ON the morning of March 16, 1985, when three terrorists yanked him out of his car in suburban Beirut, Terry Anderson's personal script got a Hollywood-style rewrite.
Trapped in a tug of war between his Islamic fundamentalist captors and two American presidents, he spent seven years in captivity and became one of the world's most famous hostages.
Yet today, on the third anniversary of his release, Mr. Anderson says he has turned a corner: He concentrates less on piecing together the lost years and more on forging the ones ahead.
``Somebody asked me how it feels to know that your obituary is going to begin: `Terry Anderson, former Middle-Eastern hostage.' I said that when I die I hope I might have accomplished something that will push that down into the second paragraph.''
Anderson, the former Beirut bureau chief for the Associated Press, has written a book about his captivity called ``Den of Lions: Memoirs of Seven Years'' that is now a paperback from Ballantine Books. He plans to write another book about the Middle East. He is a member of an association that builds schools in Vietnam; he heads the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization dedicated to the safety of journalists in hostile localities; and is helping his sister, Peggy Say, to organize a conference on domestic violence.
Between engagements, Anderson spends as much time as he can with his wife, Madeleine, and his young daughter, Sulome. He counts skiing and scuba diving among his passions.
But that's just the start.
Convinced that New York's state government is corrupt and inefficient, Anderson founded a reform-minded group called New York Renaissance. He made news last month by campaigning for Mario Cuomo in the New York gubernatorial race. Such political forays have led some to wonder if Anderson, a Democrat, has an eye on Albany, or even Washington.
``It might happen,'' he says, moments before changing the subject. ``I'm not seriously thinking about it yet. I'm not really thinking in those terms.''
For now, whatever political hopes Anderson harbors will have to wait until his two-year battle with the federal government is resolved.
After requesting access under the Freedom of Information Act to all confidential documents regarding his captivity Anderson received a slew of refusals, a mountain of documents irrelevant to his case, and many more whose contents had heavily censored with marking pens.
Fed up, he filed suit in federal court against 11 federal agencies in September.
While government officials contend that many of the documents contain state secrets, Anderson argues that only a handful could possibly be destructive to national security. He blames the federal bureaucracy for fostering what he calls ``a culture of secrecy'' that is reflexively opposed to releasing any information.
``The first automatic reply when you file for declassification is `no.' Flat `no,' '' Anderson says. ``The Freedom of Information act was passed 30 years ago as a check on the ability of bureaucrats to keep secrets. Once you give a guy the power to put `secret' on something, you have no way of controlling him, because you don't know what he has put `secret' on.''
Anderson says such tight-fisted bureaucratic resistance blocks the free flow of information, keeping Americans from judging their leaders. ``If somebody like [retired Marine Col.] Oliver North, a government official, does something that is against the law or blatantly stupid, these people think it would be an embarrassment to the United States if that were revealed. If officials break the law or do stupid things, they're supposed to be held accountable.''
As the hour-long interview winds down, the former marine officer marvels at the changes in world politics since his capture. He says the threat of international terrorism, particularly hostage-taking, is much diminished, in large part because US officials refused to pay for the freedom of American hostages abroad.
``On the day of my release, [my captors] told me that it didn't work; they didn't get what they wanted,'' Anderson says. ``It wasn't a useful tactic, and they're not going to do it anymore.''
Does he mind giving up seven years to prove that international terrorism doesn't pay?
``Look, I am `the former American hostage,' and that's OK. Do you want me to go around grumbling about it?'' Anderson replies.
Then his voice softens. ``The experience has enriched my life in some ways: It gave me the opportunity to get to know myself a little better, to understand what I believe in, and what I want to do. It gave me a sense of joy, a strong faith, and the absolute certainty that my wife loves me. She waited seven years, after all. That's a long time.''
For others who awaited his release, he has been an enduring source of inspiration.
As he stands up to leave, a young man in a black leather coat sidles up to him and describes how he was once jailed in Iraq for expressing his political views.
``I was also a prisoner,'' the man says, clutching Anderson's hand. ``I have thought about you many times.''