Still No Justice for U.S. Navy Diver Robert Stethem

Lessons in losing the war against jihadists.

“A man wanted in the 1985 hijacking of a Trans World Airlines (TWA) plane in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed has been arrested by Greek police,” Fox News reported on September 22. According to the story, several Greek media outlets named him as Mohammed Ali Hammadi, the man who killed Navy diver Robert Stethem, 23, during an airline hijacking in June, 1985.

The report raised hopes that after 34 years some semblance of justice might at last be served. Then the victim’s older brother, retired Navy SEAL Kenneth Stethem, received a telephone call from a Department of Justice official he did not identify.

The man arrested by Greek police, it turned out, was not Mohammed Ali Hammadi. As Stethem told reporters, it was the latest incident in “what has become a horrific emotional roller coaster ride for his family since the hijacking,” which Howard Altman outlined the Navy Times, using an account from the FBI.

On June 14, 1985, Hammadi and a second terrorist hijacked TWA Flight 847 during a flight from Athens. The terrorists, armed with pistols and grenades, forced pilot John Testrake to crisscross the Mediterranean from Beirut to Algiers for 17 days with 153 passengers and crew. The terrorists tied and beat passengers, threatening to kill them if Israel did not release Lebanese prisoners.

On June 15, during the first of three stops in Beirut, the terrorists savagely beat Robert Stethem, dragged him to the aircraft door, shot him point blank in the head, and dumped his body on the tarmac. Kenneth Stethem watched the events unfold but was not told the victim was his brother. The beating so disfigured the young diver that family members could not identify him. After confirmation, the saga of horrors began.

Hammadi was carrying explosives in his luggage when German authorities arrested him  at the Frankfurt airport on January 13, 1987. The United States sought to extradite the killer of Robert Stethem but Germany opted to prosecute him. Hammadi was convicted of murder, hostage taking, assault and hijacking and sentenced to life. “However,” Altman explains, “on Dec. 15, 2005, Hammadi was released from custody and returned to Beirut the next day.” As Kenneth Stethem noted, that violated a deal to turn him over to the United States, and worse was to come.

“George W. Bush allowed Germany to release Hammadi without bringing him back to the United States as agreed upon,” the former SEAL explained. “And during Bush’s war on terror, the administration had to be forced by our family to submit a formal diplomatic request to Lebanon for the extradition of Hammadi. We had to shame them into it.”

It was “painful” to lose his brother Robert, “and then the pain has been piled on by the disappointment of the administrations in failing to secure Hammadi when we had the opportunity to do so.” Stethem and his parents Patricia and Richard, still alive at this writing, were bound for deeper disappointments during the administrations from 2008 to 2016.

The president formerly known as Barry Soetoro refused to link Islam with terrorism and told the world the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. So no surprise that he looked the other way, even at terrorism on American soil. Federal authorities were fully aware that Army major Nidal Hasan, a self-described “Soldier of Allah,” was planning to kill Americans, yet did nothing to stop him.

On November 5, 2009, at Ford Hood, Texas, Hasan yelled “Allahu akbar” as he murdered 13 unarmed American soldiers and wounded more than 30 others. The president called the attack “workplace violence,” not even “gun violence,” and the shooter got better medical care than his victims. The mass murderer Hasan was sentenced to death in 2013 but the sentence has not been carried out.

Hasan still supports jihadist causes from prison, and this surely inspires terrorists at home and abroad. It also gives Kenneth Stethem hard evidence that the extradition of Mohammed Ali Hammadi might not have done much good.

As Robert Stethem’s brother wondered, “How can we win a war when we can’t win an argument with another country about justice?” There are a few things we could do. Robert Stethem has a Navy ship named after him, but that’s not enough. The Navy should create a clandestine unit of Navy SEALs called the Robert Stethem Response Unit (RSRU).

Instead of waiting 34 years, unleash this unit and take down Mohammed Ali Hammadi and his partner by any means necessary. That would be justice for Rob, as brother Kenneth calls the slain U.S. Navy diver. Meanwhile, justice still awaits for the 13 American soldiers slain by Nidal Hasan at Ford Hood, including private Francheska Velez, 21 and pregnant.

The soldier of Allah has been duly convicted of mass murder and sentenced to death. President Trump should order the sentence carried out at first opportunity. November 5 would be a good day for justice. The Stethem family, the nation, and the world will be watching.