From the moment Iranian terrorists stormed the embassy in Tehran, we have heard a drumbeat of assurances that the hostages would not be "harmed." The assurances have come from the terrorists themselves, Iranian foreign ministers, mullahs and various self-appointed "spokes-persons." The terrorists have offered selected hostages for view, under controlled conditions, by foreign ambassadors, clergy and a maverick congressman -- all of whom have proclaimed the hostages in good health and spirits.

Those of us who have observed the growing cult phenomena and studied mind control are not in the least placated by these assurances. Nor can we fault embassy visitors for their naive observations. There are many who do not believe that it is possible to assault, subdue and control the human mind from outside itself.

My own indifference to these possibilities was exploded in one bizarre confrontation with my own son after a two-week "indoctrination" in a camp operated by Sun Myung Moon. We, too, were paralyzed and helpless, until it became apparent that the only way to obtain his release was to be a form of forcible extraction.

From this experience, and subsequent study, I am certain that most of the hostages have already been "harmed." Hard clues began emerging immediately. A petition signed by the hostages urging the shah's return. A similar letter by a young Marine. A staged press conference in which one of the black marines, subsequently released, revealed how friendly he had gotten with his captors. The television exhibition of Cpl. William Gallegos in which he praised the captors and favored their position. Then came another television pageant on Christmas Day in which four hostages read canned statements. Any parent who has ever seen his child after a cult programming can recognize in the hostages' demeanor the chilling signs of mind control.

The words of Joseph Subric Jr., before the cameras on Christmas, are lifted whole out of the litany of the cult experience. "My thinking started to turn around. My eyes and mind were starting to awake to the truth," Subric said. I have heard these words before with tears in my soul.

The visiting clergymen were the biggest dupes of all, typical of other naive religious leaders to whom the common denominator of "spirituality" is the overriding consideration in all human endeavor. Their praise for the "spirituality" of the captors totally blinded their judgement. Can people who believe in "God" be all that bad? they surely reasoned. Many a parent with a child captured by the specious cults has taken refuge in such rationalizations.

The evidence has convinced me that the hostages are victims of mind control. I believe they have been brainwashed. A better term, coined by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, authors of the book "Snapping," is "information disease."

The classic conditions for achieving mind control are present -- isolation, fear, sleep deprivation, diet manipulation and control of all information. The hostages are kept apart, have been or still are bound and are prevented from communicating with each other and the outside world. Their principal contact is with their captors. They spend a great deal of time reading. But no one asks, "What are they reading?" What, indeed.

The hostages are also subjected to "love bombing," meaning, "We,your captors, truly love you and the American people. It is your government and president that are Satanic for harboring the shah." A calculated program of dependency, too, has been employed. Permission must be granted for the most basic of human necessities. By granting dispensation, the captors mete out rewards and punishments forcing dependency. The cult's methods exactly. It is probable, too, that they have been broken up into small groups for "confession," a process in which the victims admit their "wrongdoing."

There is certainly, too, a bombardment of allegations and accusations. When the new information -- coupled with the emotional and psychological assault -- "overflows," the victim "snaps," meaning that the subject's mind becomes fixed into a new mode, new beliefs and perceptions.

There appears to be more here than meets the eye. What we are likely to see paraded before the television cameras will be people who are no longer in control of their minds. We are likely to see Americans castigate their government and president, confess to spying, perhaps murder, damn their fellow citizens and inexplicably offer gratitude to their captors for "teaching" them the horrors of American policy.

If a trial occurs, many Americans might look upon these people as "traitors" or "turncoats." They will be neither. They are victims, and they must be seen as victims of a form of rape, mind rape, and our hearts must go out to them. Unfortunately, few of us will really understand. Our allies will be appalled, our enemies reinforced in their hatreds.

For America, a show trial would be an incalculable political disaster, despite our advance protestations. For the hostages, if they are released after their ordeal, it is likely to be a debilitating mental trauma.

They will have to be "deprogrammed," cured of information disease. Even then, their mental health is not ensured. People "deprogrammed" out of cults take months, even years, to recover. Some may never again achieve normality. Others may sink into massive depressions, or worse.

Admittedly, this is difficult to comprehend, and I cannot offer an optimistic vision of the hostages' future. If I am wrong, then consider this little treatise more educational than prescient. But if I am right, then we had better tap the deepest wells of our compassion and understanding. We will need every drop we can muster.