Needs Fortitude to Keep Hamadi
By Victoria Toensing
The conviction and life
sentence imposed on Mohammed Ali Hamadi by a West German court this month
was a major, but not a complete, victory in the fight against international
Hamadi was tried in
Frankfurt for the June 14, 1985, hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the murder
of Navy diver Robert Stethem. Our government had strongly requested that
Hamadi be extradited here to be tried in U.S. courts, but the Germans
refused. The refusal was based on terrorists' demands not to extradite or
they would kill two German hostages in Lebanon.
Hamadi's arrest was a
fluke. He was questioned at the Frankfurt airport in January, 1987,
because of suspicious behavior. That "border stop" led the
authorities to discover explosive material hidden in his possession.
Only after he was booked and fingerprinted did the Germans realize who they
had in custody. Immediately, the Kohl government notified the United
In response, the State and
Justice Departments worked through the night and a Washington blizzard
preparing the proper extradition papers and translating the documents into
German. But within 24 hours of the public announcement of Hamadi's
arrest, a German citizen was kidnapped in Beirut; within a few days the
terrorists grabbed a second German hostage.
The great urgency suddenly
subsided into a six-month lull while the Germans delayed and delayed their
decision on extradition.
Finally, in June, they
informed the U.S. government that they would consider extradition but wanted
to be certain the man in prison was, in fact, Mohammed AU Hamadi. On
the two-year anniversary of the hijacking, three victims of the crime
dropped everything on 24 hours notice and flew from the United States to
Frankfurt as witnesses to identify Hamadi in a lineup unprecedented in
extradition procedure. Even though all three identifications were
"without doubt" according to the German
judge presiding, the
Germans refused to extradite because of the terrorists' demand.
Subsequently, both German hostages were released.
To its credit, the German
state judicial system conscientiously tried Hamadi during a 2 month trial
that occurred over a 10-month span. On May 17, he was sentenced to
life, the maximum penalty under German law. For this decision, Germany is to
be congratulated and praised.
But the story has not
ended. The day of the verdict, terrorists kidnapped three more (two
still remain in their custody) German citizens in Lebanon. Demands to lessen
his sentence or trade Hamadi cannot be far behind. In all likelihood, the
political branch of the West German federal government, not the state
judiciary which tried the case, will once again have to make a judgment
about terrorists and citizens held hostage.
When I was in Bonn in June,
1987, negotiating Hamadi's extradition, I warned the German delegation
meeting with us that Hamadi would be a "hot potato." If they
convicted him, they would always have to deal with threats for his release.
It would be far better to send him to the United States, I argued, where we
had the resolve to keep him because he was charged with the murder of an
American serviceman, the hostage-taking of U.S. citizens and the hijacking
of a U.S. carrier. West Germany had no victims whatsoever involved in
TWA Flight 847; the sole jurisdiction for the trial was finding Hamadi on
its soil. Therefore, the German government might not have the strong
support of its people to continue to imprison a convicted terrorist when
fellow Germans' lives are once again being threatened-as was the situation
on the extradition decision.
So the case of Hamadi is
not over and will not be until he actually serves life in prison. Since the
terrorists succeeded in making Germany modify its behavior on the
extradition, they will expect acquiescence again on lessening the life
sentence. By caving in to the terrorists' demands in 1987, the Germans
merely delayed making the tough call. We can only wish them well.
Now they must display a strong national will and refuse to reduce Hamadi's
sentence when the inevitable new demand from the terrorists arrives.