Friday, April 13, 2007

Don't Negotiate With Terrorist Kidnappers

The freeing by the Taliban of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in Afghanistan last month after the Italian government prevailed upon Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan to release five Taliban prisoners in exchange has had the kind of tragic aftermath that the U.S., Britain and even Karzai himself had predicted.

Their diabolical strategies confirmed by the Italian weakness, the Taliban promptly stepped up their kidnappings, seizing two Frenchmen and 13 Afghans and demanding the release of other Taliban prisoners for their release. To prove their determination, the Taliban beheaded Mastrogiacomo's Afghan interpreter, Ajmal Naqshbandi, who they had continued holding, on April 8, after Karzai refused to exchange two Taliban prisoners for him.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, confronting the storm of public indignation that arose in Italy over the beheading, insists that the Taliban tricked Italian negotiators, telling them they would release Naqshbandi at the same time they released Mastrogiacomo.

But there will be a wave of kidnappings all over the Middle East, where the terrorists primarily operate, if the terrorists come to believe Western governments will exchange prisoners for the kidnapped. In this instance, the Italians saved Mastrogiacomo's life, only to jeopardize many others.

Already in Gaza, we see, with the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, and the continued holding of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, by Palestinian terrorists, the developing trend. Kidnapping will become in 2007 what airplane hijackings were in the 1970s, unless the kidnappers conclude there is little or no profit in the kidnappings, and that they primarily endanger their own lives by taking them.

The hijackings, at least by the organized terrorists in Al Qaeda and other organizations, dropped way off after American and German special forces flew to the scenes, in Malta and Somalia, and killed a good many of the terrorists in rescue operations. Also, the 1976 Entebbe raid by Israeli commandos was important. There are still occasional hijacking attempts, such as in Turkey this week, but these are usually perpetrated by lone crazies who have proved easier to overcome.

It is quite predictable what will happen, if we start negotiating with kidnappers. These crimes will only spread, and it will not be long before the terrorists are kidnapping American ambassadors, journalists and tourists and demanding the release of high profile terrorists now properly rotting in American jails.

Sometimes, as in the Jill Carroll case in Iraq, the terrorists ultimately despair of winning anything in return for freeing their hostages, and release them. Carroll's chief kidnapper may have fallen in love with her. Sometimes, they execute them, as in the case of the Afghan interpreter.

But it is a terrible mistake to pay ransom, release prisoners or assume other compliant positions in order to free the kidnapped.

In the United States, the institution of the death penalty for kidnapping, after the abduction of the Lindbergh baby, was instrumental in reducing kidnappings in this country. We have to take the same hardheaded position in relation to this latest of terrorists ploys: They must be made to understand that if they kidnap and kill people, they will ultimately be hunted down and either killed or imprisoned indefinitely themselves.

In this context, Shelly Sloan has posted this morning an excerpt from Machiavelli, in which he tells of Rome's reaction to a hostage taking long ago. The Roman Senate declared three days of mourning for the hostages, who were presumed dead, and then sent the Roman army to the city state that had taken the hostages. Even though they were released, the Romans carried on, launching an attack against the city, killing or enslaving everyone in it, and then plowing the whole city under. There was no more hostage taking.

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The U.S. Olympic Committee is proving itself to be even more secretive than the International Olympic Committee by not only barring the press from final presentations by Chicago and Los Angeles representatives seeking USOC endorsement of their 2016 Olympic bids, but refusing to disclose the final vote totals on which city to select.

According to IOC rules, only one city per country is allowed to bid for IOC selection of each Games, so the USOC decision will determine the American candidate city, that is if the USOC selectors choose to field any candidate for 2016.

The IOC traditionally has disclosed every vote on selecting a city, even while keeping the press out of the last deliberations preceding a vote. A Chicago Tribune report suggests that the USOC, under its usually secretive chairman, Peter Ueberroth, wants to keep secret how individual members have voted, because four of the 11 voting are from the Los Angeles area.

Maybe so. But it's worth remembering that when the USOC selected Los Angeles over New York as the U.S. candidate city for the 1984 Games, back in 1977, the vote was by the USOC's entire executive committee of, as I recall, 85 members, not such a small selection board as is being allowed to vote this time, and then the vote was announced, at least numerically.

The new procedure is a scandal and should be protested by the entire media covering the Olympics. I'd rather do away with the Olympics than let these Olympic bodies become more secretive than they already have been.
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