The Independent Archive: Poor old Charlie Glass, not the hero Ollie was

3 September 1987 If Charles Glass really is a hero, why are Americans so reluctant to recognise him as such? asks Alexander Chancellor
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The Independent Culture
18 AUGUST ought to have been a day of jubilation in the United States. After the painful humiliations the US government had suffered in its efforts to get American hostages in Lebanon released, one of them suddenly emerged triumphant from captivity, claiming to have engineered his own escape from the fanatical Iran-loving Muslims whom Americans fear and hate so much.

The man who had apparently outwitted his captors was a former television journalist, Charles Glass. Here was a new American hero waiting to be made, and a much more wholesome hero, one would have thought, than the deluded and deceitful Oliver North, who only the month before had been elevated by the media to this status. But something very strange happened. Instead of giving him the hero's welcome accorded to all previous released hostages, the US government and media went out of their way to make Mr Glass look at best foolish and at worst somewhat sinister.

The tone was set immediately on the breakfast television programmes the morning after Mr Glass regained his freedom, when various American terrorism experts came on the screen to cast doubt on his version of events. Mr Glass had described how he had loosened his chains and escaped while the terrorists holding him in a Beirut apartment were asleep. Maybe that is what he thought had happened, said the experts, but he had not really escaped, for that would have been impossible. He had in fact been allowed to escape as a result of intervention by the Syrians who had been deeply affronted by his kidnapping in a part of Beirut supposedly under their control.

By the end of that day the idea that Mr Glass had not escaped but had been somehow prised out of captivity had become almost universally accepted as the truth. So suspicious of Mr Glass had everybody become that Dan Rather, the anchorman on CBS television's evening news and, according to opinion polls, the most trusted man in America, described Mr Glass as "a young American who says he was a hostage", thus appearing even to doubt the reality of his kidnapping.

As Mr Rather had taken part in various private initiatives aimed at winning his release there is no reason to believe that this is what he meant. He tells me that there was never any question in his mind that Mr Glass was a genuine hostage. But those ill-chosen words uttered at a moment of confusion when every statement about Mr Glass seemed to require qualification, may have been decisive in conveying the idea to the American public that there was something fishy about him.

Nothing has been said since then to alter the impression that Mr Glass was uniquely fortunate among American hostages in having the Syrians on his side. It is, therefore, with great satisfaction that I am able to report that an analysis conducted within the State Department concluded that he definitely escaped, and did so without outside help. Investigators have found not a shred of evidence to indicate that the Syrians contributed in practice to his escape. But they have received evidence to show that his captors were very surprised when they awoke to find that he was no longer there.

So if, as now seems certain, Mr Glass really is a hero, why are the Americans so reluctant to recognise him as such? There are various possible reasons. One is that Mr Glass, as a well-known Palestinian sympathiser, is considered politically unsound. Others could be that he is half-Lebanese, lives in London and is married to an Englishwoman. And there has been undisguised irritation in Washington over the fact that he went to Lebanon without US government permission, thus exposing himself to the danger that subsequently befell him.

But no explanation can really justify the manner in which he has been treated. He suffered fearful hardship in captivity and displayed both awesome courage and devilish ingenuity in his escape. He has deserved a great deal better than he has got.

From `Out of the West' on the Foreign News pages of `The Independent', Thursday 3 September 1987