Memories Of Solitary Confinement

Bob Simon, 60 Minutes II, 020225, GD
On Jan. 24, 1991, we learned of the disappearance of CBS News Correspondent Bob Simon during the early days of the Gulf War. As war clouds gather for a possible second conflict, we take a look back with recollections from Bob Simon himself.
Now that another war with Iraq is looming, I've been thinking a lot about the last one, about my own experience.

I got captured by the Iraqis in '91 and spent 40 days in their jails, mostly in solitary confinement.

It was not a pleasant experience, but it had its advantages. I lost a lot of weight. In fact, I thought of writing a diet book when I got out. How to lose 30 pounds in 40 days. Easy. A glass of water and a piece of bread a day. The Baghdad diet. It works.

But I wrote another book instead. Sort of a prison diary. And then I went on a book tour. I was changing planes in Chicago, and a woman came up to me and started asking questions. Prison questions. The problem was, I didn't want to answer questions. I wanted to smoke a cigarette. And after a while, I heard myself say to her: "Let me tell you something about solitary confinement. For 40 days, nobody bothered me."

And after I said it, I realized it was true. I mean, aside from the interrogations, I'd been left alone. For the first - and the last - time in my life.

And it got me thinking: If it happened again, and if I had to have a cellmate, who would I want it to be? I think about that now and then. It's not a bad way to figure out how you really feel about people.

Here are my latest thoughts:

If I had to choose among my colleagues at CBS, I'd go for Andy Rooney. Those of you who know him from television probably think he's a grouch. But I've known him personally for many years, and I can tell you that what he really is, is a grouch. A grouch makes a good cellmate. In fact, the last person you'd want is someone from California. He might ask a guard for a latte or something. Once, anyway.

When I think about public figures, there's no contest. It would be John McCain. He's been there, and there's no substitute for that. Adjustment periods are tough on everyone.

Presidents? Tough call. I'd love to talk to Bill Clinton for 40 days. He's so bright. But he does take up a lot of space. You know what I mean?

I think Gerald Ford would be good. He has always seemed very amiable and modest. A good guy.

I've always liked Jimmy Carter, and I'm really glad he got the Nobel Peace Prize, but I'm afraid he might get a bit preachy. Preachy is not good in a small cell.

Ronald Reagan, before he got ill, would've been a dream. His smile would have kept me going. Even the Iraqi guards wouldn't have been able to wipe it off his face. Not for long, anyway.

Bush the elder? I don't know. I suspect he might get a bit testy or morose, and that's the last thing you'd want. I remember he used to look at his watch a lot. That could be another problem. They take away your watches.

His son, the president? He seems comfortable with himself. That's good in a cell. Speaks in short sentences. That's also good. And, you know, he might actually enjoy a break from Cheney and Rumsfeld.

But if I had to choose from all the people in the world, I wouldn't hesitate. I would choose the three guys who got captured with me last time: Peter Bluff, Roberto Alvarez, and Juan Caldera.

But I don't think they'll be going back to Iraq this time. In fact, neither will I. Once is enough.