Richard I. Queen, giving his first public account of captivity in Iran, said yesterday that he was never brainwashed and almost never interrogated, but feels "like Rip Van Winkle" after eight months in virtual isolation.
The 28-year-old embassy vice counsul freed for medical treatment of multiple sclerosis, depicted his hardest ordeal as a period of two to four months in a basement room without windows. At times, he said, he was forbidden to speak with other hostages in the same room.
"In a situation like that, the imagination does horrible things," Queen said at a half-hour news conference. "Living in that basement, it was getting grim -- it really was."
The soft-spoken diplomat, seeming relatively relaxed despite his illness, appeared at the televised news conference after a tumultuous welcome by hundreds of cheering, clapping and whistling State Department colleagues. He offered poignant comments about his experiences as a hostage, voiced hope for the release of the remaining 52 captives and occasionally shed new light on the U.S.-Iran crisis.
He asserted that his Iranian captors were not Marxists or members of the Tudeh Party, the principal pro-Moscow Communist group. "As far as I knew, they were students and they were certainly not Tudeh Party," the Persian-speaking Queen said. "I will definitely say that they were fervent Moslems and were very anti-Communist."
He said he did not learn about the aborted April 24 U.S. military rescue mission until his departure from Iran July 11. "I didn't know a thing about it until then," he said. "News filtered through very poorly and slowly."
Queen noted, moreover, that his conditions of confinement did not appear to have been altered after the U.S. raid. "The conditions for me did not really change," he said.
Immediately after the rescue attempt Iranian militants announced they were dispersing the hostages to other cities away from Tehran. Despite conflicting reports, U.S. officials have said they believe at least some hostages were removed from Tehran.
Although saying he was unaware of the U.S. military mission, Queen indicated, nonetheless, that he had heard vaguely about some unspecified event. iThe hostages thought the United States had "planned something" and then "called it off," Queen said.
Asked repeatedly about what happened after the raid, Queen gave no indication that he was aware of transfers of any hostages away from the embassy compound in Tehran.
The tall, heavily bearded diplomat described his initial medical treatment in Iran as haphazard. When his symptoms first developed last December, a pharmacy student called in a doctor known as "The Quack," he said. Only considerably later, when he suffered more severe symptoms, did a "conscientious and considerate" medical student summon a highly trained doctor for help, Queen said.
He is currently undergoing medical tests and treatment at Georgetown University Hospital and is expected to go to his parents' Maine home in a few days, according to U.S. officials.
Queen, who returned to Washington Friday after a week's hospitalization in Switzerland and West Germany, said he coped with his captivity by reading, trying to teach himself French and playing poker with other hostages. r
"I somehow psyched myself into believing I was back in the university again and just had a lot of reading to do. And that's what I did -- a lot of reading," said Queen, a Hamilton College graduate who received a master's degree in history from the University of Michigan in 1978.
Queen was talked into playing poker by two other hostages with whom he shared a room, Joseph M. Hall, 31, an Army warrant officer, and Charles Jones Jr., 40, a communications technician and the only remaining black hostage. When the militants eventually allowed the hostages to speak among themselves, Jones raised the subject of cards, Queen said.
"Okay, boys, it's time for poker," Queen quoted Jones as saying. "I said, 'Well, I want to read, and I'll play in the afternoon and evenings.' Charlie and Joe had the idea of 24 hours -- or at least 14 to 16 hours -- of poker." His roommates later kidded him, Queen said, calling him the "Jesuit monk."
Other hostages appeared to be bearing up despite the months of confinement, Queen said. "They were pretty strong people," he said. "They were coping with it quite well."
Asked what Americans might do to speed the 52 other hostages' release, Queen replied, "Pray for them." He also expressed a sense of guilt at leaving the others behind. "I feel somwhat guilty -- a little bit -- that I'm here now and they're not," he said.
Queen was accompanied by his parents, Harold and Jeanne, and his younger brother, Alexander, at yesterday's welcoming ceremony and news conference. He appeared to hold back tears as he acknowledged his colleagues' applause with a salute. He showed some difficulty in climbing a step to a raised platform in the State Department's C Street lobby, apparently because of his illness.
At the start of the news conference, he cautioned that he might avoid disclosing some details about his confinement out of concern for the safety of the remaining hostages.He also noted that he has only limited knowledge of how the other hostages were treated because of his relative isolation in captivity, "I can only relate the experiences that happened to me," he said.
State Department spokesman John Trattner acknowledged that U.S. officials had met with Queen in preparation for the news conference. But Trattner said, "We did not coach him. We went to some lengths not to do that -- not to even appear to do that." Queen is scheduled to meet privately with the families of several hostages today.
At the news conference, Queen confirmed previous reports that he had been captured by Iranian militants during the Nov. 4 embassy takeover after he had initially escaped from a consular building in the embassy compound. He spoke about the misadventure good-naturedly.
"I was lollygagging along and I turned on the wrong street," he said. "We just ambled along slowly and they took us [captives] out there."
Along with Queen, eight other consular employes had escaped from the consular building. Five of these were later among the six Americans smuggled out of Iran with Canadian assistance in late January. The three other consular officials were captured along with Queen, and are still hostages.
Asked about possible propaganda methods used by the militants, Queen said, "Speaking strictly for myself, I would say there was no brainwashing." Although the militants occasionally distributed statements among the hostages, he said the Iranians told the hostages not to sign or say anything they would later disavow. "They didn't really pressure us to sign anything," he said.
Queen said he was subjected to "partically nothing" resembling interrogation. He cited only one exception. The militants required him to give them a tour of the consular office, he said. But he said his captors appeared unimpressed by what they saw. "Who cares about this?" he quoted them as saying.
Queen described his captors as including "some really fine people" along with "a few real SOBs." One militant displayed a "childish mentality" and was often "peeved," Queen said. "We just didn't want to speak to him after a while."
Despite their isolation, Queen said, the hostages sometimes heard radio broacasts. Radios were played over loudspeakers in Tehran's streets, he said, and some militants also had radios.
Queen said he did not know why he was eventually moved out of the basement. But, he noted, the militants "didn't like it either down there [in the basement]. I mean, the students complained. . . . They just said this is pretty grim and they took us out."