Munich: Did the Israelis Kill the Wrong Guys? 

Munich: Did the Israelis Kill the Wrong Guys?

I haven't seen the Spielberg movie, but it has obviously been caught up in the debate about the Iraq war. Spielberg has altered his sources to suggest that if the West responds to terrorism with force, as opposed to laws, the result will be more terrorism rather than less. Critics say this amounts to the Chamberlain-like fallacy that it is possible and desirable to negotiate with terrorists and other such creatures.

There has been virtually no discussion of one significant question: in responding to the attack at the Munich Olympics, did the Israelis kill the wrong people? Instead of arguing about morality, as fascinating as that is, we could be considering whether this way-cool vigilante operation was plain stupid.

MIchael Young has written on Hit and Run and elsewhere (here and here) about the memoirs of a Palestinian named Abu Daoud. One claim by Daoud received a bit of attention a few years ago, namely that Abu Mazen/Mahmoud Abbas, who signed the Oslo Accord on behalf of the Palestinians and later became Prime Minister, now President of the Palestinian Authority, was the main bankroller of the Munich operation.

The other major claim by Dauod is more amazing: the Israelis went after a lesser Black September organization, that never amounted to much of anything, and neglected the real Black September organization that had actually carried out the Munich attack.

[blockquote]In February of that year [1973], Abu Daoud was arrested in Amman and held for several months. During this period he endured torture and a death sentence, later reversed by King Hussein on the advice of the head of the Jordanian intelligence services, Abdel Rasoul Kilani. The Jordanians forced Abu Daoud to admit to a version of the Munich operation that, paradoxically, absolved him of responsibility while blaming others. This had the dual effect of discrediting Abu Daoud among Palestinians and sending the Israelis in the direction of men who had not participated in the hostage takeover. Indeed, in April 1973 Ehud Barak--now [in 2000] Israel's prime minister--led a commando team to Beirut to murder a trio of Palestinian officials, supposedly to avenge Munich. Not one of them, Abu Daoud maintains, had been involved in the Olympics affair.[/blockquote]

It's more than possible that the Israelis came to realize that they had killed the wrong guys. This may have contributed to their conclusion that torture doesn't work. You can probably make a torture victim say something the torturers want to hear. You can probably make him sign a false statement incriminating others--or even a false confession, such as John McCain signed under torture in Vietnam. But getting them to tell the truth? Now that is far more tricky.

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