William Buckley Murdered

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William Buckley Murdered

"Captive CIA Agent's Death Galvanized Hostage Search"

Newspaper article

By: Bob Woodward and Charles R. Babcock

Date: November 25, 1986

Source: "Captive CIA Agent's Death Galvanized Hostage Search," published by the Washington Post.

About the Author: At the time the article was written, Bob Woodward (1943–) was an investigative reporter for the Washington Post. Woodward is best known for the investigation, along with his partner Carl Bernstein, of the Watergate scandal involving the Nixon administration and President Richard Nixon, himself. During his professional career, Woodward has investigated and written on numerous topics, including terrorism. As of 2005, Woodward is an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, responsible for special investigative projects. When the article was written, Charles R. Babcock was a staff writer for the Washington Post.


In the early morning of March 16, 1984, William Francis Buckley, political officer/station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the United States embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, was kidnapped outside his residence. As Buckley left for the U.S. embassy, armed men forced him into their car. The masked kidnappers would be later identified as fundamentalist terrorists from the Islamic Jihad, which is the parent organization of Hezbollah—its secret terrorist organization. Lieutenant Colonel Buckley—a decorated military veteran of the U.S. Special Forces—had been employed by the CIA since 1965, often in clandestine CIA assignments in foreign countries such as Syria and Pakistan.

Initially, Buckley was to be used by the Jihad for a prisoner exchange. However, the exchange failed to materialize and, instead, Buckley was airlifted to Iran. At that time, several Islamic Jihad members allegedly drugged, and severely tortured and beat Buckley for more than a year. Two of the alleged interrogators and torturers, both high-ranking members of Hezbollah, were Imad Mughniyeh, and Dr. Aziz al-Abub (also known as Ibrahim al-Nadhir).

Mughniyeh was often considered by terrorist experts—before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States—to be more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden. The first terrorist attack planned by Mughniyeh is alleged to be the 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut, Lebanon. His involvement in the kidnapping, severe torturing, and eventual death of Buckley is one of a long list of terrorist events that Mughniyeh allegedly planned and successfully carried out.

Al-Abub is a psychiatrist who regularly in the 1980s used psychological/political persuasion methods such as drugs, brainwashing, and torture to convince hostages to divulge secrets. Al-Abub made graphic videos of Buckley and other hostages during and after torture events with the intent to antagonize foreign governments.

After about fifteen months in captivity, sometime in June 1985, Buckley died from injuries suffered from the brutal beatings of the Islamic Jihad and from medical neglect, specifically identified as untreated pneumonia. His body was returned to the United States on December 28, 1991. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, with full military honors.


For the Reagan administration and especially the Central Intelligence Agency, Iran and the Moslem extremists it supports in the Middle East took on urgent new significance on March 16, 1984, when a man named William Buckley—described at the time as a political officer in the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon—was snatched off the streets of Beirut by a group calling itself Islamic Jihad.

As his captors have since charged, Buckley was the chief of the CIA's Beirut station, U.S. sources have confirmed. He was one of the CIA's leading experts on terrorism, and his kidnapping initiated what one CIA official called the agency's "private hostage crisis." At agency headquarters in Langley, Buckley's colleagues watched help-lessly as their expert on terrorism became a victim of terrorism, which the CIA believed led from Beirut to the revolutionary government in Tehran.

For at least a year, the CIA undertook extraordinary measures, spending what one source called a "small fortune" on informants, intercepting communications and enhancing satellite photographs in hopes of determining where Buckley and other U.S. hostages might be held.

The effort failed. After torture and a long period of medical neglect, Buckley died in Beirut, apparently in June 1985. His captors first declared him dead later in 1985. In a statement released in Beirut earlier this month, they reiterated that Buckley had been "executed" after having "confessed" to working for the CIA.

The Islamic Jihad statement said the group had "volumes written with 'Buckley's' own hand and recorded on videotapes." President Reagan indirectly confirmed that Buckley is dead in his news conference last week, when he spoke of five American hostages in Lebanon; Buckley would be the sixth.

