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Survival as a Hostage (Part I)


By Richard Clutterbuck



Being Mentally Prepared


Before considering contingency planning and crisis management, it is important to understand the ordeal of the hostage, because the negotiator must all the time try to visualize what is happening to him, and how he may be reacting.


The hostage will have more chance of survival if he is mentally prepared. The shock of being kidnapped will probably be the worst he ever has to endure. A busy, comfortable, gregarious and secure existence, in which he is always exercising options and getting a response, will suddenly be transformed into a forced inactivity and isolation, with no options at all, and great discomfort and degradation. The transformation will have been violent, and he will have been pushed around and possibly injured. He may have seen his driver or bodyguards killed trying to defend him. He will find himself stripped to his underwear, forced to ask for a bucket in which to perform his bodily functions in full view of people who seem to take a conscious delight in humiliating him. Worst of all will be fear, and particularly fear of the unknown. He does not know whether he will be tortured or killed, or if so, when. The ordeal is open-ended. And it will be made worse by self-pity or reproach:

'why me?', 'if only...' The first few hours will perhaps be the most horrible hours in his life.


He will endure the ordeal better if he has thought about it rationally, but not morbidly.

Depending upon how seriously he regards the threat and the character of those involved, he will gain from having discussed the possibility of kidnap with his wife or his colleagues.

Geoffrey Jackson did so with both, and with the Foreign Office in London. His book is truly valuable reading for anyone facing a high risk.


The more the victim knows about kidnapping, the less will be the fear of the unknown. He will be able to remind himself that only about 3 per cent of kidnap victims have been killed in cold blood (though more have been killed during the snatch or in rescue attempts); and that, though some hostages are held for a long time (one was held for twenty-two months before being released on payment of a ransom), the majority of kidnaps have ended in under five days. And � albeit cold comfort � he can recall that, if it does last longer, the human body and spirit have remarkable powers of adaptation, and that the great majority of hostages have survived without permanent damage.


Soldiers with duties classed as 'prone to capture' (e.g. in stay-behind parties, parachute units or deep penetration patrols) go through a basic program of training to prepare them for the ordeal. This includes simulation of treatment at capture (often painfully realistic), isolation, acute discomfort, degradation, and mental disorientation. All who have done this testify to its value. Even if the ordeal has only been faced mentally, the victim at least knows what to expect, and it will be easier to bear.


The Snatch


The moment of kidnap offers the best � and perhaps the only � chance of escape. Evasive driving has already been mentioned. A high-risk potential victim (or his driver) is more likely to grasp this fleeting opportunity if he has run through some scenarios in his mind, perhaps as he drives to and from work. The basis of these scenarios should be to do what the kidnappers least expect, as the best way of throwing them off their stride.


Curtis Cutter, US consul general in Porto Allegre, Brazil, thwarted a late-night kidnapping attempt outside his home in April 1970, when a car blocked his path and four armed men jumped out. He drove straight at the men, carrying one of them along on his bumper for several yards. The others fired and Cutter was wounded, but he escaped.


It was perhaps with this in mind that, when Hanns-Martin Schleyer's car was blocked by the terrorists' minibus in September 1977, the 'gap' was filled by a girl terrorist pushing a pram off the pavement. She knew that few drivers would run down a baby, and the hesitation proved fatal to the driver, the body guards and, in the end, to Schleyer himself.


Sometimes, particularly in a more lawless society, in which they know that witnesses will not dare to come forward, the kidnappers may deliberately pick a crowded street for the holdup, to give themselves more time and cover. Few policemen or bodyguards would fire unhesitatingly at a man amongst a crowd of innocent bystanders. In one Latin-American capital the victim's car was rammed by another in a long, narrow, crowded shopping street.

The two drivers both got out and a long altercation ensued. The victim got out and joined in. By this time a large crowd had gathered round, amongst which were the other kidnappers (who had meanwhile signalled their other cars to block both ends of the street). Only when they were quite sure that all was set up and that they had got the right man did they produce their guns and bundle him into a car.


