Punishing Libya




Last Wednesday, the North African nation, headed by none other than Muammar el-Qaddafi, agreed to pay $2.7 billion to the families who lost loved ones on Pan Am Flight 103 when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Qaddafi admitted responsibility for the bombing in an explicitly worded letter to the UN Security Council. But in the British and American media, relatives of Americans killed in the bombing and their British counterparts seem to have responded somewhat differently to the compensation deal.

Americans seem most concerned with seeing Qaddafi duly punished. The Brits seem more worried that if they accept the deal, all investigation into the true culprit will cease. Relatives of victims on both sides of the pond are worried that the deal smacks of political convenience and the desire to open Libya’s markets.

According to the New York Times, news of the deal brought some families “measured expressions of relief that at least part of their 14-year quest for justice has ended.” The general consensus seems to be that Colonel Qaddafi was in fact behind the terror attack. Stephanie Bernstein — whose husband, Justice Department official Michael Bernstein, was killed in the Lockerbie bombing — believes that Libya’s letter to the Security Council “says in front of the whole world that the Libyan regime ordered this and that they’re responsible.” Susan Cohen, whose daughter also died in the bombing, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that “this was Qaddafi’s crime and he shouldn’t get away with it.”

Editorial pages nationwide this week echoed the general sentiment that Qaddafi is guilty and should be brought to justice, beyond the pay-off. In a column in the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland described Qaddafi as an “overseer of terror plots that killed hundreds of Americans and Europeans” who bears “responsibility for the murder of 259 people over Lockerbie, Scotland.”

In American newspapers, concern and doubt focused less on whether Qaddafi was in fact primarily responsible for the 1988 attack and more on ensuring that Qaddafi is dealt with in the strongest possible terms. “This is supposed to be about justice, it’s supposed to be about punishment,” Daniel Cohen (Susan Cohen’s husband) told the AP. “It is not supposed to be about blood money and a tawdry payoff and that’s all I’m afraid we’re going to get out of this.” Kathleen Flynn, whose son was killed in the attack, also said, “Libya is not going to get off the hook.” The U.S. government has, in fact, so far refused to lift its sanctions now imposed Libya and promised to keep them until Libya changes its terrorist ways.

Meanwhile, across the pond, not everyone is so convinced of Qaddafi’s guilt. The brother of a Lockerbie victim plans to reject the compensation deal because he does not believe that Libya has been proven guilty of the attack. In the United Kingdom, Matt Berkley is “refusing his share [of the compensation agreement] because he does not believe the whole story has been told.” Berkley said, “I haven’t seen what I would consider credible evidence that Libya did it or that any admission by the Libyans would be truthful, rather than simply the result of them being put under enormous pressure by the international community.” Along with other British relatives of victims who question Qaddafi’s role in the attack, Berkley has demanded that the UK government hold an independent inquiry. According to the Glasgow Herald, the inquiry would investigate the possible participation of “Iranian, Syrian, [and] Palestinian extremist groups,” which “have been suspected of involvement although no evidence has emerged to implicate them.” The inquiry would also examine the “alleged security failures that allowed the bombing to happen.”

Some American and British relatives of victims alike, however, have begun to suspect that Western oil companies are pushing for a final deal with Qaddafi in order to eventually allow Libya back into the international community and thereby open its markets to foreign investment. Despite the Bush administration’s promises to keep the sanctions until they see genuine change in Libya, many relatives see the deal as a stepping stone to improved trade relations. “[President] Bush now has the oil he needs. Marathon and Conoco will now be doing business and filling their coffersÉ Qaddafi will continue to be involved in terrorism,” said Stan Maslowski, whose daughter Diane was killed. Similarly, Susan Cohen believes Qaddafi should not be treated “as another businessman with oil to sell.” “It’s like Osama bin Laden coming back in a few years and saying, ‘I’ve got a couple oil wells, let’s just forget that 9/11 thing,'” she said. One certain outcome of the compensation deal, writes the Glasgow Herald, is that “oil will flow as never before.”