WASHINGTON — President Reagan's decision to intercept a plane carrying four Palestinian terrorists drew broad support in Congress on Friday as legislators from both parties said that the move re-establishes U.S. global power and discourages future acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens.
The action was widely praised in the Senate, and the House unanimously passed a resolution commending the move.
"All Americans should take pride in the mission accomplished," Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) said. "America was able to take fast action against terrorists who strike at Americans anywhere in the world--demonstrating to the PLO and terrorists everywhere our intent to fight terrorism."
In the House, Rep. Michael DeWine (R-Ohio) lauded America's use of force Thursday night, when U.S. Navy F-14 fighters intercepted an Egyptian airliner carrying the four terrorists, who had hijacked the Italian cruise ship and killed an elderly American tourist aboard. "A nation is judged, yes, by its words, but in the final analysis by its actions," DeWine said.
Angry With PLO
Although the tone of the House testimony during the passage of the resolution was generally jubilant and congratulatory, many members expressed anger at the Palestine Liberation Organization and at Egypt for allowing the terrorists to leave the country.
"The mask is off. The cover has been pulled off. We now see the PLO for what they are: lying, murdering terrorists," Rep. Lawrence J. Smith (D-Fla.) said.
And, despite the widespread praise, the decisive action on the latest of a series of recent terrorist acts also provided an occasion for lawmakers to point out that the Shia Muslim extremists who held TWA passengers hostage and killed one American this summer were allowed to escape. Moreover, they noted, six U.S. citizens are still being held hostage in Beirut.
California Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) drew a comparison between Thursday night's mission and former President Jimmy Carter's failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages. "The President exercised much courage," Dornan said. "He showed a lot of courage because the mission might have failed."
'Death on High Seas'
In anticipation of bringing any terrorists to trial in the United States, Rep. George W. Gekas (R-Pa.) proposed a bill that would make "death on the high seas" a capital offense. Under current law, the heaviest punishment that terrorists would receive in the United States would be life imprisonment, he said.
"Last night's daring intercept and capture of Palestinian terrorists puts these merchants of death on notice: The store is out of business. No longer can murderers masquerading as political agents operate with a free hand," Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) said. "And never again will the United States avert its glance or permit its citizens to be victimized by men who speak the language of violence."