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Lawmakers rip Bush's 'double standard' on terror

By Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Members of the House International Relations Committee Wednesday criticized the Bush administration in unusually harsh language for opposing Israeli targeted killings while it hunts down suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden "dead or alive."

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Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-New York, the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and Asia, said it was inconsistent for the United States to denounce Israel when "they go after the miserable SOBs [who launch terrorist attacks against Israel] ... and they have every bit as much evidence as we have" for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The comments came at a hearing in which Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs William Burns testified on the administration's policies in the Middle East, both relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the U.S. war against terrorism.

"If an American pilot ... would succeed through targeted assassination to kill Osama bin Laden, he would get the Congressional Medal of Honor and a ticker tape parade down Fifth Avenue," said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-California.

"And I'm just wondering what degree of hypocrisy prompts a State Department spokesman to criticize an Israeli sharpshooter for successfully putting an end to the life of a man who planned, organized and directed the assassination of 22 Israeli teenagers."

Lantos was referring to the shooting death of Abed Rahman Hamad by Israeli snipers on Sunday. According to the Israelis, Hamad organized the June suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv disco.

The Bush administration criticized the shooting, saying it opposes Israeli's practice of targeted killings of Palestinians it believes to be responsible for terrorist attacks.

Rep. Elliot Engel, D-New York, said he was "furious" with what he called the "double standard" the Bush administration uses to distinguish its own efforts to combat terrorism.

"Does anyone doubt that if we today could take out Osama bin Laden -- as President Bush said, 'Wanted dead or alive' -- if we could take out Osama bin Laden, and the only way we could get him is dead, do we have any doubt that we would take that choice?" Engel asked. "No," Burns replied, but made a distinction between the U.S. targeting of bin Laden and Israel's killing of Palestinians.

"What we are trying to do is ... create a situation which violence is brought to an end," Burns said. "In the context of this situation between Israelis and Palestinians, there is the possibility of getting together a political process."

Burns' remarks came as the Bush administration condemned the assassination of right-wing Israeli Cabinet minister Rechavam Zeevi on Wednesday.

While the United States offered its condolences and called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to arrest those responsible, the administration said the shooting should not divert recent positive steps being taken by the Israelis and Palestinians to calm the situation.

The committee also called on the administration to go after Palestinian terrorist groups in its war against terrorism and to crack down on Syria for its support of the Hezbollah.

"Surely these groups threaten American foreign policy interests in this time of crisis, and yet they appear to have been deliberately overlooked," Ackerman said. "I don't understand the special carve-out."



 
 
 
 


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