- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2000

Marines' most wanted

If former Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney is elected vice president, he will have a chance to settle some important unfinished business: finding the terrorist killer of Marine Corps Col. William "Rich" Higgins.

A classified Defense Intelligence Agency report we obtained leaves no doubt who is responsible for Col. Higgins' death. He is Imad Mughniyeh, one of the most notorious Lebanese terrorists.

"Imad Mughniyeh was in charge of the execution," the report, labeled "secret," states. The report describes the grisly videotape of Col. Higgins' hanging that was obtained by Syrian security agents. It shows Mughniyeh directing Col. Higgins execution in a windowless room believed to be in an apartment building in West Beirut.

"As Higgins was brought into the room, Mughniyeh appeared to be reading from a piece of paper which he held in his hand," the report said.

Placed on a step ladder, his neck in a rope noose, "Mughniyeh gave an order in Arabic to remove the step ladder," the report said.

The report revealed that Mughniyeh was "responsible for killing of three hostages, two of whom were Americans."

Col. Higgins was taken hostage in 1988 as a U.N. peacekeeper, then hanged by Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists in 1989, his execution recorded on videotape. His body was returned in November 1991. A Navy destroyer was named in his honor.

The Bush administration talked tough about conducting retaliatory military raids and covert commando operations to grab those responsible, but did nothing. "We will hold those who bear responsibility for these murders to account," Mr. Cheney said in January 1992.

The promise was never fulfilled. And so far, none of the terrorists has been captured much less arrested. The only response has been to offer rewards and to hand up a secret indictment.

Mughniyeh was almost captured in 1995 en route from Iran to Sudan. But rather than cooperate with the FBI, the Saudi government tipped off Mughniyeh to the snatch operation. Since the early 1990s, his address remains: Tehran.

The Clinton administration wants to ignore Iran's backing for terrorists like Mughniyeh. In March, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright called for a "new season" of U.S.-Iranian relations.

China sanctions

One of the issues that continues to be a thorn in U.S.-Chinese ties is the sanctions imposed on Beijing for the brutal crackdown on democratic protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

The Pentagon's military-to-military exchange program, restarted in a major way with the visit to China last month by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, has gone to great lengths to ignore or play down the massacre. The killings were carried out by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) armored units that attacked unarmed Chinese camped out in the square.

A major question surrounding the pending China trade bill is whether the current ban on U.S. military technology to Beijing would be lifted.

The sanctions can only be removed by new legislation because they were codified in law. But technically, passage of the trade legislation would make it illegal to continue penalizing China for the massacre, we are told.

President Clinton's top China policy aide, National Security Council staffer Kenneth Lieberthal, is on record as favoring removal of the Tiananmen sanctions.

Capitol Hill sources tell us Republican senators may seek to add an amendment to permanent normal trade legislation that would keep the Tiananmen sanctions in place.

Asked about the easing of the sanctions during his recent visit to China, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen hinted that he favors ending them.

"Of course the sanctions legislation was tied to human rights and to the extent that we can see progress made in extending human rights in China, then I believe that there can be an easing and indeed a lifting of the sanctions in the future," Mr. Cohen said during a press conference in Shanghai.

Race and the Air Force

The nation's oldest predominately black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, has weighed in on racial bias charges against the Air Force's No. 2 chaplain.

At a general conference last month, delegates unanimously approved a resolution demanding the resignation of Brig. Gen. Lorraine Potter. The document, signed by Bishop McKinley Young, was sent to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.

The dispute centers on whether Gen. Potter, the service's first female chaplain to achieve general rank, made a biased remark against black chaplains during a personnel meeting in September 1999.

An Air Force inspector general report cleared her, saying attendees gave conflicting accounts of what she said.

Some Air Force black chaplains say the probe was flawed and want a new investigation. Gen. Michael Ryan, Air Force chief of staff, responded by ordering a deputy to conduct a racial climate survey of the chaplain corps.

"The alleged statement by chaplain Potter has undermined the church's confidence in her ability to treat African-American chaplains fairly," the church's resolution reads. "We, the 46th Quadrennial Session of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, go on record demanding her resignation."

Gen. Potter and the Air Force chief chaplain, Maj. Gen. William Dendinger, spoke to black chaplains at a retreat in Hampton, Va. Later, the attendees sent a letter to Gen. Dendinger, saying, "Although we do not agree with the explanations that were provided by you and chaplain Potter, and the findings of the IG report, we want to reassure you that you have our full support, good will and best efforts toward moving the chaplain service forward."

Intercepts

• Pentagon insiders say Army Secretary Louis Caldera's political stock dropped after he mishandled his proposed shake-up of the Army Corps of Engineers. Mr. Caldera, a former California legislator, has been mentioned as a long-shot vice presidential candidate or as a Cabinet member in an Al Gore administration.

But he didn't help himself earlier this year when leading Republican senators beat back his attempt to take key decision making away from the Corps and put it in the hands of Army political appointees. The Corps has become a major target of the White House, The Washington Post and major environmental groups. Mr. Gore is counting on environmentalists support to win the White House.

• Some Republican senators are praying for a George W. Bush victory for more than the obvious reasons. A Bush win means Sen. John McCain will likely get a Cabinet post and quit the Senate. Mr. McCain has been a major irritant to Majority Leader Trent Lott as he pushes billion-dollar cigarette taxes and more government control over political campaigns. "I think the Commerce Department would be a good place for John," said an unadoring Republican aide.

• We hear that former Republican Sen. Dan Coats is on George W. Bush's list of possible defense secretaries. Mr. Coats, who didn't seek re-election in 1998, served on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Coats is a solid social conservative.

He criticized the military for sexually integrating boot camp. He would be expected to roll back the policy, at least for the first few weeks of training. Mr. Coats also blocked the promotions of some Navy officers who attended the notorious "Tailhook" convention.

Insiders say Mr. Bush may announce his defense secretary selection before the election, using the theme that such pre-appointments let the American people judge how he would govern.

Bill Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at gertz@twtmail.com. Rowan Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at scarbo@twtmail.com.

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