Arne Baun, Lawrence Beswick, Francesco Minerva

Terrorism, Hostage-Taking, and the Police

VTR Date: June 5, 1977

Guests: Baun, Arne; Beswick, Lawrence; Minerva, Francesco


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guests: Arne Baun, with Lawrence Beswick and Francesco Minerva
Title: “Terrorism, Hostage-Taking, and the Police”
VTR: 6/5/77

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. Today’s program is about terror, terrorism, the taking of hostages, all of which seem to have become epidemic in the contemporary world, even in the United States. Our program, of course, is really about the police action that can most effectively be taken to combat this physical blackmail. And since we record our program on a day when police officials from various parts of the world gather at an international conference at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I’ve been able to invite three distinguished police officials from abroad: Lawrence Beswick of Great Britain, Arne Baun of Denmark, and Francesco Minerva of Italy.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining me today. I know that you’ve been around this country talking about police work in your own country, and perhaps making suggestions, directly or indirectly, concerning our own problem sin this country. And I think I’d like to begin by asking you gentlemen – I put the question first to Mr. Beswick – do you think that the appropriate response to hostage-taking, to terrorism, is related to the particular psyche of a country, or can one generalize that the world over one must deal in police terms with terrorism, hostage-taking in a particular way?

BESWICK: Well, there has been an international conference in London on terrorism and hostage-taking. But I think really that it is related to a great degree to national characteristics. It’s very dangerous, I suppose, in psychological terms to talk about eh characteristics of a country. It’s very inaccurate. But nevertheless, I think that as a broad argument, it’s perfectly true. I think that the American people as a whole are more excitable and have got a more, are more aggressive, and have got a deeper tradition of violence in society, underlying society, than we have in Britain. And I would expect to get a slightly different response from the Untied States than you would have in Britain.

HEFFNER: Well, briefly, how would you deal differently with the taking of a hostage or hostages in Great Britain than you believe we do here?

BESWICK: Yes. In Britain, the idea is to contain the situation. So far, we’ve had a couple of hostage situations where, which have emerged successfully so far as the police are concerned. And this principle of this being to try to contain the situation as much as possible until the situation is resolved. Therefore, the police in Britain tend, I think, to take a minimum action, just to contain the situation. They have a police negotiator, of course, and there is talking going on and there is liaison with the captives. But there are, there’s not so much direct involvement, I don’t think, as you get in the similar situation in the United States.

HEFFNER: Well, let me ask you, Mr. Baun, whether in Denmark there is that same British understatement that perhaps Mr. Beswick was referring to?

BAUN: Well, generally speaking, I think I agree with Mr. Beswick’s evaluation of the situation. I think, however, I must add something. In the first place, in Denmark we have had no incidents as yet. But Denmark is a small country, and we have seen terrorist incidents take place in our neighboring countries in Sweden and in Germany. And as far as our intelligence tells us, we cannot expect the terrorists of this nature that we’re talking about here respects frontiers. So we have to take this challenge as seriously as any country that has seen terrorist incidents. I have participated at a couple of seminars sponsored by Interpol on this matter. And I would say that, interestingly enough the fact that this particular kind of crime has been dealt with internationally has proved or has indicated that you will find some differences of opinion, but you will also find a large amount of unanimity as to how to cope with hostage situations. And of course the overall goal if you have a hostage situation, I think most police forces will agree in, would be to obtain the liberation of the hostage with so little bloodshed as possible, and hopefully without any bloodshed at all. However, a number of differences of opinion emerge when you go a little deeper into the policies applied. And I think the facts may be more interesting than the theories. And if we compare the attitude that the British police has shown, I think we would subscribe to that wholeheartedly in Denmark if we were able to, if our commanded police officers were able to manage the situations the way they did in Great Britain. Of course luck is an important thin in that connection, though I’m sure all police officers involved in these situations have praised their luck. If we look at France, France has had quite a number of hostage situations, and they have not hesitated at some stage to use firearms to kill the hostage-takers in order to rescue the hostages.

HEFFNER: Successfully?

