The State Department says that the kidnaping in southern Lebanon of Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, a Marine attached to the U.N. Truce Supervisory Organization, won't change the longstanding U.S. policy of providing soldiers to the observer group. That intention ought to be reexamined. Certainly the United States doesn't want to be perceived as cowering in the face of terrorism or running away from its international responsibilities. But showing firmness shouldn't require deliberately keeping American citizens in harm's way. Higgins is one of 16 Americans attached to UNTSO, a small unarmed branch of the 5,800-man U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The risks that he faced are shared by his 15 countrymen.
It's unclear who seized Higgins. The working assumption is that along with the eight other Americans who remain hostages in Lebanon he is being held by Hezbollah, an Iranian-financed Shia Muslim group that also has ties to Syria. A caller to a Western news agency in Beirut who claimed to represent Higgins' captors accused him of being a CIA agent. The authenticity of the caller can't be determined, but the charge is chilling. William Buckley, who did work for the CIA in Lebanon, was kidnaped by Hezbollah and tortured to death.