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Originally presented in three parts as the story developed, this review of the recent stunning events in the story of the 1985 murder of Navy diver Robert Stethem is compiled here as part of our Memorial Day 2006 Salute to the fallen. It serves as a grim reminder of the real duration of the war on "terror", and that even in times of "peace" those who serve do so at great risk.
The story remains unfinished. The task is not complete.
Navy Diver's Killer In Beirut (2005-12-21 19:31:56)
This story is developing faster than I can follow it:
Navy Diver's Killer Held In BeirutJeff Goldstein has background on the story here. Stay tuned for further developments.
U.S., relatives slam Lebanese militant's release from German prison
The Lebanese killer of a U.S. Navy diver was in custody in Beirut yesterday, according to U.S. officials who decried his release from a German prison last week and pledged to bring him to the United States for trial.
Relatives of the victim -- Waldorf, Md., native Robert Dean Stethem -- said yesterday they were "devastated" to learn of the killer's release and urged the Bush administration to demand an explanation from Germany.
"Just to see him free slays us," said Richard Stethem, father of the seaman whose beaten body was thrown onto a Beirut runway in 1985.
Mohammad Ali Hamadi, a member of the Hezbollah guerrilla group, received a life sentence in Germany for hijacking a TWA plane to Beirut and fatally shooting Petty Officer 2nd Class Stethem, but was paroled after 18 years and freed on Thursday.
The United States, which has been seeking Hamadi's extradition since his 1987 capture in Frankfurt, privately expressed anger at his early release, but officials said they were determined to "get our hands on him."
"We are going to make every effort to see that he stands trial here in the United States," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. "We are disappointed now that he has been released before the end of his full sentence."
In an unrelated amazing coincidence, a German hostage was freed in Iraq.
German hostage freed in Iraq isn't rushing homeHopefully she'll return "home" soon. It's not clear how many additional terrorists might be nearing the end of their life sentences in German prisons, should the need for more amazing coincidences arise.
A 43-year-old German woman who was held hostage in Iraq for more than three weeks will not immediately return home to Germany, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
"She wants to spend a few days with her daughter protected from the public and so will probably not immediately return to Germany," a foreign ministry spokesman told a news conference.
"We assume however that she will leave Iraq in the near future," he said.
Archaeologist Susanne Osthoff, a convert to Islam who speaks fluent Arabic, disappeared on Nov. 25. She had spent more than a decade working on excavations in Iraq.
Terrorist Walks - For Now (2005-12-22 17:52:09)
The Washington Times:
U.S. officials yesterday said the killer of a U.S. Navy diver had been released from "temporary custody" in Lebanon but refused to rule out bringing him to the United States by force.In light of the the latest headlines - CIA prisons, "domestic" spying, etc, etc, ad nauseum, this is an interesting quote:
The Lebanese government criticized Washington's request to hand over Mohammad Ali Hamadi, saying the militant already had served a prison sentence for the 1985 murder of Robert Dean Stethem of Waldorf, Md.
Hamadi, a member of the Hezbollah guerrilla group, was taken into custody upon returning to Lebanon after his release from a German prison Thursday. He had served 18 years for hijacking a TWA plane to Beirut and fatally shooting Petty Officer 2nd Class Stethem, who was 23 when he was killed.
"What I can assure anybody who's listening, including Mr. Hamadi, 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," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.What would you think if he was "snatched"? What would Senator Jay Rockefeller say?
"We will make every effort, working with the Lebanese authorities or whomever else, to see that he faces trial for the murder of Mr. Stethem," he said.
Here's what happened that day in 1985:
On June 15, 1985 Hezballah Shi'ites brutally beat, tortured and then killed 23 year old Robert Dean Stethem as he was being held hostage aboard TWA 847 commercial airliner. Robert was on his way home after a tour of duty with the US Navy in the Middle East. The terrorists had hijacked the plane with 153 passengers in Athens Greece forcing the pilot to fly twice to Algiers and twice to Beirut during the 17 day siege. The hostages were released after Israel released 435 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.The Navy's guided missile destroyer USS Stethem is named for him.
"When the plane was at the Beirut airport in Lebanon, Petty Officer Stethem was singled out because he was in the US military. After many hours of being cruelly beaten, tortured, and finally killed by the terrorists, they threw his body from the plane in a final disgraceful, cowardly act. The wounds were so terrible that his body had to be identified by its fingerprints.
