Hostage Survival

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.

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