Hardliners in the war on Islamic extremist terrorism have long called for it to be treated as a war rather than a law-enforcement issue. Yet by allowing, in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of an Axis regime to come to New York and stay on Park Avenue at the Intercontinental Hotel The Barclay, President Bush is signaling that he's less than serious in his approach to a regime he marked, at the outset of his presidency, as evil. Those who recognize the Iranian threat are left with the law-enforcement option. Police Commissioner Kelly, District Attorney Morgenthau, or any enterprising federal prosecutor or G-Man has a perfect opportunity at hand to seize Mr. Ahmadinejad and to hold him as a material witness or even as a suspect. Years ago the Jewish Forward newspaper made a similar argument in respect of the Hafez al-Assad of Syria. It didn't happen, of course, and the Syrian occupation of Lebanon grew worse until the murder of Rafik Harari and the new outbreak of war.
An ample American legal record already holds the Iranian government responsible for terrorist attacks by Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. As our Josh Gerstein reported on April 3, dozens of rulings, many of them by a federal judge in Washington, Royce Lamberth, have found Iran civilly liable for murders; courts have made verdicts against Iran totaling about $6 billion. A December 2003 fact sheet from the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives lists at least 52 Americans murdered by Palestinian Arab terrorists since 1993. Many of the victims are New Yorkers, and Iranian funding and training figured in many of the attacks, according to American and Israeli government and non-government reports on terrorist organizations.
Mr. Bush himself said earlier this month, "The Iranian regime and its terrorist proxies have demonstrated their willingness to kill Americans." The president said that Hezbollah, which Iran funds with hundreds of millions of dollars a year, is "directly responsible for the murder of hundreds of Americans abroad. It was Hezbollah that was behind the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans. And Saudi Hezbollah was behind the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, an attack conducted by terrorists who we believe were working with Iranian officials."
In June of 2001, a federal grand jury in Virginia handed up an indictment for the Khobar Towers bombing that documented how the bombers were trained, directed, financed, and monitored by Iranian government officials. Mr. Bush has been articulating the importance of keeping terrorist leaders detained at Guantanamo so that they are not free to commit more attacks. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been quite clear about what he intends to do if he is allowed to return to Tehran. On August 2, he told the Jews, via the Iranian news channel IRINN translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, "They should know that they are nearing the last days of their lives."
The August 31 "deadline" set by America and the United Nations for Iran to address its nuclear violations has come and gone. Mr. Bush's partisan critics are still making hay from Osama Bin Laden's escape at Tora Bora. In this instance, the terrorist leader won't be hidden in the mountains of Afghanistan; he'll be in open view at the Intercontinental Hotel in Midtown. America can let him escape back to Iran without bringing him to justice and signal to the world that the talk about a war on terrorism and an axis of evil is all mere talk. Or it can seize Mr. Ahmadinejad, find out what he knows about the murders of dozens of Americans, and demonstrate that those who murder Americans will be held accountable.