The voice on the telephone was remarkably strong, clear."Specifically, I'm paralyzed from the waist down and presumably always will be," said Robert Pierce, who was wounded a year ago when Hanafi Muslims seized three buildings in Washington. "My hand, I've had about five operations on my hand, the most recent one to give me a little pinch between thumb and finger . . . It's useful to have something other than the left hand to help you out . . ."
Terror is probably ageless as a political tool.
The 20th century has seen it systematized by ideologues and refined by zealots in unique ways and on an unprecedented scale. The three-day Hanafi siege of Washington is part of that history now, studied by academicians, psychiatrists, police and others in an effort to understand and draw lessons from the event that stunned Washington and the nation a year ago.
Fear is the key. There was a strong reluctance even to talk last week about the incident at the three locations where 12 Hanafi gunmen held 124 hostages for 39 terrifying hours - the B'nai B'rith headquarters on Rhode Island Avenue NW near Scott Circle, the Islamic Center on Massachusetts Avenue NW at the edge of Rock Creek Park, and in the District Building downtown.
There is fear even though the 12 gunmen are locked up in federal prisons all across the country, and generally separated from one another. Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, their leader who conceived and carried out the takeovers in an effort to gain retribution for the 1973 murders of members of his family by the rival Black Muslim, is in a special security section of the Federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. Khaalis must serve at least 41 years before he is eligible for parole. A prison official said he is "pleasant" and "keeps to himself," causing no problems.
The problems Khaalis had caused earlier, however, added up to this toll: one death (Maurice Williams, a WHUR radio reporter was shot dead in the District Building takeover); one injury that may have contributed to death (District Building guard Mack Cantrell was wounded and later died of a heart attack); many serious physical injuries; and many more serious psychological injuries.
Since then, elaborate security measures have been taken at B'nai B'rith and the District Building, although the Islamic Center remains unguarded. Busloads of curious tourists flocked about the center one morning last week much as they had on the day of the takeover. Inside, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Rauf, the center's director who had been held hostage at gunpoint, explained that his board had ordered him not to comment on the incident.
Many people in B'nai B'rith refused to talk to a reporter, and at the District Building a high-ranking official who asked not to be identified said he would not contribute to any article on the subject. he spoke of an aide who still trembles with fear, sometimes, when he answers the telephone. In many minds there is fear that it will happen again. or just plain fear.
There is concern among former hostages and oteh observers that unrestrained media coverage of terrorism nourishes the terrorists, obstructs police action and threatens the lives of hostages. The Hanafi siege led District of Columbia police to try to impose written guidelines on the media for use in future incidents. The effort eventually failed, although most media outlets promised voluntary restraint in line with their own guidelines, written or unwritten.
To an extent, the incident sensitized Washington's Jewish community because the Hanafis had exhibited a good deal of anti-Semitism. "There was some sensitization and increased awareness of the real dangers inherent in group hatred," said Daniel Mann, executive director of the Jewish community Council of Greater Washington, which represents 200 Jewish organizations and congregations." . . . I think that awareness still persists."
Rabbi Joshua O. Haberman of Washington Hebrew Congregation said the "terribly brutal and hair-raising" event brought a "very healthy and beautiful" response from most people involved. "I think in some respects it brought us all closer together," he said. "The Jewish, the Christian, the white and the black communities were all equally victimized by it."
Haberman noted that Rauf and a Presbyterian minister had shared the pulpit with him and that Wallace D. Muhammed, leader of the group that formerly was called the Black Muslims but now is known as the World Community of Islam in the West, spoke in a service at Washington Hebrew Congregation - both events "unthinkable a few years ago."
In Washington's Muslim community, with its different sects including the Hanafis who are said to be closely watched by law enforcement officials, relations remain so sensitive that members of the community for the most part refuse to speak about them. The Hanafis gained some sympathy by their actions, one Muslim source suggested.
For Washington's police, perhaps more familiar in dealing with large-scale crises than many other U.S. police departments because of Washington's role as a showplace for major political demonstrations, the Hanafi incident provided a new experience with large-scale terrorism. As a result, Washington's police have held a series of seminars on terrorism and have sought advice internationally, particularly in Europe where police have had a longer experience with the problem.
