am a former hostage first, and for that reason I cannot answer them."
Kauffmann, a writer for the newsmagazine L'Evenement du Jeudi, who was released with two other French hostages a week ago, looked confused and tired as he replied to questions for two hours. He blinked often in the television lights, spoke garrulously and lowered his head from time to time to consult cards on which he had prepared notes for replies to anticipated questions.
Talks With Widow
Before coming to the news conference, Kauffmann had talked with Mary Seurat, the widow of Michel Seurat, a French researcher who was abducted with Kauffmann on May 22, 1985, and died in captivity. The meeting clearly upset Kauffmann, and the news conference seemed like an ordeal for him.
Wearing a bright blue sweater and an open-neck shirt, Kauffmann greeted two Americans who sat among the reporters at the news conference: David P. Jacobsen, a hostage released in 1986 by Kauffmann's captors, Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War), and Peggy Say, the sister of Associated Press correspondent Terry A. Anderson, held by Islamic Jihad since March 16, 1985--the longest period of captivity for any hostage.
Kauffmann praised former Premier Jacques Chirac and his minister of interior, Charles Pasqua, for negotiating the release of all the French hostages and said he could not agree with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's steadfast refusal to negotiate for the release of the three British hostages.
"I admire Great Britain," he said, "but look at what has happened. Madame Thatcher has said no, and there still are three British hostages in captivity. France is the only Western country that no longer has any hostages in the hands of the fundamentalists."
Kauffmann then urged the United States not to abandon its hostages just because of the Iran-Contra affair. "I hope that the American government does something very quickly," he said.
Kauffmann said his readjustment to freedom and to his family is progressing, "but it is very difficult." He was very happy to be freed, he went on, but "I arrived in a fog." Since his return, he said, "I wander around the house like a lost soul and sleep for only two to three hours a night."
Even before Kauffmann spoke at the news conference, L'Evenement du Jeudi published a harrowing, nine-page account of his captivity, based on interviews with him.
In it, Kauffmann described the cruelty of his jailers, whom Seurat called neither human nor inhuman but "non-human." Kauffmann said they enjoyed teasing the hostages with lies about their imminent freedom or imminent execution, sometimes holding a gun to the heads of the hostages and then laughing.
Until Seurat was taken away to die alone, he and Kauffmann would spend three hours a day lecturing to each other, with the journalist taking lessons from the researcher in philosophy and Middle Eastern politics, while the journalist talked to the researcher about literature and journalism.
Read Books Over and Over
Kauffmann said he survived by reading over and over the few books available--the second volume of Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace," Jean-Paul Sartre's "The Reprieve," Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Confessions" and the Bible.
He said that he and other hostages were moved often. Once, by peeking through a keyhole, he and another French hostage, Marcel Fontaine, saw a large man they believed to be British hostage Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative who was seized while trying to negotiate with the abductors.
The ordeal for the French ended a week ago Wednesday when a guard told Kauffmann: "It's finished. It's finished for you."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Kauffmann asked. The guard laughed, and said, "Freedom." This time it was not a joke.