Throughout the ordeal, Robert Stethem did not yield, and instead encouraged his fellow passengers to endure by his example. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for heroism and bravery. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery."
Robert Stethem's brother Kenneth is a retired Navy Seal:
"Every time I look at the flag now and for the rest of my life,'' said Kenneth Stethem, "the red will represent the blood he spilled, the blue the beating and bruises he endured, and the white the purity and integrity he demonstrated in sacrificing his life.''More here.
I had been in the service for just a few months back then - this incident illustrated quite graphically to me the potential price.
Betrayal (2006-01-14 18:26:54)
Via email, from Katherine Curtis Stethem:
A travesty of justice occurred last month as Germany quietly released Mohammad Ali Hammadi, a Hezbollah terrorist convicted in the brutal murder of United States Navy Diver Robert Dean Stethem during the 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847. Who can forget the words of pilot John Testrake, “They have just shot a passenger. I repeat: They have just shot a passenger.” Who can forget the image of a young American being shoved out of a plane onto the tarmac?Katherine Stethem is married to Patrick Stethem, Robert’s brother.
The feeling of betrayal by the German government, our supposed ally, is overwhelming. Commutation of a convicted murderer’s sentence is bad enough, but to grant him safe passage back to his native country is unconscionable. For twenty years this family has had to live with the knowledge that the other three terrorists associated with the hijacking remain at large. Ali Atwa, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Imad Mugniyah have, with the assistance of rogue nations, consistently eluded capture.
Hammadi was arrested in 1987 in what was then West Germany for possession of liquid explosives in Frankfurt airport. Chancellor Kohl denied President Reagan’s requests for extradition. The United States was assured, however, of the strictest of sentences contingent upon conviction. The trial began in July of 1988. The West German government spent millions of dollars related to security for this trial. They certainly considered Hezbollah enough of a threat to spend an exorbitant amount of money for security. In May of 1989 Hammadi was found guilty of air piracy and the murder of Robert Stethem. He was also found guilty of possession of liquid explosives in West Germany. This man is a dangerous criminal. Germany has released an obvious threat back into the world. Hammadi is in his early 40’s; he has plenty of years left to wreak havoc. It’s beyond belief.
There is no reason that can be given that will suffice. There is no reason that can be given that will satisfy the question as to why such a threat to humanity would be released at all, not to mention prior to serving his full term. The release of Hammadi has denied Rob’s parents and siblings their sliver of peace in the knowledge that Rob’s brutal killer is, at the very least, incarcerated. The German government has turned a blind eye to the long standing agreement with the United States that should Hammadi be released an extradition would occur. Or, at the very least, the stage would be set, ally to ally, for a rendition.
Robert Stethem exhibited unfathomable courage and unwavering patriotism during his last hours. The Navy declared him a naval hero, evidenced by the guided missile destroyer that bears the name, USS STETHEM. The United States Congress declared Robert Stethem an American hero. When a man or a woman is formally declared a hero, that person becomes a symbol of their country; they belong to every citizen. Rob Stethem belongs to all of us. Germany’s release and Lebanon’s receipt of the murderer of an American hero is not just an insult, an affront, and a betrayal to the Stethem family. It is an insult, an affront, and a betrayal to every American.
The Hezbollah “party” is now seated in Lebanon’s parliament. Granted, the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with Lebanon, but what better way is there for Hezbollah to exhibit a desire to distance their “party” from extremists than to offer up Hammadi, a dangerous criminal, for extradition? This is an opportunity for Lebanon, the recipient of tens of millions of U.S. appropriations annually, to take a step toward peace and greater world safety. Through the offering of these tens of millions of dollars in aid every year the United States has consistently extended the hand of friendship to Lebanon. It’s time for Lebanon to return the favor. As President Bush stated regarding the war on terror, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” Should Lebanon continue to harbor Hezbollah terrorists, then Lebanon should be formally added to the State Department list of countries that sponsor terrorism and face the consequences.