Before Buckley died, the search for him became a crusade for the CIA and a preoccupation of William J. Casey, its director. Agency officials never felt confident that a rescue attempt would succeed. The agency did obtain "irrefutable" evidence that Buckley had been tortured and, after initially resisting, finally broke down and disclosed information about CIA operations, one source said. Some senior CIA officials wept when they heard details of the torture, which was prolonged and painful, the source said.

Buckley was assigned to Lebanon in mid-1983 to help the Lebanese develop methods for thwarting terrorism and to rebuild the U.S. intelligence presence after the bombing of the U.S. Embassy a few months earlier, the sources said. Seventeen Americans died in the attack, including Robert C. Ames, the CIA's chief Middle East analyst, and several other CIA officers.

On March 16, 1984, Buckley was seized on a Beirut street and spirited away—the first of what would become a string of kidnappings of Americans.

Buckley has been the least known among the group of Americans held by Moslem extremists in Lebanon. He had no wife or close family to speak for him. One source said Buckley was picked for the dangerous assignment because he did not have a family. Previously, one source said, Buckley was in Cairo, where he had helped train bodyguards for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, later assassinated.

Terrorists might have suspected Buckley's true identity and targeted him for kidnapping, the sources said. Buckley often carried a walkie-talkie in Beirut and went nearly every day to the headquarters building of the Lebanese intelligence service—and could have been followed, the sources said.

For more than a year, CIA officials, including Casey, held out hope that Buckley was alive, deciding that reports on his whereabouts and condition were contradictory and did not support a definitive conclusion that Buckley had been killed.

At one point, the CIA received help from an FBI team trained in locating kidnap victims. The team went to Beirut but failed to locate Buckley after a month of careful and sophisticated detective work, according to a senior Reagan administration official. Officials now think that Buckley was in Lebanon during the entire period of his captivity, most of the time in Beirut.

At the time of Buckley's capture, the State Department released a brief biography, which said he was from Medford, Mass., and was a graduate of Boston University. It said he had worked as a librarian and as a civilian employee of the Army until joining the State Department shortly before he was assigned to Beirut.


Buckley was the fourth person to be kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in Lebanon during an especially active hostage-taking period from 1982 to 1992. Eventually, thirty people were kidnapped during this ten-year period in Lebanon. While Buckley was a hostage in Iran, the Reagan administration, most especially CIA Director William J. Casey, began concerted actions to locate and free Buckley. A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) team, which specialized in retrieving kidnap victims, was eventually recruited to rescue Buckley.

Upon the death of Buckley, the Reagan administration vowed to make the freedom of American hostages in Lebanon one of its primary policy objectives. As a result of covert operations involving the sale of high-technology weapons to Iran (which was needed for its war against Iraq) by way of Israel, the Reagan administration was able to secure the release of three American hostages. However, the Reagan administration diverted the arms deal money to U.S.-supported, anti-Communist Contra forces in Nicaragua, who were trying to overthrow the Sandinista regime. In the end, these secret actions turned into the Iran-Contra affair, which haunted the Reagan administration when it became publicly known in 1986.

The sources in the Woodward and Babcock article revealed the darkest aspects of Buckley's torture at the hands of psychiatrist al-Abub. It also provided insight into the powerful psychiatric drugging and conditioning techniques used by terrorists. Although such psycho-political terror techniques were known in the 1980s, their pervasiveness within the terrorist community has only recently been explained. Investigations conducted on terrorism with regards to the use of psychiatrists and psychologists provided important information on the ways and means in carrying out the violent goals of terrorist groups.



Salem, Elie Adib. Violence and Diplomacy in Lebanon: The Troubled Years, 1982–1988. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 1995.

Smit, Ferdinand. The Battle for South Lebanon: The Radicalization of Lebanon's Shi'ites, 1982–1985. Amsterdam: Bulaag, 2000.

Web sites

Arlington National Cemetery. "William Francis Buckley, Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army Assassinated CIA Station Chief." <http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/wbuckley.htm> (accessed June 14, 2005).

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