Robin Wright's June 30 news story, "Abductions in Iraq Reflect New Strategy, U.S. Says," chronicled a regression to the "bad old days" of terrorism. Until recently, terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda generally staged bombings or other spectacular attacks without linking these events to such specific demands.

The apparent execution of Army Spec. Keith M. Maupin is reminiscent of the hostage-taking in Lebanon in the 1980s.

Lebanese terrorists seized large numbers of American and other hostages in an effort to pressure Kuwait into releasing two Lebanese citizens who were captured after the 1983 attacks on the American and French embassies and other targets in Kuwait.

I served on the State Department ad hoc task force dealing with the situation and remember the immense emotions and pressures from the hostages' families and friends. Amplified by media coverage, the pressures ultimately resulted in the Reagan administration's illegal Iran-contra/Oliver North scheme to trade anti-tank missiles for the hostages.

Hostage situations present a painful dilemma: Solve the immediate problem and run the risk of encouraging more terrorist acts, or stand firm against concessions and risk the death of hostages in hopes of reducing the incentive for further hostage-taking.

We must avoid over-publicizing the plight of hostages and the anguish of their families. This tends to increase the value of the hostages in the perception of their captors. Pressure should be put on those who sympathize with or shield the hostage holders, emphasizing that their brutality does not win sympathy for their cause.


Silver Spring

The writer retired last month as senior adviser in the State Department Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism.