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2nd U.S. Hostage Freed in Beirut : Lebanon: Frank Reed was held for 3 1/2 years. The American educator says he was blindfolded during much of his ordeal.

May 01, 1990|WILLIAM TUOHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DAMASCUS, Syria — American hostage Frank H. Reed was released Monday night from more than 3 1/2 years of captivity in Lebanon and turned over to U.S. authorities in Damascus.

Reed's release came just eight days after the freeing of another American hostage, Robert Polhill, 55, a former accountant and business professor at Beirut University College.

After being examined by a Syrian doctor at the U.S. ambassador's residence, Reed was flown by a medically equipped U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter to Wiesbaden, West Germany, for more tests and debriefing.

Looking drawn and pale, the white-bearded educator, 57, spoke briefly before reporters and television cameras in the Syrian capital, saying in a composed but thin voice that he had been blindfolded during much of his ordeal at the hands of Lebanese Islamic militants. He seemed particularly emotional at the end of his remarks when he said that his thoughts now center on the "swift release of the other hostages."

Reed made no mention of the "message addressed to the American Administration" that his captors, announcing his impending release in two messages to international news agencies in Beirut on Sunday, said he would be bearing.

The release on Monday followed the same pattern as Polhill's.

The first word of the release came from Syrian authorities who announced that he had been turned over to Syrian troops in West Beirut at about 8:30 p.m. and was being driven in a motorcade to Damascus.

Syrian officials refused to describe how he was handed over. Journalists at the Summerland Hotel in Beirut, where Polhill was released, said they did not see Reed.

After a drive of about three hours, Reed was taken to the Syrian Foreign Ministry, where he was turned over to U.S. Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian.

In the small foyer of the Foreign Ministry building shortly before midnight, Reed, a native of Malden, Mass., who was director of the privately owned Lebanese International School when kidnaped in Beirut on Sept. 9, 1986, immediately faced a barrage of television cameras and blazing lights.

Wearing a dark blue, double-breasted suit, a striped tie and a white shirt that seemed loose around the neck, Reed said he wanted to say hello to his wife and family and "tell them that I am happy."

He said he didn't want to answer questions or say anything "to harm the other hostages."

Commenting that it seemed odd to be without his blindfold now that he was free, he said, "I have been blindfolded for 24 hours a day for 3 1/2 years."

Indicating that he was not literally blindfolded for the entire duration of his captivity, he said that about 2 1/2 years ago, he was given "books to read."

He said, however, that he turned down his captives' offer at one point to watch non-news programs on television. "I did not want to be entertained when I had lost my freedom," he said.

In a communique released Sunday, his captors identified themselves as a previously unknown group, Islamic Dawn.

On his treatment in general, he said: "As far as the food goes that I had, I had adequate food and fresh fruit. I was given an opportunity to bathe, shower. We were given fresh clothes fairly regularly, washed and so on.

"I feel I'm well in terms of the basic organs I have in my body -- my heart, my liver, my kidneys," he said.

Reed thanked the Lebanese people for allowing him "to establish my own school and for opening homes and hearts to me."

He also thanked the Syrian government for "all their efforts in helping me become a free man."

Then he explained what he thought was the difference between "prisoners and hostages."

"When you are a prisoner," he said, "you understand that when being a prisoner, you have a sentence, and you know how long you are going to stay.

"We had no information, nothing given to us. We had no information about who they are. Where we are. We had nothing. No radio. No news to go by.

"The second thing, when you are a prisoner, perhaps you have an opportunity to have visitors and see your captors."

Ambassador Djerejian declared after Reed had spoken: "It is our fervent hope that the release of Mr. Polhill and Dr. Reed will prove to be the beginning of the resolution of this entire issue."

Thanking Syrian President Hafez Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk Shareh, Djerejian said: "Our Syrian interlocutors have told us that they have worked very closely with the Iranian government on this matter--which we view as an encouraging sign."

Shareh added that he hoped that this "second gesture of good will" would bring about the release of the remaining foreign hostages in Lebanon.

In a Tehran Times editorial today, Iran for the first time claimed credit for the release of the two Americans within nine days.

"Something miraculous has happened," the Tehran Times said, because Iran "put in months of hard effort" and "used its maximum power and credibility" to free the first American hostages in more than three years.

However, it warned that it wants reciprocal action from the United States.

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