Thursday, December 29, 2005

I Remember Robert Stethem

It seems that many Americans appear clueless about what has been going on in the world around us – either from ignorance of history, from apathy, or from a desire to turn every event into partisan advantage. Perhaps those clueless among us have forgotten Robert Stethem, but I haven't; nor have I forgotten the multitude of atrocities (now numbering in the many hundreds) carried out against Americans by Muslim terrorists before 9/11. I remember Klinghoffer; I remember Buckley; I remember the 241 brutally murdered US Marines sent to Lebanon to help protect the Palestinians there and to help restore Lebanese sovereignty. I remember the Iranian takeover of the US embassy and the 444 days they kept our people in captivity. I remember the Imam poking his cane through the skulls of dead Americans that President Carter sent to rescue those hostages. I remember Somalia and Kenya and the skies over Scotland. I remember it all. And I remember Robert Stethem.

Yes, some of us do remember.

The Des Moines Register
Published December 28, 2005

It's been 20 years since most of us thought about a young man named Robert Stethem.

A U.S. Navy diver, he was one of those people who in an instant moves from obscurity to the front page. The pictures from that June day in 1985 on the tarmac of Beirut International Airport bring it all back: The captain of the TWA jet poking his head through the window as the masked terrorist waved a gun in the background. And the body of an American sailor being thrown onto the pavement.

Passengers and crew were beaten and terrorized for days, but Stethem, 23, who was shot in the head, was the only passenger on Flight 847 to die. It came two years after terrorists bombed the U.S. Embassy and a barracks full of Marines in Beirut.

Those two attacks killed more than 300 people, but the Stethem murder — an innocent young man singled out for a public execution because he was in the American military —stuck in people's minds. For a while anyway.

The hijackers got away. The Navy named a destroyer after Stethem. The sailor's family — including his father, Richard, who grew up in Marathon — grieved and got on with their lives.

Two years after the hijacking, German authorities arrested Mohammed Ali Hamadi after locating explosives in his luggage at the Frankfurt airport. Hamadi was tied to the crime and put on trial in Germany after authorities there refused America's demands that he be extradited to the United States for trial.

There were no official explanations, but two German businessmen were being held hostage at the time. Speculation was the Germans thought sending Hamadi to the United States might guarantee their murders.

Passengers and crew on the TWA flight identified Hamadi as Stethem's murderer, he was convicted in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison.

Except that life in prison in Germany turns out to have no meaning.

Word came a few days ago that Hamadi was released after serving 19 years in jail. He was quietly put on a commercial flight to Lebanon, and nobody seems to know where he is.

U.S. officials have requested Hamadi be turned over to American authorities for trial, but nobody seems optimistic that will happen. Lebanon and the United States have no extradition treaty, so he may be on the loose forever.

Once again, Germany's apparent protection of Hamadi may be tied to a hostage situation. Just two days after Hamadi's release, a German citizen was released by terrorists who were holding her in Iraq.

U.S. officials vow to do everything possible to grab Hamadi.

"We have demonstrated over the years that when we believe an individual is responsible for the murder of innocent American civilians, that we will track them down," said a State Department spokesman.

Stethem's family, of course, is horrified by the news Hamadi has been set free. They're also unhappy they had to learn it from investigators instead of receiving official notice from the U.S. government.

"(President Bush) needs American support for the war against terrorism, but a convicted terrorist goes free, the U.S. government knows it's coming, and they don't do anything to prevent it and afterward they don't say anything about it," Kenneth Stethem, brother of the murdered sailor, said in an Associated Press report.

The Washington Times reported the United States knew of Hamadi's release in advance but did not ask that he be held longer because the earlier requested for extradition was rejected.

The newspaper says American officials have contacted authorities in Lebanon, where Hamadi is reportedly in "temporary custody."

There's no way to know if Robert Stethem's killer will ever be heard from again, but one unnerving report says his presence in Lebanon was confirmed by the terrorist organization Hezbollah.

So maybe Hamadi will show up on the news holding a gun to somebody's head. Maybe he'll work in the background thinking up ways to murder innocent Westerners.

If he's caught, he should hope it's in Germany, where the government has demonstrated it does business with terrorists.

