December 29, 2005 | New York Daily News

Freed Terrorist is One Too Many

By: Richard Z. Chesnoff.

Like millions of other Americans, I can't forget the brutal 1985 torture and murder of young U.S. naval officer Robert Dean Stethem.

Apparently, the German authorities can. They've just released Stethem's Arab terrorist killer from prison and sent him back to his buddies in Beirut.

Stethem, a 23-year-old Navy diver, was returning from an assignment in the Mideast aboard TWA Flight 847 when Mohammed Ali Hammadi and another Islamic fanatic hijacked the plane on June 14, 1985.

For the next 17 days, the gun-waving terrorists forced pilots, plane and 145 passengers on a circuitous route: twice to Algiers and twice to Beirut. Finally, after Israel agreed to release 435 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners from its jails, the passengers were freed.

Not, however, before Stethem had been singled out for being a member of the U.S. military. For hours Rob Stethem was tortured and then apparently shot by Hammadi.

In a final cowardly act, Stethem's limp body was thrown onto the tarmac of Beirut Airport. His beaten body had to be identified by its fingerprints.

The hijackers went free as part of the deal to end the other passengers' ordeal. But two years later, Hammadi was arrested when he tried to enter Germany with a suitcase full of explosives. U.S. authorities immediately demanded his extradition. The Germans refused, citing their opposition to capital punishment. Hammadi was tried in a German court, convicted of Stethem's murder and sentenced to life. Now, less than 19 years later, a German parole board outrageously (and secretly) set free this ruthless killer, who flew off to freedom in Lebanon, which is stonewalling his release to U.S. courts.

Germany's irresponsible decision to release Hammadi was made without even so much as a consultation with the U.S. government or Stethem's horrified family.

This namby-pamby liberation of convicted terrorists must end. If not, Hammadi's release will serve as a dangerous precedent, a thumbs-up to the murderous terrorists, a license to continue slaughtering the innocent as they did on 9/11, as they did in Madrid and London.

Germany's season of stupidity seems to have inspired another here in the U.S., where at least one attorney thinks we should feel sorry for convicted terrorists and traitors.

The attorney for John Walker Lindh – the privileged Californian who converted to Islam while a teenager and ended up in Afghanistan fighting for the Taliban – is petitioning President Bush to commute the 24-year-old's sentence because he's being treated “unfairly.” Captured during the Afghan war, Lindh faced charges that could have sent him to prison for life. Among them: conspiring to kill Americans abroad. He plea-bargained – admitting to one count of providing services to the Taliban and another of carrying explosives during a felony. He was sentenced to 20 years in a medium-security federal prison.

Even Hollywood is soft on terrorists. Steven Spielberg's “Munich” is his version of what happened when Israeli hit teams meted out punishment for the 1972 slaughter of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes by Palestinian terrorists. Spielberg tries to convince us that violent responses to terrorism often promote more violence, that somehow terror is but a reaction to injustice and that in many ways victim, perpetrator and avenger are all in the same moral boat.

That's nonsense!

Terror must be fought unwaveringly. I'd bet money the White House turns down Lindh's request. As for Hammadi, we owe it to Rob Stethem to demand that the Lebanese turn him over. If they refuse, maybe we should take a lesson from the Israelis and find him ourselves. At least it might give Spielberg a plot for another film.