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Originally published Monday, December 26, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Remember Robert Stethem

If the Federal Republic of Germany wants to criticize our war against terrorism, that may be Germany's business. But to make side deals...

IF the Federal Republic of Germany wants to criticize our war against terrorism, that may be Germany's business. But to make side deals with kidnappers at the expense of the United States is an act both cowardly and dangerous.

Twenty years ago, Mohammed Ali Hamadi, then 22, was part of a band that hijacked a TWA jetliner on a civilian flight between Athens and Rome. On board was a U.S. Navy diver, Robert Dean Stethem, 23. The hijackers taunted Stethem, beat him, killed him, and dumped the body onto the tarmac. They beat several other Americans and tried to single out Jews among the 39 other passengers they held hostage.

Hamadi was captured by the Germans. The United States asked for his extradition, because the crime had been against a U.S. citizen on a U.S. aircraft, but Germany refused. At the time, two German businessmen had been kidnapped in Lebanon, and the German government did not want to provoke their captors.

A German court convicted Hamadi of murder and hijacking and sentenced him to life, which in Germany apparently means 25 years, or as few as 15 with good behavior. This week, a parole board let him out after 19 years, and he flew off to freedom in Lebanon. Two days after he was let out, kidnappers released a German anthropologist, SusanneOsthoff, who had been snatched in Iraq three weeks before.

The German government insisted that the release of Hamadi had nothing to do with the release of Osthoff. Governments say a lot of things, some of them lies, and it is the people's responsibility to decide what to believe. We do not believe the German government. We don't think anyone in the Middle East will believe it either.

The pattern is too clear: German hostages 19 years ago, when Germany declined to extradite, and a German hostage this year, when Germany accepted an early release. Germany is proving that kidnapping works, thereby encouraging more of it.

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