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Survival as a Hostage (Part II)


By Richard Clutterbuck



Surviving the Long Night


Surviving the Long Night is the apt title of the US edition of Jackson's book. Though most kidnaps end within a few days, the victim will do well to face the possibility of a longer ordeal. Again, his most vital task is to maintain his self-respect � and his physical and mental health. The kidnappers will still try to prevent this, but they may gradually relax. Most criminals retain a vestige of humanity which they cannot wholly stifle, though some fanatical political terrorists have none. The Japanese Red Army terrorists are specifically trained to stifle their human reactions and not to allow any softening of their attitude, either to victims or, if they are besieged, to negotiators.


The rapport which often develops between kidnappers and their victims is now well known, and its psychological roots are fully established. Provided that it does not lead him to give away vital information or encourage his kidnappers to hold out for a higher ransom, the victim should not resist the development of this rapport, but foster it. The more it develops, the less likely they are to kill him.


The hostage's greatest enemy is demoralization by inactivity and morbid contemplation.

He should do his utmost to find positive things to do, within the limitations available to him. Exercise programs (like the Canadian Air Force 5BX system) can be done in any space in which a man can stand up and lie down. Mental exercises, such as memorizing details of his cell; or composing a diary or letter to be written later or (Jackson again) short stories, or verses; or designing the ideal home; or trying to memorize plays, poetry or music, can keep the mind from unhealthier thoughts. Planning escapes, however unlikely, may help, and soldiers are trained to start doing this � for psychological reasons � from the moment they are captured.


Provocative non-co-operation is likely to be counterproductive, but the victim may be able to restore his own morale by little victories such as persuading his captors to allow him a pencil and paper, or to alter a phrase in a letter or taped statement which they are compelling him to send out.


The problem of providing written or taped communications is a difficult one. On the whole, it is best to give them fairly freely. Some men will prefer to resist making statements which could be of propaganda value to their enemies; and all should certainly avoid saying anything which will give away important secrets, or put someone else's life at risk. Apart from this, however, resistance may not be worth the price in exacerbation of the captor-hostage relationship. Statements will be recognized by everyone as being made under duress, and will carry no weight. On the positive side, they will help the police and the negotiators to judge the hostage's state of mind, either from his recorded tone of voice, or from analysis of his handwriting by graphologists.


It is possible to agree in advance upon some system of codewords whose use can transmit a particular meaning; but they are probably of limited value. The victim may not know much worth communicating; he may find it difficult to arrange their inclusion without exciting suspicion; and the kidnappers may, deliberately or accidentally, dictate the inclusion of a word which sends a dangerously misleading message.


The conditions of a hostage are calculated to develop total dependence upon his captors. According to their whim, he eats or starves, sleeps or wakes, washes or urinates. He reverts to the relationship of a baby to its mother. His captors can assume the mantle of gods, with (literally) the power of life or death over him. This can be totally demoralizing, especially if the 'gods' are young enough to be his children and their doctrinaire opinions or lifestyle represent all that he despises. Nevertheless, provided that it is recognized, this relationship can be handled in such a way as to develop a constructive rapport, and to weaken the fanaticism and inhumanity of the kidnappers � because the effect works both ways.


Siege and Rescue


If the police discover where the hostage is being held, and can surround it or raid it before he is moved away, a totally new situation arises, psychologically and physically.


The handling of such a situation by police and negotiators is examined in Chapter Ten. The victim can play an important part, both in getting information out to the police, and in influencing the actions of his guards.


The police will be playing for time. One of the effects of this may be the intensification of the rapport between kidnappers and hostages, because they now share the same ordeal. Since the greatest threat to all their lives has become the guns of the police, the hostage may find himself identifying with his captors. He must not allow this feeling to go too far, but it can be helpful to the extent that it further reduces the likelihood of their killing him. He can subtly remind them that, once he is dead, they have not only played their last card, but they have also removed the only insurance they have against the police wading in with guns, grenades or incendiary devices to kill every one of them.


The victim's best course is to do his utmost to calm them, lest they go berserk and kill both him and themselves, and to help spin out the negotiations. He should try both to weaken their resistance and to help to wear them out, physically and mentally. Their position of dominance has been destroyed. He can remind them, kindly if possible, that they can achieve nothing if they are dead, politically or otherwise; and that as kidnappers they have already forfeited all hope of being regarded by the public as martyrs. He may even feel a genuine desire to promise to do his best to reduce their sentences.


He should not agree to negotiate with the police in place of the kidnappers, since the process of negotiation with them gives the police and their psychiatric advisers the best hope of judging their state of mind. He should remember that, if the police know their job, they will have established surveillance microphones very soon after the siege is mounted. He should avoid reminding his captors of this, but should take whatever chances he can to direct the conversation in ways likely to help those who are trying 'to rescue him.


If the kidnap ends with an armed rescue � whether after a siege or by a surprise raid � the hostage must help the police both to save his life and to capture the kidnappers. The police share these aims, so they will almost certainly shout instructions to him. These will probably be to lie down, keep still, and identify himself (if he is wise he will already have tried to communicate, through the bug or otherwise, how he is dressed). And, of course, it will be in everyone's interest if he can persuade the kidnappers to yield