BAUN: And they have done is successfully. And to my knowledge, they have – forgive me if I’m wrong – they also have had casualties. Especially the German police has had, of course everyone knows, both ways. I have seen a film which we use as an instruction in Denmark, film taken from Hamburg. There was a bank robber in Hamburg who shot a policeman and was then trapped, so to speak, in the bank with a number of hostages. And the German counterpart, the Hamburg counterpart of your SWAT teams here came to the scene, and the whole thing was filmed, and you could actually see how the hostage-taker, after some negotiations had been going on, went out, taking with him a hostage, and how he was shot down. It was, from a police point of view, a successful operation as far so that‘s a part of it is concerned. However, it was unsuccessful s far as the beginning of it was concerned because, as the Germans see it, it was bad luck that the first patrol car that arrived to the scene, so to speak, stormed the bank. They should have shown more caution, then perhaps one or two lives might have been saved. So the Germans have proved that if need be they would subscribe to the so-called hard solution.

HEFFNER: The so-called what solution?

BAUN: Well, that’s a translation from Danish. We talk about a hard line or a more lenient line, and the negotiations hard line, depending on how far you are willing to go before you opt for force, for shooting the hostage-taker.

HEFFNER: In your terms then, you’re preparing for a softer line? Softer solution?

BAUN: Well, we hope for a soft solution, as I think most police forces do when they’re planning the negotiation phase, negotiation as far as possible. There again you’ll see differences. And as far as the French police is concerned, I don’t think they’re willing to go at very much length in negotiation phase. They would have some limitations as to how much that they would negotiate with.

HEFFNER: Well, let me ask Professor Minerva if – we’re all aware of the fact that there has been considerable concern in Italy about kidnapping in particular which is a form of hostage-taking certainly – what’s your own response to this soft/hard dichotomy?

MINERVA: I would say that I agree completely with my colleagues. We have this sort of experience in my country that mostly the aim of political terrorism is not to have a ransom in a kidnapping or the money in a bank robbery. Mostly the aim of these criminals is just to generate fear in the people, in the citizens, and to cause a feeling in the citizens. This feeling is mainly a loss of confidence in the democratic system. And I would say that if we try to fight against the criminals with military means or adding violence to the violence of these people, we increase the environment of violence. We are not willing to transform our cities and our towns in a place where policemen and bandits shoot or have fights with weapons, with arms. I think that such a policy would be the wrong answer to this criminal activity which is linked with the political revolution.

HEFFNER: But how long? You’re saying, and I think it’s a fascinating point, that the objectives of terrorists, or terrorism, is to create fear and terror in society, obviously And therefore, if there is war against the police and war by the police, they’ve achieved their objectives. But what’s the point up unto which you go and then finally take the kind of hard action that we’ve been talking about perhaps on the part of the French, and you’ve thought that perhaps, Mr. Beswick, the American police are over faster?

MIVERVA: Of course, mine is a general feeling. I would say that it depends on the kinds of hostages the bandits have. I would explain my idea a bit. If the hostage is a citizen, is a bus-tender, I think that the more important thing is to save the life of the hostage, because if the hostage is killed, the bandits will achieve the results to increase the rate of violence in the country. And I would say that in this kind of policy we could consider this, that we can have a different strategy if the hostage is a normal citizen or he is a police officer, for example, or any people who have a duty to run a risk because its work and his work brought him to run this kind of risk. For example, a magistrate, a civil servant, I will say a policeman. In this case I would think a negotiation would be more difficult, because the aim of the bandits in this case would have been this, just this, to demonstrate that the government has not enough power to stop the terrorism. In the other case, this is a human consideration of the life of normal citizens which had no duty to have, to run the risk to lose his life. I would say that in the behavior of this action in Italy would be different. Of course, this is generally speaking. But according to the single case, we can act in the best way. I think that generally speaking the policy of British police, I would soft-line negotiation but not to give anything to the bandits it’s the best policy.

BESWICK: I don’t think I can speak for the British police, but giving as my own personal opinion, I don’t think that the chief constables of Britain would make any distinction between a police officer who was trapped and any other citizen who was trapped. I think they would be treated in exactly the same way.

HEFFNER: Even though Mr. Minerva said that you’re dealing here with a man whose very life activity is one in which he is taking chances? He’s putting his life on the line?