And another view:
Jonathan Gurwitz: Take a few moments to recall freed terrorist's crime
Web Posted: 12/28/2005 12:00 AM CST

Unless you're in the Navy or have an exceptionally good memory, chances are you don't know who Petty Officer Robert Dean Stethem is.

Let me tell you a very little bit about him. To do so, I have to take you back.
Back, before the beheadings in Iraq; before 9-11; before the attack on the USS Cole; before the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; before the Khobar towers bombing; before the first attempt on the World Trade Center; before the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; before bombings in Germany, Greece, Italy and Austria; and before the hijacking of the Achille Lauro.
And I'll begin at the end of his life, on June 15, 1985.

Stethem, a Navy diver, was returning from an assignment in the Middle East when terrorists hijacked his flight. The members of Hezbollah singled out Stethem because he was an American serviceman.

They bound his arms with an electrical cord and beat him mercilessly. Twenty years ago and again last week, my Express-News colleague Roddy Stinson wrote columns in which he drew upon an Associated Press account of Stethem's torture.

"'I could hear the slapping of the pistol,'" said former hostage William Berry. "'I heard screams as he was hit. There were no words. It was like someone was beating a dog.'"

After hours of this savage treatment, they shot Stethem in the head and dumped his mutilated body on the tarmac at the Beirut airport. Stethem was 23. The Navy awarded him the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1987, German authorities caught one of the hijackers of Stethem's flight. They arrested Mohammed Ali Hamadi at the Frankfurt airport carrying liquid explosives in his luggage.

Germany denied a U.S. request to extradite Hamadi for prosecution. In 1989, a Frankfurt court gave Hamadi a life sentence for Stethem's murder. In Germany, however, a life sentence means prison time of between 20 and 25 years with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

Last week, Hamadi walked out of prison a free man. The German government rebuffed continued American requests for extradition and a personal plea from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales not to release him early. He boarded a flight to the Beirut airport where, after a brief detention, he disappeared.

"Just to see him free slays us," Richard Stethem, the seaman's father, told the Washington Times.

Robert Stethem was not the first American victim of Islamic terrorism. But his murder 20 years ago was surely a sign of things to come. And the German government's decision to set his killer free is a guarantee that — in Europe at least — past is prologue.

What makes Hamadi's freedom all the more galling is that only days earlier, the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams had Europeans lecturing the United States about the supposed superiority of their sense of justice. The cold-blooded killer of four people, Williams was feted in Europe — as well as in Hollywood and academia — as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate and a children's book author.

It's a curious morality that deplores the death of an American murderer and sanctions the freedom of the murderer of an American. Whatever may be said of Williams' execution, he — unlike Hamadi — will never kill again.

"What I can assure anybody who's listening, including Mr. Hamadi," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week, "is that we will track him down. We will find him. And we will bring him to justice in the United States for what he's done."
For 16 years after the murder of Stethem, that would properly have been considered an idle threat. Today it is not.

I have never forgotten Stethem or the pictures of his boyish face that I saw that summer in 1985. I have never forgotten, and the nation should never forget, what the terrorists did to him or to the other largely nameless American victims of terror.
Nor should we ever forget the weakness and appeasement that sets terrorists free to kill again.

Late Development: A former German ambassador to Washington and four members of his family were reported missing and apparently kidnapped Wednesday while vacationing in a remote part of Yemen. It was the latest in a string of tourist abductions in the Arabian desert.

Juergen Chrobog, ambassador from 1995 to 2001, his wife and three adult sons were declared missing by the German Foreign Ministry. In Yemen, government officials said the family had been taken hostage by tribesmen who regularly seize Western tourists as bargaining chips in dealings with the government, according to news service reports from Sanaa, the capital.

Perhaps the cowardly Germans are already learning the pitfalls of negotiating with terrorists, and their obvious duplicity in releasing Hamadi will come back to bite them over and over.

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At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Joe Alves said...

I wonder if Dean,Kerry, Kennedy,Reid, Pelosi, and a few of their Liberal ilk remember Robert Stenthem? Oh,---but as Phil Donahue said to Bill O'Reilly in a Factor interview, "We must learn to understand them, first." Ya right, Phil, just keep on drinking that Kool Aid!

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At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Sheryl Stethem said...

Thank you for remembering my brother, I needed to see this as the new year begins. My heart is encouraged to know that others do remember and realize the sacrifice Rob made for the others on the plane and for his country.


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