When you're right you're right
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
  The Hammadi-Osthoff Connection
When I went to see Angela Merkel speak at Freiburg's Münsterplatz, I liked what I heard. I believed that the then-candidate for the German Chancellory was different. In any case, she had to be better than the alternative--the reigning Gerhard Schröder.

A few days after I saw Dr. Merkel speak, elections were held in Germany. After a few weeks of haggling between the parties, they hammered out a compromise and Dr. Merkel became Germany's first female chancellor.

Chancellor Merkel has let me down twice, and she hasn't even been in office three months.

My first disappointment was the way in which she handled the Susanne Osthoff affair. Susanne Osthoff is a German-born archeologist who had been working in Iraq since 1991. She is fluent in Arabic, has converted to Islam, has married a Jordanian man, and sometimes wears the traditional clothing required of women in certain sects of Islam. During the summer of 2005, Susanne Osthoff received threats that she would be abducted, and the German Embassy advised her to leave the country immediately. She disregarded the embassy's advice and remained in Iraq. On November 25, 2005, she was abducted by a shadowy group of terrorists, possibly related to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

I can attest to the fact that this was big news in Germany, because I live here. During the period of captivity, every development in the Osthoff affair was frontpage news. As the situation unfolded, public outcry demanded that the Chancellor Merkel do whatever it takes to obtain Osthoff's release. Merkel played tough, telling reporters that she would not be "blackmailed" over Susanne Osthoff's release.

I know what I would have done if I had been chancellor. I would have let Ostohoff sit right there with her captors. What else should Germany do? Give into the demands of the terrorists? The terrorists had demanded that the German government cut off all relations and support for the new Iraqi government. This would include halting the police training that the German government has been conducting with Iraqi recruits. In my opinion, this is out of the question. This is an obvious attempt to strip away all outside support for the newly blossomed Iraqi government, so that it will become weak and ripe for the kill.

This argument does not hold water with the German people. They routinely blame the United States--not terrorists--for the various abduction dramas that have occurred in Iraq since the 2003 liberation. Also, they aren't particularly worried if the new Iraq survives or not; sometimes I think they'd get a real sense of schadenfreude out of seeing it fail. That would teach that cowboy Bush a lesson or two. In any case, they don't believe that it justifies the loss of a single German life to achieve the goal of Iraqi democracy and stabilty--even if that one life belongs to a bizarrely naive woman who sympathized with her captors and remained in Iraq when she should have known better.

A German envoy obtained the release of Susanne Osthoff on December 18, 2005. The German government refuses to talk about its dealings with Osthoff's captors. Was there a ransom? Did they concede to their demands?

Despite the silence of the government, there are a few things we know. We know that Germany has ceased training Iraqi police recruits, just as the terrorists demanded. Even more disturbing, there may have been a ransom involved. The German magazine Focus reported that there was a ransom, and that part of that ransom (estimated at five million US Dollars) was found in Osthoff's clothes as she showered at the German embassy in Iraq, immediately after her release.

I'm not sure if I believe this report. Considering the German goverment's tight lips on the whole affair, the only source for this remains a single report from a German magazine. I don't know if I trust this single report or not. I guess it comes down to whether or not I find Focus to be a reputable source. While Focus may not be a supermarket tabloid, it is a German news publication, and I am always suspect of any type of "news" coming from a country that considers Stern and Der Spiegel to be accurate, unbiased, and bereft of any type of agenda.

Nonetheless, this does not seem to fit the mold of a typical German news story that goes out of its way to make the United States look bad. It strips away Osthoff's aura of victimhood and makes all the German moaning and wailing about her abduction seem silly.

But if it is true, then we know two things. First, Susanne Osthoff was not "kidnapped". She was involved in an elaborate conspiracy to aid the enemies of the new Iraq, and she made herself quite rich in the process. Assuming the story is true, Osthoff is laughing her way all the way to the bank right now. We also know that the German government was blackmailed, despite the new Chancelor's tough talk.

If I could ask Chancellor Merkel just one question, it would be this--what do you suppose these psycopaths are going to do with that money? I'll tell you what they're going to do--they're going to go on a five million dollar weapons shopping spree. The German government could have cut out the middle-man and just paid them in Kalashnikovs and C4 explosives. Once these lunatics have armed themselves to the teeth, they're going to use these weapons to kill Americans, Iraqis, and anyone else who gets in their way. So the next time you hear about a young GI killed by roadside bomb in Tikrit, you should pull out your best stationary and write Chancellor Merkel a nice thank-you note.