BESWICK: Well, of course, we like to think in England that the police don’t put their lives on the line to a great extent. We don’t have, we think a very violent society. We have a fairly placid, quite society, and we want tot keep it that way. In fact, the police themselves are very upset when they are attacked and when they are assaulted. And there is an increasing number of assaults upon the police. But I do think it’s important that – and the British attitude on this hostage situation is to play it down as much as possible, and to keep the situation going until it eventually resolved itself. I think you’ve got to remember in these situations that the first few moments, the first few minutes, the first hours are the worst. And once these are over, the situation improves so far as the prospect of getting the hostage out alive is concerned. Despite what I said before about differences in character between say the Americans and the British, I think there’s a great identity of thinking between The Americans and the British on this subject. And I think that’s also shared by the people in ERA where they have the successful end to the ERA MA situation. There, the Irish police played it very cool indeed. They were under all kinds of encouragement to be aggressive and to take a chance and to do some shooting to try to resolve the matter. They resisted all these pressures and they played it very, very softly. And there was a successful outcome. And strangely enough, at the end they were praised. They were praised in a way for being tough in taking this what in effect was a tough line to be soft, if you can understand what I mean.

HEFFNER: Uh hum.

BESWICK: And certainly the British line on this is very much the soft approach. We don’t think – and I think this goes through police thinking in Britain – that we adopt, as far as possible, a low profile. The less we are noticed and the quieter society is in Britain, I think, the better we are, we are pleased.

HEFFNER: Now is that, is it fair to ask you whether that is because you have a certain kind of, shall I say, clientele or constituency, and Professor Minerva has, and the police in Italy have a different kind of constituency, a different kind of public to deal with?

BESWICK: I think we have a different kind of public. One doesn’t want to open issues which I know are very, cause a lot of dissention in your society. But you do have an armed society in the United States, which we don’t have, generally speaking, in Britain, because the use of firearms, the possession of firearms is very strictly controlled in Britain. And you can’t get a firearm in order to defend yourself. And you can’t get a firearm generally speaking, unless you’ve got a good reason to have one.

HEFFNER: Would it be fair to say that that’s changing somewhat?

BESWICK: No, I don’t think it’s changing somewhat. You can’t officially get a firearm unless you’ve got good reason.

HEFFNER: Unofficially?

BESWICK: Of course. Well, a few years ago it was said that the going price of a firearm to a criminal who wanted one and therefore couldn’t get one legitimately had to get it illegitimately, was $10,000. Well, that’s a lot of money. And that is illustrative of the very tight control that the British police have over the issue of firearms in Britain. Of course, you can’t stop, I suppose, firearms coming illegally into the country.

HEFFNER: Mr. Baun, I thought you had something to add to that.

BAUN: Yes, I think I have a couple of comments to make. I, like my colleague from Britain, I disagree with the attitude described by Mr. Minerva. I don‘t think that the Danish police would distinguish as to which kind of hostages were taken. However, a really important distinction, I think, underlies our discussion here. This is the distinction as to which type of hostage-taker we’re talking about. And here we see it, and we have looked at all those incidents that have taken place, that you can roughly divide them into ordinary criminals that want to make money our of the situation and political terrorists who want to have other things and that, who have other goals. And it is not so difficult if they only want money, to some extent. I think it is more difficult if they raise demands that you can only cope with if you, so to speak, break you own legal system. I would mention those examples: The incident at the Stockholm embassy, the West German embassy in Stockholm where the demands were the release of a number of prisoners. This is, of course, a totally different thing. Here the demands are raised, and you ask a government to do something which is unheard of, so to speak. And government has to, more or less, depending of course on the situation, to say no. And that distinction between literal terrorists and ordinary criminals, so to speak, I often think other things evolve…

HEFFNER: Well, may I ask you, interrupt you for a moment…

BAUN: Yes, please.

HEFFNER: …just to ask you about that? The question of what is given…

BAUN: Yes.

HEFFNER: …In return for the release of the hostages, for an alleviation of the situation. What position would you take as an individual on how far a government, how far the police, how far the entire society may go in achieving your objective which is to get the hostages and free them, to get people out of mortal danger? To any extent? Would you go to any extent? Would you put them on a plane and send them out of the country? Or would you say there’s a line that you can’t pass?

BAUN: I definitely must say that I think there is a line you cannot pass. It’s very difficult to describe it because so many things would be involved. I would just add that the goal is not only to have the hostages freed, the goal is also to arrest the criminals and have them tried. That’s the other goal which is quite important.

BESWICK: The British attitude is to make no concessions. And because it is known increasingly that the British police make no concessions, a whole tradition of no concessions is being built up. And it is hoped that this will be implanted in the terrorists’ mind that they won’t get anywhere and it isn’t any use them making demands in Britain. And this is the tradition that we’re trying to build up. And so far it has worked.

HEFFNER: Well, I know that you’re extraordinarily polite and don’t wish to be critical of your host. Would you be willing though to comment on what has happened in this country in Washington recently, for instance?

