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Then & Now: Terry Waite

Then: Terry Waite spent nearly five years as a captive in Beirut before his release in 1991.



War and Society

(CNN) -- He was already famous for negotiating the release of hostages in Iran and Libya when the tables turned on British envoy Terry Waite in 1987.

In Beirut, Lebanon, working to free Western hostages, the negotiator was taken prisoner himself. He was accused of working as an American agent (a charge he denies) and endured nearly five years of beatings, interrogations and solitary confinement.

"Sometimes I look back on those years in captivity -- four years in solitary confinement and almost a year with other people -- and I ask myself the question, 'How on earth did I manage to go through that?'" he said.

At intervals during confinement, his captors would hold Waite down with a pillow over his head as the soles of his feet were beaten with cables -- keeping him from walking for up to a week at a time.

Waite credits mental toughness and hope for keeping him alive.

"Because of faith, I could say in the face of my captives, 'You have the power to break my body and you've tried, the power to bend my mind and you've tried, but my soul isn't yours to possess,'" he said. "That little affirmation was enough for me to maintain hope and I think in a situation of real difficulty if you can maintain hope, you're half way home."

As official adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Waite had years of experience in diplomacy before his time in captivity. In 1981, Waite successfully negotiated freedom for several hostages in Iran, and in 1983 he met with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to bargain the release of several British hostages.

More than four years after Waite was kidnapped, the political climate in Lebanon changed enough to allow the United Nations to arrange for his release. He was freed in September 1991.

Following his release, Waite was celebrated around the world and in his native England.

He took a position at University of Cambridge's Trinity Hall in England, where he chose to live in near-seclusion for the first year after his release. He spent much of his time writing a book about his ordeal, "Taken on Trust."

Assimilating into everyday living was tough at first, Waite said.

"I suppose in the first year, particularly in the first months of release, I was in a daze. I still don't have a clear memory of the events in the first weeks following release," he explained. "Initially, when I came [home], I really couldn't sit down and have a meal with my family. I used to eat totally alone in the middle of the night ... because they just couldn't bear the emotional exchange. It was too much."

Today, Waite is a grandfather of three and is approaching age 70, but says he isn't even considering retirement.

Half of the year, Waite gives lectures and writes about terrorism and his experiences as both a negotiator and captive. The other half he devotes to international charity work.

He's traveled from his home to South Africa to bolster AIDS projects and to Kosovo to work with victims of war, mostly women and children. Recently, Waite traveled to southern India to assist in tsunami relief efforts.

He also dedicates himself to Hostage UK, a support group for the families of hostages.

"I suppose having been a captive ... I do find now that I really appreciate life even more fully, and I've got lots of interests," he said.

"I'm immensely fortunate to be able to be involved in so many different projects all around the world which are so absorbing, and I like to think they are doing something to help heal our world."

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