- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

The 1985 brutal torture and murder of U.S. Navy Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem was one of the first chapters in the dark history of a radical Islamic global terrorist insurgency. Since then, the world has witnessed the evil face of terrorism time and again, from the bombings of the Khobar Towers to the attack on the USS Cole to the murder of 3,000 innocent people at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

The old wounds of Stethem’s slaying were reopened late last month when the German government released his killer, Mohammed Ali Hamadi, a Hezbollah terrorist, after serving only 18 years of a life sentence. That was a travesty of justice.

Hamadi didn’t deserve such leniency. He was convicted in 1987 for hijacking TWA Flight 847 and the coldblooded murder of Stethem, a Seabee singled out due to his U.S. military service.

Hamadi beat and tortured Stethem beyond recognition, shot him to death, and, in the final act of inhumanity, dumped his body on the runway two days later. Fingerprints were the only way his body was identified. Hamadi and his fellow terrorists held the remaining 39 passengers hostage for 17 days.

The German government’s reason for releasing Hamadi remains unclear, although the subsequent release of a German hostage in Iraq, Susanne Osthoff, has not gone unnoticed. As for Hamadi, he was wise enough not to stick around to ask questions. He gladly accepted his early holiday present and promptly fled to Lebanon, where he reportedly now is hiding.

It is likely Hamadi has sought refuge on the outskirts of Beirut or on the border of Israel, where Hezbollah essentially maintains its own sovereign territory.

Justice will not be served until Hamadi is returned to America and stands trial for his evil actions. America had sought Hamadi’s extradition from Germany since 1987, but was rebuffed because he could face the death penalty here. Thus far, Lebanon has been equally obstinate, reasoning that a retrial of Hamadi would amount to double jeopardy.

When it comes to punishing terrorists, Lebanon could do better than lecture America.

Lebanon’s coddling of Hamadi is disappointing in light of the strides it has made since the Cedar Revolution, which opened the door to democratic institutions and expanded freedoms for the Lebanese people. These positive changes have been met fierce resistance from terrorist nations and their operatives, who have sought to create instability and unrest in the nation.

The February 2005 assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and last month’s murder of a prominent journalist, Gibran Tueni, demonstrate terrorists and the countries that provide them safe haven will stop at nothing to achieve their twisted goals.

Lebanon must join America in sending a clear message to international terrorist organizations and terrorists like Hamadi that their actions — no matter how long ago — will not be tolerated by civilized society.

I have already made that point in a letter to Lebanese officials and will do so again in an upcoming meeting. I have also introduced congressional legislation to eliminate all foreign assistance to Lebanon, which amounted to $35 million last year and a similar amount this year, if Hamadi is not brought to justice. Finally, I have asked the Justice Department to offer a $5 million reward to anyone who provides information leading to Hamadi’s capture or arrest.

America’s path is clear: We will pursue terrorists wherever they seek refuge. No individual responsible for taking an American life should evade the judgment of an American court.

Lebanon can choose to be either a partner in ridding the scourge of terrorism or another obstacle that cows to the most radical elements of society.

Is Lebanon up to the task?

Vito Fossella is a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York.

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