Once his car has been stopped and the victim finds himself facing armed men, there is little he can do. Unless police or bodyguards are still fighting to open an escape route, the only sensible course is usually to surrender and do what the terrorists say. Heroics achieve nothing unless there is a real chance of success.


The First Few Days


The victim should, from the moment of his capture, make a determined effort to recover his calm and alertness so that he can start making mental notes of any details likely to help the police. He will be able to compose himself more quickly if he avoids provoking his kidnappers. He should do his utmost to fix in his mind their faces, voices, dress and characteristics; how many they were; and the particulars of any vehicles that were involved. If psychologically prepared, he will be better able to discipline himself, to concentrate on these things rather than on agonizing over why it happened.


 He will probably be forced face down on to the floor of the car so that he cannot see, and he may later be transferred into a closed van, or have his eyes covered and his ears plugged. Nevertheless, he should fix in his mind any clues he can get about his route: time, speed, distance, sharp turns, gradients, traffic lights etc.; and any sights or sound he is able to detect, such as crossing a railway or passing close to the airport; also the direction of the sun. If he has an idea whether he went north or south, he may possibly find a way of communicating this during negotiations, or in written or taped messages he is ordered to send out; even if he cannot do that, the information may help in arresting the gang later.


He should also try to detect the kind of place into which he is taken: e.g. into a garage with inside access to a suburban house, the car park under a block of flats, the back entrance of a shop, or a workshop or a warehouse. If the gang is a professional one, the likeliest eventual hideout (probably after at least one transfer between vehicles, and perhaps also after a brief spell in a transit lockup) will be a house, flat or garage in a quiet, prosperous suburb, which may offer more choices of getaway route than an isolated farmhouse. Again, the victim should consciously store sights, sounds and smells in his memory. At least one hostage contributed to the eventual capture of his kidnappers because he could hear aircraft taking off from a small and recognizable airfield; and another by remembering details of the wallpaper.


The treatment of the victim in the first few days after capture is likely to be at its most brutal, calculated to humiliate and demoralize. He may be injected with some drug such as scopolamine, designed to relax resistance and loosen the tongue. Geoffrey Jackson countered this drug by disciplining himself to talk fluently to the point of verbosity on unimportant issues and, if cornered on important ones, to attempt to blur his answers with more verbosity, in such a way as to make the two indistinguishable.


Interrogators are likely to use Pavlovian techniques of contrasting brutality and kindness, light and dark, noise and silence; and to attempt mental dis-orientation by sensory deprivation, probably keeping the victim permanently blindfolded, with ears plugged, without any means of telling the time of day, with deliberately irregular and unpleasant food (perhaps none at all for a time) and repeated interruption of sleep (if any). He can only steel himself to endure it, knowing that this is probably going to be the worst time of all, reminding himself again and again that the great majority of hostages survive.


He must be particularly careful not to reveal, unwittingly, anything about the likely reactions to his capture. He will probably be asked for a telephone number to ring; and he should think about who is likely to react best to the first message � because this first reaction can influence all subsequent negotiations. He should also avoid discussion about how ransom money might be raised, or to give any clue which will help the kidnappers to gauge the level at which to pitch their first demand. The only exception to this is that he could consider feeding in any genuine reasons why the sum the kidnappers are demanding could not conceivably be found � but this is a dangerous subject, and he may do better to avoid it if he can.


He must do his utmost to restore his own morale. Post-kidnap shock is a major physiological and psychological problem; and the fact that (unlike a soldier or a pilot in war) he may be wholly unprepared for it makes it worse. The kidnappers will do their utmost to exploit this in order to establish total dominance over him; and he must consciously resist that, not by heroics and provocation, but by battling to retain his self-respect and sense of humor. Geoffrey Jackson had his kidnappers laughing within minutes of his kidnapping by accusing them of trying to tattoo the Tupamaro emblem on his hand as they tried to inject him with a drug during the first bumpy car ride. He also took the offensive, though not provocatively, by telling them that he had already agreed with the British and Uruguayan governments that they would make no concessions of any kind to secure his release.


To be continued