When the academic and other debates are over, however, and the theories have been neatly stacked away for future reference, the phenomenon of terrorism comes down to individual people like Bob Pierce, whose whole life has been shattered and redirected in a way he could not have foreseen.
The former hostages have reacted and changed in many different ways during the past year - no two of them truly alike - but for all of them it is clear that having been a victim of premeditated terror was one of the most impressive experiences life could offer.
"Anniversary time brings up a lot of trauma, depression," said Linda Shriber, director of social services at the George Washington University Health Plan and who was part of a team that provide psychological counseling for nearly half of the more than 100 hostages held at B'nai B'rith. "It would not surprise me if they were feeling very distressed."
Several former hostages who agreed to be interviewed confirmed this. "Of late it's bothered me more," said Hank Siegel, B'nai B'rith's public relations man who was held hostage. Siegel said he remains deeply affected by his experience. City Council aide Alan F. Grip said he was initially unaffected, had a delayed reaction that deeply changed his life, but now completely recovered. He said that when he recently read Michael Herr's book on the psychological impact of the Vietnam war on soldiers, "Dispatches," he instantly felt a deep understanding and sympathy.
On the other hand, the city's assistant corporation counsel. George W. Porter, said his experience as a hostage in the District Building had no ill effect on his health or psyche. "I didn't perhaps have the same anxiety as others," he said. "Because of my faith (He is a Methodist.) Not that I would live, but that it would be no great harm if I didn't."
Dr Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist who specializes in terrorism and who was a member of the National Task Force on Terrorism and Disorder, said that the negative effects on hostage victims tend to fall into four categories:
1. General anxieties manifesting themselves in nightmares, startled reactions to objects or situations that seem related to the terror incident - such as a room resembling the room where one was held.
2. Psychosomatic ailments such as gastro-intestinal problems.
3. Depression. "Some of these people get in the limelight and then they're out of it and they suffer a loss.Other are really confronting their own mortality. Others fee very guilty because they survive."
4. Paranoia. "You have delusions . . . A lot are afraid of being targeted again."
In a study he wrote on victims of terrorism. Oclberg noted that they are often symbols of the government and suggested that, "The state might well concern itself with reparation, provision of free care, support to family members, and vigilant attention to the possibility of delayed psychiatric disability."
According to D.C. City Council member David A. Clarke, the city is considering special legislation that would provide Bob Pierce with about $500,000 to pay his lifetime medical expenses. Pierce, 53, a retired federal government employe, was working as a legal intern in the District Building when he was captured and then shot by the Hanafis. He was not covered by workmen's compensation as were other District Building victims, whose bills for medical and psychiatric care were paid for by insurance.
Pierce's lawyer, Charles R. Both, said he is planning to file a lawsuit against the city on Pierce's behalf next week for an amount "well in excess of a few million dollars" in order to cover Pierce's medical costs, lifetime loss of earnings, pain and suffering and "just about every imaginable piece of compensatory damages."
Both said his client will charge that police were negligent in initiating gunfire that caused a terrorist to shoot Pierce and that the city did not properly guard the building. He added that he hopes Pierce will not be perceived publicly as "money-grubbing." He said that, because no special legislation for compensating Pierce has been introduced in the City Council, he must file the suit to protect Pierce before the one-year statute of limitation on such legal action expires.
Council member Clarke said he understands this, and that there appear to be no hard feelings involved in the situation .
The District Building was taken on the afternoon on Wednesday, March 9, when two gunmen burst out onto the fifth floor. As people dived for cover, gunfire explodded in the hallway outside the City Council chambers and 24-year-old reporter Williams was shot dead. City Council member Marion Barry collapsed with a bullet in his chest, and security guard Cantrell was seriously wounded.
Cantrell later died of a heart attack, and the fifth floor hallway has plagues commemorating both him and Williams. A Maurice Williams scholarship fund at Howard University now has an endowment of more than $46,000 and the first beneficiaries will be named next fall, according to a Howard official. Barry is alive and well and running for mayor of the city.
Sometime after the terrorists had gathered their hostages in the outer office of Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, Pierce was shot.
"I was mystified by the whole business before I was shot and I'm still mystified by it," Pierce said in a telephone conversation from his hospital bed in Virginia. "Perhaps it spreads by the publicity. I suppose there always has been terrorism of sorts, but the type we've been having in recent years seems more prevalent - and for the strangest and most diverse reasons."
