Jesse L. Jackson yesterday once again found himself in the worldwide spotlight of a Middle East hostage crisis.
In January 1984, Jackson secured the release of Lt. Robert O. Goodman Jr., a Navy pilot who had been shot down over Lebanon. Yesterday, Jackson returned once again from the Middle East, this time in the company of 47 Americans who had been freed from Iraq and Kuwait.
Jackson's trip to Iraq was paid for by "Inside Edition," a syndicated King World Productions television program, and the civil rights leader and two-time Democratic presidential contender described the journey yesterday as part of his "journalistic mission."
"I am fundamentally a communicator and journalism is communication," said Jackson, who has been criticized for thrusting himself into the center of delicate international situations. "I do not believe in abstract journalism. It has to have a mission."
According to Jackson, he and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein discussed the possibility of freeing some of the Americans during an interview Jackson conducted with the Iraqi leader on Thursday. The next day, with Saddam's permission, Jackson traveled to Kuwait to tour the city and spoke through a gate of the U.S. Embassy with American diplomats who are holding out against Iraqi demands that they leave the compound. After he returned to Baghdad, Jackson said, Saddam told him that he would provide an Iraqi plane to transport the freed Americans if Jackson obtained landing privileges for the aircraft in the United States.
Jackson said he talked later that night with Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger and Joseph C. Wilson IV, acting chief of the U.S. mission in Baghdad, and received permission for the plane to land here.
On Saturday morning, Jackson said, he flew back to Kuwait to pick up about a dozen women, children and sick men and returned with them to Baghdad.
Jackson said he got the idea to seek the release of the hostages when some of their relatives contacted him after he announced that he was going to Baghdad to interview Saddam for his television series, which is scheduled to begin this fall.
"Because I've done this before, people have a certain expectation that I can continue to do it," he said.
He said when he broached the subject of the hostages with Saddam during a background interview Thursday night, the Iraqi leader said, "They are free to go."
"I said, 'There must be some reason, if they're free to go, why they're not going,' " Jackson said.
During his trip to Kuwait the next day, Jackson said, he became convinced that the Americans in Iraq and Kuwait remained in hiding because they were afraid of being detained and because no clear evacuation plan existed.
"We must have a plan of communication, a plan of mobilization, evacuation and transport," Jackson said he told Saddam.
Jackson said he urged Saddam to appear with him on Iraqi television and to repeat his offer so that American women and children would feel secure leaving their hiding places.
"Even though he had given the decree that women and children could go, the fear factor is so great that many people would not surface," he said.
One of the hostages who accompanied Jackson out of Kuwait, St. Louis businessman Edward Johnson, said there were people who would have qualified to go who are still in Kuwait because they were too frightened to come forward.
Most of the people whose release Jackson secured were on lists submitted to the Iraqi government by the State Department. Jackson said he did not know what percentage of the people on the lists were allowed to leave.
Asked why he thought Iraq allowed him to play a role in another hostage crisis, Jackson said:
"I suppose reputable journalists get access that others may not -- reputable and credible communicators," he said. "You should ask them. All I know is people who were once in captivity have been set free and that's all that matters."