One of the ugliest aspects of a war with terrorists is hostage-taking. It was inevitable that our war would, at some point, include the taking of Americans as hostages. Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is now in the hands of a group calling itself the “National Movement for Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty.” They have threatened to kill Mr. Pearl unless, among other things, America releases the Pakistanis among those detainees held at Camp X-Ray in Cuba. At this writing, only his kidnappers know if he is still alive. So long as we capture terrorists alive — and because we’re not barbarians, we will continue to — their pals will try to free them by kidnapping and killing Americans. As the population of Camp X-Ray grows, the danger of other hostages being taken grows with it. They will do this because they think they can intimidate us, force us to change our war strategy or policy.
You’d think that, by now, even the thickest terrorist head would have absorbed the fact that we no longer operate under the Clinton rules. We identify targets that are valuable to our enemies, and we destroy them, not just tickle them with a couple of cruise missiles. The sight of a line of B-52s each dropping fifty 500-pounders is a message simple enough for anybody to understand. Except these guys. This particular group may be connected with al-Qaeda, Hamas, or one of other terrorist groups already targeted for American justice. They may even be rogue members of ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency, who may still be loyal to their former client, the Taliban. Whoever they are, they haven’t gotten the message. The truth is that Mr. Pearl’s fate is out of our hands unless we get very lucky. Elements of our special forces are adept at hostage rescue. If they locate Mr. Pearl, we hope the Delta guys do not show mercy to his kidnappers. (Sit down, Rangers, SEALs and Recon: hostage rescue is Delta’s mission. They stole it fair and square.)
Mr. Pearl is a political hostage, different from Gracia and Martin Burnham who were kidnapped in the Philippines. The Burnhams are being held by the Abu Sayyef terrorists, for ransom but not for political intimidation. Abu Sayyef has long used kidnap for ransom as one of their principal ways to raise money. (Apparently nobody there does bake sales).We hope for the Burnhams’ safe return, and wish luck to the American spec ops troops conducting “training exercises” with Philippine forces on the island of Basilan. These “exercises” — really a reconnaissance in force — may result in our guys rescuing the Burnhams and settling accounts with some of the Abu Sayyef. Good hunting, gents.
The political nature of the Pearl situation makes it substantively different, and a matter of national concern. Americans will be at risk wherever they travel or even at home, and it is quite possible that some terrorists will try to kidnap citizens of allied nations to gain leverage against our campaign. Some nations have already felt the pressure of having senior government officials kidnapped. Italy’s former prime minister, Aldo Moro, was murdered by terrorist Red Brigade kidnappers in 1978. We and our allies will likely face these situations many times in the coming years.
These terrorists apparently believe that threatening to murder Mr. Pearl will help their cause by intimidating America or its free press. The horrors of 9-11 were on a massive scale, but they didn’t intimidate us. They roused our anger like no attack has since 12-7-41. The terrorists’ chance to intimidate us ended on Inauguration Day 2001. Release Pearl now, and we may forget. Harm him, and we will not forget, or forgive. And we will pursue.
How we pursue is another question. Our special ops guys are neither trained nor equipped for hunting these animals down. They are not assassins, nor do we want them to be. We need a new weapon that combines the investigative skills of the FBI and CIA with the deadly efficiency of the spec ops crowd. Like maybe the Israeli Mossad.
After terrorists murdered Olympic athletes in 1972, some of the perpetrators escaped. The Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence service, hunted them down and killed them one by one. After that, I can’t remember that an Israeli has been kidnapped for political intimidation. America should let the world know that each of Mr. Pearl’s kidnappers will suffer the same fate as the Munich murderers if he is harmed. The President needs to sign an executive order revoking the ban on assassination, and get the law that backs it up changed. He needs to get a law passed to authorize the CIA to form a licensed-to-kill section for this purpose, and this one alone. We may or may not intimidate the terrorists out of the kidnapping business. But they will, even at their last breath, get the message.
(Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.)
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