Lloyd Culbertson, the 76-year-old El Paso electronics instructor who attacked the State Department for doing little to free him and other Americans being detained by Iraqi forces, said yesterday he has had a change of heart.
"On reflection I have got to amend my statement," Culbertson said in a telephone interview from his Texas home. "I believe that the State Department has done something for me and other hostages," although the efforts have been unsuccessful.
Moments after he stepped off an Iraqi jet that brought 47 former hostages to Dulles International Airport on Sunday, Culbertson praised Jesse L. Jackson for helping free the group, but criticized U.S. diplomats.
"The State Department has not lifted a hand for us," Culbertson told a televised news conference. "The people I left 24 hours ago are starving and nobody is doing anything about them."
Culbertson's remarks angered some State Department officials who have noted repeatedly that the top U.S. diplomat in Baghdad as well as officials in Washington have made daily protests to Iraqi officials about Americans being detained in Iraq and Kuwait -- now estimated to number about 2,000.
Yesterday, Culbertson said he was "under a lot of stress and nervous" when he made his remarks Sunday. Furthermore, he noted he had been confined in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City for three weeks and knew very little about what had been happening outside.
"My wife has advised me I was in a news vacuum -- and I guess I was," he said.
Culbertson said no one at the State Department had attempted to change his view -- or even debrief him after his arrival. One department official at Dulles did, however, pull him aside and say: "Thanks for the kind words," Culbertson said.
"I support the State Department in anything it chooses to do," Culbertson said. He said that what he probably should have said was that "Jesse Jackson may have access to Saddam Hussein because, what shall I say, they may have like ideas, ideas unlike any one in the State Department has."
"I am not mad at anybody and I'm sure that the State Department is doing the best that they can," Culbertson said.