TERRY WAITE, who was kidnapped and tortured 25 years ago by associates of the militant group Hezbollah, has returned to Lebanon to meet representatives of the organisation responsible for his capture.
The 73-year-old returned to Beirut last week to reconcile with his captors and to lay to rest the ghosts of the past.
Meeting Ammar Moussawi, a senior figure within Hezbollah, he told him: “My first reason for the visit is to say the past is the past. Let us leave it.”
Mr Waite highlighted the plight of Syrians fleeing civil war in their homeland and asked for Hezbollah’s help in the run-up to Christmas, he said.
He travelled to Lebanon in 1987 as an envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to try to secure the release of British hostage John McCarthy and other western captives.
But he was accused of being a CIA agent and was himself kidnapped.
For the first year of his captivity, Mr Waite was subjected to beatings and a mock execution. He was kept mainly in solitary confinement, chained to a radiator for 23 hours a day. He was released at the end of 1991.
Mr Waite now describes Hezbollah as a party of “stature”, and said that the West’s view of it is “very negative” and it is seen “quite wrongly” as a terrorist organisation.
“It is my view that Hezbollah can do itself a great deal of good at Christmas, the Christian festival, by perhaps doing something to give some support to the refugees who are in [Lebanon],” he told Mr Moussawi. “When it does, the message will carry beyond the border.
“We all know, of course, of the complex political difficulties that face us all in this region. They cannot be underestimated. But neither must we be deterred by them. If we believe reconciliation and peace is possible, we must risk our lives for it, and I am willing to do that.”
During the meeting, Mr Moussawi denied Hezbollah was responsible for his kidnapping and told Mr Waite that he would be welcome back “any time”. He said: “I want to underline that we as Hezbollah were not responsible for the tragedy that you have undergone, and we regret that you have gone through it.
“It was an unnecessary suffering, but you have kindly said that your suffering was not to be measured in comparison with the great suffering that Lebanon was undergoing.. If the past means anything to us, we should learn our lessons from the past.
“The difficult times need great men. If you consider the fact that you come as a purpose to demolish this wall, that means you are a great man.”
Mr Waite added in a statement: “Hezbollah has a negative image in the West, and there are those who will accuse me on consorting with terrorists.
“I would remind such accusers that Hezbollah has grown into a fully-fledged political party with seats in Lebanon’s parliament, and is now in a unique position to work for peace in the region.
“I met with them quite prepared to put my own sufferings in the past. After all, the people of Lebanon have suffered far more than I have.”