This is what really grates me about the German reaction to the Osthoff affair. They assumed a stance of absolute moral rectitude, declaring that the value of a single human life was so important that the German government should do whatever it takes to free Susanne Osthoff. What they don't realize, or pretend not to realize, is that they have inevitably made the situation worse. The terrorists will repeat this stunt until they are convinced that doing so is useless. And in the event that they paid a ransom for her release--and I suspect that they did--then we can be sure that the life of Susanne Osthoff was bought with the blood of American and Iraqi soldiers. More death will come of this, not less. If only the Germans could be so concerned about the lives of 2,260 of my countrymen as they are about one of theirs. Oh yes, they'll say that they're deeply concerned about dead Americans; so concerned that they want an immediate withdrawl from Iraq. But failing that, they see no problem with paying Iraqi terrorists five million dollars.

Interstingly enough, the very same day that Osthoff walked free, another person gained his freedom. His name is Mohammed Ali Hammadi, and he had previously been serving out a life sentence at a German penitentiary for the murder of an American Naval diver, Robert Stethem. As it turns out, his "life sentence" was less than eighteen years. Hamadi returned to his native Lebanon, and I'm sure we will hear from him again.

On June 15, 1985 Petty Officer Stethem was on a commercial flight from Greece, when armed men from the Hezbollah terrorist organization hijacked the airplane. They demanded the release of four hundred thirty five terrorists from Israeli jails. When the terrorists discovered that Stethem was in the US military, he was singled out for particular abuse. He was beaten to a pulp, shot in the head, and dumped out on the runway after the airplane had landed in Beirut.

Hammadi managed to evade the law until 1987, when German police caught him in Frankfurt with liquid explosives. Unwilling to turn Hammadi over to US authorities for fear that he might be executed, the German government decided to put him on trial in their court system. He was found guilty and given a "life" sentence.

Fast-forward to December 2005. Hammadi is walking free again, and the Stethem family is not happy. They wrote a letter to President Bush rebuking him for not doing enough to persuade Germany that they cannot release a monster like Hammadi. Robert Stethem's brother, Kenneth Stethem, wrote, "You have truly said that 'We are in a fight for our principles, and our responsibility is to live by them.' Robert lived by them. Robert also died by them... I hope that his example, and the example of the other heroes like him, can inspire you to understand why allowing Germany to release Hammadi was a wrong." Well said, but I must insist that Bush did not "allow" Germany to release Hammadi. Nonetheless, he could have made it a lot bigger stink about it, and still remained diplomatic. Germany, not the United States, is responsible for this perversion of justice.

Kenneth Stethem's letter to President Bush goes on, "Justice was not done. Robert was not honored and Americans are not safer by allowing Hammadi to return to Lebanon and Hezbollah." Of course. And Hammadi will strike again. So much for the German respect for human life that led them to oppose his extradition to the United States on the grounds that he might be executed.

The connection between the two events of December 18, 2005--the twin releases of Susanne Osthoff and Mohammed Ali Hammadi--are just too fishy to be a coincidence. I normally don't engage in conspiracy theories; I demand a higher standard of evidence. I despise people who whip up any self-serving conspiracy theory to explain a set of likely unrelated events at the drop of a hat. That's black-helicopter stuff, and I leave it to Michael Moore and Oliver Stone. But this one is just too bizarre to ignore. I'm almost entirely convinced that a deal was cut. Germany traded five million dollars, an end to police training in Iraq, and the release of a despicable terrorist for the release of Osthoff (who may never have been technically "kidnapped" in the first place). I'm sure it worked out well for Merkel's political career--the situation was a political disaster and she had to do something--but it was a slap in the face to just about everyone else in the world. The only people who benefited here are Iraqi terrorists, Hezbollah terrorists, Angela Merkel, and probably a very wealthy Susanne Osthoff. The rest of the planet got a raw deal.

On the amazingly slim chance that the German denials are true, and these two events are completely unrelated, I can't explain why Hommadi was released. For no reason at all? Out of the mercy of their hearts? Because it was his birthday? Why? How did a life sentence suddenly morph into an eighteen year sentence? Even if there is no Hammadi-Osthoff connection, I still cannot forgive the German government for doing what they did. They released a dangerous terrorist back to his den in Lebanon, and they want us to believe that America has no greater ally in the War on Terror. I'm not buying it.

It was no secret that Merkel's predecessor--Gerhard Schröder--was no ally in the War on Terror either. He made pretenses about it, of course, but he was slippy as an eel. I had hoped that Chancellor Merkel would be different. She is not. In the end, I fear we may have to go it alone.
 
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