Washington Seethes After Germany Releases Terrorist

America wants to prosecute Hezbollah terrorist Mohammad Ali Hamadi for 1985 hijacking and murder of a U.S. Navy diver. Germany says that Hamadi did his time, and under German law, he cannot be prosecuted twice for the same crime. Besides, according to this article from Der Spiegel, Washington failed to submit the proper paperwork!

By Matthias Gebauer

Translated By Hartmut Lau

December 21, 2005

Original Article (German)    

Mohammad Ali Hamadi; Five of Hamadi's Partners in Crime Outside the Plane
RealVideo[The Hijacking of Flight 847].

Berlin: When Mohammad Ali Hamadi walked out through the gate of Geldern Prison in North Rhine-Wesphalia as a free man last Thursday, he was feeling queasy. In his 19 years behind bars the aircraft hijacker had not forgotten that the United States still wanted to arrest him and bring him to trial for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA jet. "Especially after what we had read in the papers over the last few weeks about the U.S. kidnapping people, we almost had to expect something to happen," said his attorney, Gabriele Steck-Bromme.

[Editor's Note: TWA Flight 847

Hezbollah in Arabic

was hijacked en route from Athens to Rome and forced to land in Beirut, Lebanon, where the hijackers held the plane for 17 days. They demanded the release of the "Kuwait 17" as well as the release of 700 fellow Shiite Muslim prisoners held in Israeli prisons and in prisons in southern Lebanon run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army. When these demands weren't met, hostage Robert Dean Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver, was shot and his body dumped on the airport tarmac. U.S. sources implicated HezbollahRealVideo].

The Lawyer consequently saw to her client's need for a very quick and, above all, low key departure. Hamadi was one of the most well known faces of Palestinian terror in the 1980s. Last Friday they drove to the Frankfurt Airport together and only after they had both cleared passport control and were seated on Lufthansa Flight LH3515 to Beirut did the newly released man feel truly free. After approximately three and a half hours in the air, he had returned home for the first time in 20 years.

During the Hijacking: Terrorists in the Cockpit; A Hijacker threatens Captain Testrake.

At first, Hammadi's departure remained unnoticed. It was not until Tuesday that it became known that Germany's justice system, while not making a secret of it, had released Hammadi as quietly as possible. The only condition of his parole was that he immediately leave the country for Lebanon. Thus he flew to Beirut a free man and was met at the airport by his family. "He wants to start a new life now," said his attorney, who returned to Germany the next day.


However it is not yet certain Hammadi will be able to fulfill his desire to live quietly in Lebanon. As soon as the day of his release, the was criticism from Washington directed toward both the German justice system and German policy. From the reaction it became clear that the United States is unwilling to simply accept Hammadi's return to Lebanon. The case threatens to develop into an international incident between Germany and America. While the German side rests its case on the formal correctness of its decision, the American side makes an emotional argument. American opinion is that a terrorist like Hammadi should never be released.

Robert Dean Stethem, Killed and Dumped on the Tarmac at Beirut Airport.

Accordingly, the tone of yesterday's exchanges was harsh. "We are very disappointed that we didn't get custody of him at the time and that he was released now, before serving his sentence," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormak in Washington. McCormak also said that the U.S. would do "everything" to find Hammadi and bring him to trial before a U.S. court. The spokesman didn't want to say, "from this podium," whether or not the much-debated practice of rendition kidnapping by the CIA would be used. But nothing was excluded.

Members of the family of the American killed during the hijacking critized the decision by Germany's justice system in comments to The Washington Post. "It simply makes no sense," said the mother of victim Robert Dean Stethem, "to release him back to Lebanon where he can rejoin Hezbollah."

Stethem's Parents at the 1995 Dedication of USS Stethem.

More concretely, she accused Germany of "negotiating" with the terrorists. Stethem had been shot to death in the hijacked airplane; subsequently the hijackers threw his body onto the tarmac while the world media's cameras rolled. These pictures are still very current in the American consciousness.


By contrast, the German side acted deliberately unimpressed as if to suggest that the release of a man who had been in the headlines for years was an unimpressive event. Hammadi, having served 19 years, had simply been freed according to normal procedure. His attorney said that both prison authorities and the evaluation of an independent expert had concluded that he was no longer a danger. Consequently the State Court in Cleve decided on November 30, 2005 that he should be released and immediately deported to Lebanon. His lawyer emphasized that he had separated himself from terrorism, had learned a profession and, all in all, had become "a completely new person."

TV Grab of TWA Flight 847 Flight Crew.

The Federal Ministry of Justice chose to low-key the event. They claimed that they didn't know whether or not the sensitive decision had been considered at the federal level. "He served his sentence", was the ministry's reaction, "And Germany is independent." Furthermore, the U.S. had not submitted a formal request for extradition. Such a request would not have delayed the process since, under German law, no extradition is possible for an accused who has already been convicted of the same crime in Germany. Thus everything was done correctly.

Germany had already rejected American requests for Hammadi shortly after he was captured in 1987. At the time Hammadi, was arrested at the Frankfurt Airport because he had liquid explosives in his possession. Germany rejected the American request for extradition because he would have been subject to the death penalty there.

Furthermore, Germany had nothing to gain from the extradition since a number of Germans, whose lives Germany didn't want to endanger by cooperating with Washington, were being held hostage by Hezbollah at the time. The thinking at the time was that it was better to try him and subsequently imprison him in Germany than to permit a spectacular trial and a death sentence in the United States.


Merkel: In For a Chilly Trip to the U.S.?

German was not much disposed to cooperate with the United States, even after his trial. The New York Times and The New York Post quoted numerous anonymous American officials who reported on lengthy trans-Atlantic consultations between Washington and Berlin. According to them, the Germans had consistently informed the Americans that an extradition after the completion of a prison term was impossible. In response, the United States tried to convince the German side to forbid any release on parole. On Tuesday, the Federal Ministry of Justice indicated that it had no knowledge of negotiations with the U.S. on the subject of Hammadi.

The event could become a new point of contention between Berlin and Washington. As early as yesterday, Tuesday, the German Cabinet's spokesperson had to deal with a question about whether or not the topic would be on the agenda during Chancellor Merkel's initial visit to Washington in January. Even if this was not the case, it is unlikely that the Hammadi affair will enhance trans-Atlantic relations between terrorist hunters. In Beirut, Hammadi himself will be closely following the words and threats coming out of Washington. Despite his release from German prison, there are considerable obstacles between him and a normal life.

Hammadi's attorney reacted with shock to demands for additional prosecution and extradition of her released client. "My client has served his sentence, even the U.S. should accept that," said Gabriele Steck-Bromme on Thursday. She noted that international law would exclude any additional prosecution against Hammadi. "I emphatically demand that the U.S.A. accept, and also follow, international law in this case," the lawyer said. A kidnapping by the United States would be a scandal, but would not be, after the revelations of the last months, a surprise. "I very much hope that the U.S.A. does not employ such means," she said.

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