Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Promises Extorted by Hostage Takers Should Be Broken

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Promises Extorted by Hostage Takers Should Be Broken

Article excerpt

The promise you make with a gun to your head is devoid of moral or legal force. Nobody is obligated in any way to keep a pledge extracted under duress. That bedrock principle is worth restating when concern for the lives of hostages caused governments to make promises to terrorists in Chechnya and Bosnia.

The Chechen attack on a Russian village is being described as "daring," and the taking of hostages in a hospital is being condoned as the desperate act of patriots whose own hospitals have been leveled and people brutalized.

Certainly the previous destruction of Grozny by a trigger-happy KGB and an inept Russian army was unforgivable. No doubt the cease-fire and search for a suitable autonomy - now brought about by the Chechen counterterror strike - should have been Moscow's policy from the start, as most Russian reformers urged.

But hostage-taking can never be legitimated. The Chechen soldiers who murdered hostages in the Russian hospital deserve to be tried as criminals. Here's the point: Russia has no responsibility to carry out promises made by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin as he tried to prevent further civilian bloodshed - even if he promised to do the right thing.

In the same way, in Bosnia, the Serbian terrorist forces extracted a tacit promise from U.N. officials, never publicly admitted, as compensation for the return of U.N. peacekeepers. The promise was not to let NATO bomb Serbian positions shelling Bosnian cities. That promise, elicited under duress, has no validity. A deal with a kidnapper is instantly revocable.

A second part of the ransom paid by the United Nations to the Serbs is the weaponry previously under U.N. control. Those hundreds of tanks and artillery pieces are now in terrorist hands. "It's a plain case of arms for hostages," says George Shultz. "If it had been done by the Reagan administration, you would never hear the end of the uproar."

Here's another Bosnia-Chechnya parallel: Intelligence services around the world are keeping secret what they know about arms pouring in from the outside.

I wrote recently about the Clinton failure to order a special national intelligence estimate from the CIA about Serbia's breaking of the arms embargo. …

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