Lebanon currently harbors other perpetrators of events of terror. The laundry list of such events include the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in which 220 marines and 21 other U.S. service members were killed, the murder of Col. Rich Higgins whose very date of death is uncertain but was declared dead in July of 1990, the murder of former chief CIA officer in Lebanon William F. Buckley, the abduction of American University in Lebanon professors including Terry Anderson, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar towers in Saudi Arabia in which 19 Americans were killed, and the 1983 murders of some 80 U.S. intelligence officials. These atrocities were committed by Iranian-backed Lebanese extremists. Is this list destined to grow? Hammadi needs to be the straw that breaks this camel’s back.
The best case scenario, of course, would be for Lebanon to join the United States and our true allies in zero tolerance for terrorism. Given the unholy alliance, however, between Iran and Hezbollah, such realignment appears to be a pipe dream, at best. Hezbollah, though seated in Lebanon’s parliament, is but an extension of Iran. Terrorist mastermind and network coordinator Imad Mugniyah makes Osama Bin Ladin look like a hired gun. The world is becoming increasingly dangerous every day that we allow evil and hatred to run unchecked. What are the consequences for Lebanon? What are the consequences for Iran?
I don’t presume to know what the most expedient course of action would be. Should we punish Lebanon through sanctions or elimination of aid? Do we assist Lebanon in somehow wrenching them from the grip of Iran and Hezbollah? Is that even possible? I do know this: doing nothing at all is beyond unacceptable; it is morally reprehensible. Senator Barbara Milkulski of Maryland has drafted a letter to Secretary of State Rice requesting the institution of a formal diplomatic request to Lebanon to turn over the terrorists that are being harbored therein.
We are in support of this administration’s war on terror. With heavy hearts we support this administration’s efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. We grieve for the loss of over two thousand service members and are as equally pained by knowledge of Afghani and Iraqi civilian casualties. There has been so much pain. Too many lives have been lost, on both sides, to now lose momentum by allowing Hammadi to slip through the cracks. To storm two different countries with guns blazing, and then to acquiesce to the release of a walking prototype of terror would be duplicitous and absurd. This administration’s inaction and apparent apathy regarding this event would be a slap in the face not just to the Stethem family, but to the over two thousand service men and women who have given their lives in Afganistan and Iraq, the victims of September 11, 2001, and all of the grieving families and friends left behind.
Our family’s emotions are running high. Understandably, that gives way to impatience. Nevertheless, that is where we find ourselves. We are trusting in our government to exhibit the same fortitude and integrity regarding this issue as they have with other matters of terror. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card contacted Richard and Patricia Stethem, Robert’s parents, on Christmas Eve. On behalf of the administration, Card pledged attention and support regarding this matter. The Stethem family would like to maintain confidence in this administration. That being said, we hold our government to a high standard. We expect action.
This 'person', and I use that word only out of respect for this blog, being set free is such a facer to the honor of this country and how we ought to ensure that our brave are treated that it leaves me winded. I don't, do not understand how this was allowed. One good theory/amazing coincidence exists that explains why, and in Susanne Osthoff's shoes, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I knew a murderous swine was put out to roam free in exchange for me. His past and future actions would defile my life forever after.
More importantly however, Robert Dean Stethem's family should get EVERY respect in their treatment by our government in all matters pretaining to their brave son, and this 'person's' release should have NEVER happened. I hoped when it was first reported, and continue to hope now, that his break from justice is curtailed quickly. Having heard nothing about it since is not a good sign.
How I wish the United States cared less for the sensibilities of small countries that cannot resist United States pressure if we threatened retaliation. But in a way, the United States does not bully weaker nations around, not even when it would benefit President Bush politically, perhaps raising his approval numbers 5 to 10% if Bush proved ruthless in acquiring this "individual". America does not bully nations even when we are on the right. And perhaps this is a weakness or perhaps it is a strength, I do not know.
But I do know that this killer would be a perfect UAV target. Why cant we just grab him, put him out in the middle of the desert and test weapons systems on him? Like fuel air dispersal bombs, thermobaric bombs, the semi-automatic Barret.
The AMerican people probably dislikes hearing from Bush that the police action won't solve terrorism, yet Bush has had a lot of terroists prosecuted in GitMo and etc under civilian authority. It just seems, really inconsistent with the Jacksonian contingent of America, who is really out for blood and justice.Posted by Ymarsakar at May 30, 2006 03:00 PM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(2) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)