BESWICK: Yes. I was going to say earlier that despite my earlier remarks I don’t think there’s that much difference between the American and the British position, although I know that some people in America do. I think the main difference between the American and the British position is that the Americans talk, talk out the situation much more than the British do. They keep constantly at the person, whereas the British tend not to do this. They only negotiate from time to time. It’s my impression the Americans negotiate all the time. But apart from that, I don’t think there’s any fundamental difference in philosophy between the British and the American attitudes.

HEFFNER: Well, didn’t you think that in Washington recently there were concessions made? Or would you not consider them…

BESWICK: I do not consider concessions made. I didn’t like the fact that the president promised to speak on the telephone to one of the terrorists. And I don‘t think most police officers who thought about this did. They felt that was going too far and would set an unfortunate precedent for the future.

HEFFNER: He was speaking about another situation going on at about the same time. But in the terrorist situation in Washington in which so many hostages were being held…


HEFFNER: …there concessions certainly were made. Maybe not major concessions, but they were made. Now, I would think, without wanting to be ridiculously hardnosed, that either one says on e occasionally makes concessions, or one says one never does, or one says one always is flexible in this. I understood you to feel that any movement is a mistake, and that there is no movement in England, and therefore there is less of this kind of activity, terrorist activity than we find elsewhere.

BESWICK: Well, in the Abalean streets the commissioner of police of the metropolis made it quite clear that there would be no concessions whatever. And he went on the television and called them vulgar, common criminals, which it is believed the people heard. And it was made perfectly clear there would be no concessions. All I can say, I think, is that so far this has worked. But I have some sympathy with your point of view. I could conceive a situation where the moral position is reached that you either make this concession or the thing is going to go wrong so far as the police is concerned. I can quite see your argument, and I won’t know what the attitude would be if such a decision had to be made in Britain.

HEFFNER: Mr. Minerva?

MINERVA: I think that we have different, in Italy we have a different sort of kidnapping of hostages, because in their country, mostly, the motivation of the people who commit these sort of crimes is very strong. They have a self-destructing personality sometimes. And some other times the political manipulation is so deep that no other thing is taken into any consideration by the criminals. It’s very difficult to approach this problem from the point of view of the law enforcement, since these are not normal criminals. They do not think as normal criminals, and their aims are not the aims of normal criminals. So it’s difficult to approach correctly the problem from the point of view of, only from the point of view of law enforcement, because they have a political aim, and the most important thing is to prevent their going to be approached or fulfilled at all. Then we have to have a consideration to different aspects. Our legislation, our penal code, our statutes, and a way of approaching the political problem that is that these people shouldn’t reach their aim. Then we have different episodes.

HEFFNER: Mr. Beswick seems to be champing at the bit at that one.

BESWICK: Yes, I think I would have to take a different line. Once upon a time there was a very serious crime which afflicted the world called piracy on the high seas. And this was attacked by various means, and it was mastered. The trouble with terrorism is that if you do make concessions and you allow ransoms to be given, it becomes a continuing process. And people realize, and already organized criminals are realizing they can make money out of hostage situations. Well, what the police have got to do is to discourage them most forcibly in that belief. And this is why I am pretty firm personally on no concessions. I just don’t think society can afford this burgeoning increase in this kind of crime, and, you know, this is our sentiment.

MINERVA: I agree with your statement, but I can see another thing that maybe the aim of the criminals is not to have a concession by, in negotiation by the police, but it just could be just to have a violent action, a violent resolution by the police. This could be the aim of the criminals. I mean that if you made no concession, no, you could help the criminals to approach their aim because they can say, “We were obliged to kill the hostage”. Or the police can solve the situation in a violent way using firearms or other means. And in this case, you’ll have a big, you have a larger…

HEFFNER: Gentlemen, I’m sorry. It’s the one time I regret this more than any other time. We have just a little less than a minute left, and Mr. Baun had something he wanted to add.

BAUN: Well, I think I would add that I agree with what has been said by Mr. Beswick, that the most fortunate situation would be if we can reach both our goals that we talked about a moment ago. And the problem is that in planning you have to make contingency planning also for the situation the hostage-takers react in spite of your very wise policies and in an unexpected way. For instance, if in your situation in London they had actually killed one of the hostages. Then the situation had been a new one, and you cannot rely upon those policies that you would have been guided by up to then. So that’s how in your planning you have to take all these things into consideration.