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Return to the Lion's Den

Return to the Lion's Den

Editor's note: Terry Anderson's name is synonymous with the Lebanese hostage crisis. He was held there seven years, longer than any other. On Wednesday, December 4, he celebrates his release, five years ago.

Anderson returned this year to the country he still loves, to witness what he had never before seen: Lebanon at peace. In his exclusive report for CNN, we share in his unique journey.


In this story:

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Terry Anderson, like most people, does not like to be told what he cannot do.

But when Anderson went back to Lebanon in August, he was not simply defying those seven long years when he was told he could not leave Lebanon. He was looking for peace with his past, and found it in Lebanon's still-fragile peace.

"Somehow, this trip is part of our healing," Anderson said.

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Anderson said he doesn't resent those years, or the people who, it could be said, took them from him.

"People call me a victim of Lebanon, say I lost seven years of my life. I didn't lose them -- I lived them."

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Anderson, 49, covered Lebanon's civil war for The Associated Press for three years before his capture in 1985. He was released in 1991, as the 16-year civil war ended.

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His return trip was important to "free myself from some restrictions ... It was very important to the Lebanese. It was a symbol to them, too," Anderson said.

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On-Air CNN Presents: Return to the Lion's Den
Sunday, December 1, 9:00 p.m. ET

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Peace ... and war


Anderson traveled around the small country on his two-week trip to find Beirut re-awakening, but southern Lebanon still struggling with a hangover of violence.

The former correspondent walked along the capital's "green line," dividing East and West Beirut during the war, to watch restoration work on scarred buildings in a $2 billion downtown reconstruction project of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

"We want to maintain the character of Beirut -- the old character of Beirut. This is a very ancient city," said Maher Beydoun of Solidere Construction.

Anderson remembered a very different character from his time living and working along the Corniche, a gracious boulevard along the Mediterranean Sea.

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In southern Lebanon, where the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been on patrol since 1978, Anderson found less had changed than might have been hoped.

He had gone once before -- in June 1982 with the Israeli Army -- when they invaded South Lebanon.

"I suspect I was back down here at least for six months or a year during my captivity," he said.


It was in southern Lebanon that, last April, 102 people died when Israeli shells hit a U.N. compound. Israel, targeting Hezbollah, said it was an accident; the U.N. was not so sure.

"I think it's a very strange place to find myself right at this particular point in my life," Anderson said.

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"The irony is that in the five years since I was released, the hostage-takers have become heroes."

Face to face


During his captivity, Anderson was often blindfolded so he could not see his jailers' faces. On his recent trip, he sat face-to-face with the organization blamed for his kidnapping -- Hezbollah, the "Party of God."

Anderson asked Sayyid Hassan Nasrullah, Hezbollah's secretary-general, what he thought of hostage-taking. The former hostage was confronted with polite indifference.

"I'm not saying whether their methods were good or not, right or wrong," Nasrullah said. "These actions were short-term, with short-term objectives, and I hope that they will not happen again."

"Can you say, Sayeed, flatly, that this was wrong or a mistake?" Anderson asked.

"I can't make such an absolute judgment," Nasrullah replied.

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Still, it is important to talk, Anderson said, because Islamic fundamentalism will be around a long time and needs to be understood.

"The fact that this is in a way personal, in a way very personal, is there. And it's a bit disturbing. I'm not entirely comfortable."

A question of identity

Lebanon has always been a collection of clans at a crossroads between Asia Minor and Africa, between the Mediterranean and the Arab world.

"We don't have a national identity. I mean Lebanon, of course, I'm Lebanese, but what does it mean to be a Lebanese?" said Walid Jumblatt, head of the Druze clan and a government minister.

Anderson discovered it is the army, as divided as the rest of the nation during the war, that now works hardest to build a Lebanese identity among Lebanon's children. Some former militia fighters are now teaching children to live in peace.

"The idea to have children from all different areas get to know each other, so one from the Bekaa meets another from the south, they can become friends and exchange visits afterwards," said Lebanese Army Col. Attallih Balhass.

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Finally, Anderson asked, how can a people emerge from a 16-year civil war and come back together in a relatively short time as a law-abiding society?


"Nobody says, 'I hate Muslims.' Nobody says, 'I hate Christians.' There is no revenge thing. There is no blood- hatred. There's no war crime trials. Nobody cares. It's all behind them," he said.

Perhaps Anderson, of all people, can best understand this impulse to push forward. In one of his poems, written as he struggled to come to terms with being held hostage, he reflected on life as a hostage, and life after.

"Wasted empty years? Not quite. No years are empty in a life; and wasted? That depends on what's made of them after."

Terry Anderson reported on his trip with the help of several journalists.

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