AT HIS HOMECOMING press conference yesterday, Richard Queen, the hostage just released from captivity in Tehran, displayed openness, quiet courage and evident honesty. This 28-year-old American diplomat described his nine-month prisoner's ordeal with humor but without a trace of self-pity, showing no rancor toward his captors, whom he was able to evaluate in personal as well as political terms, but revealing concern for the 52 Americans still held. Aware that it was "my ailment" -- multiple sclerosis -- for which "they dumped me," he observed: "I feel somewhat guilty that I'm here and they're not."
No one not privy to Mr. Queen's private debriefings can tell whether his reports will help American officials shape a more effective strategy for comforting or freeing his comrades, who are now in their ninth month of captivity. It is somewhat reassuring to learn from his restrained public remarks, however, that a medical watch is being kept on the prisoners and that in at least some cases their individual needs -- medical care, food, clothes, letters, books and so on -- are not being ignored. The picture Mr. Queen conveyed was one of a degree of personal solicitude for the prisoners within an overall context of foreceful deprivation of liberty. Attempts at brainwashing, he indicated, had not been part of his experience.
One can assume that Mr. Queen, a professional, spoke his piece yesterday with one eye on the remaining hostages and with the other eye on the Iranian political process to which the administration now looks for their release. The newly elected Iranian parliament, ostensibly the body that will decide their fate, met for the first time over the weekend to start organizing itself and forming a new government. It is commonly said that the dominant clerical faction in the parliament regards the hostages as its badge of anti-Americanism and anti-Westernization and, thereby, as its passport to power. If that is the whole of it, then the interior political struggle on which the hostages' liberty hinges will not be affected by the passage of Richard Queen.
We hope, nonetheless, that the clericl faction in Iran, and the others, pay some attention to him. If they do, they should be able to perceive a man -- and perhaps through him a country -- of strength and dignity, intending no harm to Iran but determined to see all the captive Americans free. The Iranians holding him asked him when he left, he said, only to "tell the truth." That is the truth he has to tell.