For Terry Waite, Forgiveness Trumps Resentment


By Ru Freeman

Humanitarian, hostage negotiator and former hostage Terry Waite told a Colby audience in April that the treatment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo has undermined the foundation of human international rights that the United States has long championed.

Waite, the former envoy for the Archbishop of Canterbury, has dedicated himself to human rights since he was released after being taken hostage in Beirut in 1987. Working to secure the release of other hostages there, Waite ultimately spent 1,763 days in captivity, including four years in solitary confinement.

In his lecture, sponsored by Gail '62 and Allan Gerrish and associated with Colby's Goldfarb Center for Public Policy, Waite said his experience as a hostage helped form his own sense of morality, one that turns on forgiveness rather than resentment. "It is okay to experience suffering," he said, "but you must not let [that] turn to bitterness."

Waite, who returned to Beirut and publicly forgave his captors, compared his experience with that of the Guantanamo detainees. "These prisoners (at Guantanamo), were taken on suspicion, shackled, blindfolded, not afforded due process, denied contact with family for a long time and some face the death penalty," he said. "There is little difference between their situation and the one I was in."

Responding to a question, Waite pointed out that most of the prisoners released from Guantanamo were nationals of countries considered to be friends of the United States, while others, from countries hostile to the U.S., had remained in custody for nearly two years. "The laws of international human rights were born and cradled here," Waite said of the U.S. "We have undermined them in a single strike. These are laws that cannot be divided between how they are applied to our friends and how we apply them to others. That is not justice."

He said recent events have created enormous distrust of the U.S. and its allies and increased resentment of U.S. power and wealth. "Never has the power of America been so great and never has its standing been so low," Waite said. "This country has fought hard and long for freedom and democracy, and in the end they will win. You can't keep democracy down. In the end, the people of this country, not the brutal politicians, will win. I have great confidence in the American people."