When American journalist Charles Glass walked into the lobby of Beirut’s Summerland Hotel just before dawn on Aug. 18, it was with a sense of deliverance. Last June 17, only 27 days after returning to Lebanon to research a book, the former ABC News correspondent had been kidnapped by Iranian-backed Shi’ite terrorists while riding in a car with Ali Bey Osseiran, the son of Lebanon’s defense minister. Sixty-two days later Glass made what to him was a hairbreadth escape—only to be greeted on his return by a Syrian news agency report that, unbeknown to Glass, the Syrian government had arranged his release. Now at home with his family in London, Glass professes to be unconcerned by the story. “After 62 days alone in a room, you understand your priorities,” he told correspondent Jonathan Cooper. “My wife and children are what matter—not a major fuss over whether my colleagues believe me. I am disappointed in my colleagues, but it doesn’t bother me very much.” More to the point, he believes, is the ordeal of a hostage’s kidnapping and confinement. He related his own case to Cooper at his home in London.
We were in a car on the coast highway going into Beirut. A green Mercedes turned left into the traffic ahead of us, blocking the road. Four men jumped out. I noticed a moment later that a similar thing happened just behind us. The men were all very young, in their late teens or early 20s, some with rifles, some with pistols. They told us to get out. One of them saw that I was looking for somewhere to run and shouted, in English, “I will kill you.” It was chilling.
Two of them grabbed me and started pulling me toward the Mercedes. I was resisting. Someone came up behind and belted me with the butt of a rifle. It left my head a little bloody. They dragged me by my feet into their car and kept asking me who I was. I wouldn’t tell them my nationality. My passport was in Ali’s car, but my Lebanese press card, which they took from my back pocket, said I was American. I don’t think they liked that too much. Or maybe they liked it a lot.
We went to an abandoned building where more men were waiting. They blindfolded and handcuffed us, and when it was very dark, they took us to an apartment. We weren’t allowed to speak to each other, but they let us use the toilet. They gave us some sandwiches and fruit. With my fingernail, I carved onto an apricot HELP HOSTAGE, and when I went to the toilet I threw it out the window. I also took a cardboard center from a toilet roll, cut my hand with a razor and, using a feather from a pillow, wrote a similar message that I threw out the window. They were long shots, but you never know. I said to myself on the first day that I was probably looking at a year or two. I was not happy at the prospect, but I wanted to prepare myself psychologically for the possibility.
After eight days I knew Ali and the driver were going to be released because the kidnappers came in and started telling them jokes. Two days after they had gone, the guards said, “Get up and put on your clothes, you are going home to see your family.” I believed them. I was quite disappointed when I found myself being chained to a radiator in another apartment. [Two days after that, Glass was moved again.] The third apartment had a steel plate screwed over the window so that no light came in. The floor was bare except for a foam mattress on a piece of cardboard. There was a hole in the wall through which came the chain that was around my ankle.
I was never tortured, but there was mental abuse. I was forced at gunpoint to make a videotape, and I was told I’d never see my family again if I didn’t. I had to write the statement [in which Glass confessed to being a CIA operative] in my own hand, but I didn’t correct their grammar. I put on a Southern accent to show that I was in the southern suburbs. I tried to look terrified and sobbed to show I was under duress. At the end of the tape I changed my voice back to normal when I said to my family, “I love you.”
They gave me my prayer book [Glass is a practicing Catholic] and three photographs of my family from my suitcase. These things sustained me. I prayed a lot, maybe six hours a day. I also constructed a novel in my mind and made a paper chess set and pretended to play my son George, 9. He always beat me.
I wrote messages in English, French and Arabic and pushed them through a vent in the bathroom wall. The guards found one and went berserk. They called their chief, who held up a grenade and said, “We are not afraid to die. We are not afraid to kill you. If you make any more mistakes, you’ll die.”
They moved me again the next night. They had no time to put up a metal sheet, so they just wedged a heavy wardrobe against the shutters leading to the balcony. [Over a week’s time, Glass says, he gradually worked free of his chains, so that one night, when the guards slept in the next room, he was able to approach the shutters.]
I moved the wardrobe slowly, slowly outward, just enough to slip my body through to the balcony. It was seven stories up, and the roof was too high to reach, so I went through another door to a kitchen. To the left was the front door, the kind that could be opened only with the key, which, luckily, was in the lock. I slid back two dead bolts very quietly, then I locked the guards in.
I ran down the stairs and out on the street. It was after 1 a.m., and I didn’t know where I was. I went into other apartment buildings looking for a name in English or French. They were all in Arabic, and many had little Khomeini pictures beside the bell, and I didn’t think these were the right ones to wake up and ask for help. I then went to a bakery and asked for a telephone, and the two bakers started arguing about whether they had a telephone or not. Then a car drove up, and I asked the driver to take me to the Summerland Hotel. I told him I was Canadian, that my baby was sick and I had to fetch a doctor. It was only a five-minute drive. They were surprised to see me at the hotel, they knew me quite well.
I wasn’t a particularly devout person before, and I’m not born-again now. But I like to feel that God helped me.