Pierce said his wife and children have moved out of their house and into an apartment where he will be able to move about more easily when he is eventually released from the hospital.
Meanwhile, he said, he spends his time having operations or in therapy, reading, listening to the radio, and generally fighting bedsores and dwindling muscles. "A lot of time passes waiting for things," he said. "I sleep a lot"
Council member Clarke, who was not in the building during the take-over, said that many of the hostages never returned to work in the building, and some left after a time. "Other people reassessed their life values and made personal changes of a big order," he said.
Grip , an aide to Tucker, said he was one of those. "I had what is called - I eventually had to undergo therapy - a delayed reachtion," said Grip. "I came to work the following Monday (after the siege ended) and went along well for two months. I thought I had everything under control and then I woke up one morning and I couldn't function. I couldn't focus."
Grip went to a clincial psychologist, took time off, got out of the city, and wrote a long article about his experience that was never published but the writing of which was therapeutic. He was fighting, he said, "a mixed bag of emotions . . . a jumble of things that I couldn't sort out."
But about six months ago, he said, he recovered. Now he never thinks of the incident."I've just really wiped it clear . . . I decided I had to look out for number one so I can do my job and relate to people and live a normal life." In th District Building generally, he said, nobody talks about the incident any more.
Alan S. Winter, son of City Council member Nadine Winter who works as a legislative research assistant in the District Building, said his experience as a hostage has had "the most profound effect of any experience" on him. Basically, he said, he is more appreciative now of "some of the breaks I've had."
The attack on B'nai B'brith apparently had come first that Wednesday morning, and the Islamic Center was taken at about the same time. The largest number of terrorists stormed B'nai B'rith, and they were led by Khaalis himself. The largest number of hostages were taken there.
Siegel, the public relations man, had a few months earlier suffered a heart attack while lying in the bed of a hotel room. He had telephoned the manager for an ambulance, then had lain back in his loneliness and in that bleak setting was sure that he was about to die.
Yet strangely, Siegel says now, that experience did not hold the terror for him that the hostage experience did. "The terror was different," he said. "They kept threatening that heads would roll, they'd blow our brains out. They all had daggers and machetes, and they were always pointing something at you."
Siegel attended therapy sessions with other victims, and learned that others had felt during the experience the bizarre sense that Siegel had felt, that "we were really observing the situation from outside our bodies. I felt I was on the ceiling, watching my body. Other people said they felt literally born again when they were freed. It was such a feeling of elation."
Siegel said he learned that some people will never get over their experience, some will get over it quickly, some will have delayed reactions and some no reaction at all. "Two people told me this week they have symptoms because the (anniversary) is coming up," he said. "Also there's a desire or need - most common - to be with people they have known and liked. People feel a strong need to touch the people they like."
Siegel said he remains "very alert" to symbols that remind him of his experience. "I'm ashamed to say it but I'm anxious when a young black male is near me on the street. (I ask myself) "Could he od the same thing?" I've always prided myself on not having any racial prejudice."
Another person at B'nai B'rith, who asked not to be identified, said former hostages there tend to divide themselves into a majority who don't want to mention the incident at all and a minority who want to talk about it incessantly.
"Everybody in this building knows who was a hostage and who wasn't," said the person. "There's a very strong consciousness of. "You were with us (vs.) you weren't with us., . .
Psychologists have theorized that victims of terrorism often come to have sympathy for their captors as human beings, and side with them in one way or another against the police. This was no the case at B'nai B'rith, according to this observer, because "there was no redeeming value in these people . . . they were brutal, murderers, there was no softness on their part, we saw people being hit, (there was) a constant stream of vulgarities . . . "
There is today a sense of doom among many of the victims at B'nai B'rith, said this observer. They are often depressed, overcome with a tragic sense of life, searching for something. "A loss of confidence in the world - this is the key," said the observer. "It comes from people you would not expect to have deep philosophical view. I was surprised by the depth of this feeling, about the evil side of human nature. A young secretary told me, "Now I'm ready for the nuclear bomb. I know what Hiroshima must have been like. I no longer believe in the standard American view of human nature basically good and infinitely improvable. . .'"