NEW YORK, Oct. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Before the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, that killed 270 people, mostly Americans, was the deadliest terror attack ever on American civilians. Now, Senior Editor Jerry Adler and Allan Gerson trace the quest to pursue justice on behalf of the victims' families in an upcoming book ``The Price of Terror: One Bomb. One Plane. 270 Lives. The History-Making Struggle for Justice After Pan Am 103,'' excerpted in the November 5 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, October 29).
In 1992, Allan Gerson, an international lawyer and academic, wrote an op-ed article proposing that the United Nations create a claims commission to compensate the families of the victims who were killed in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, out of Libyan assets. The article was seen by Bruce Smith, a former Pan Am pilot whose wife, Ingrid, had been killed aboard the flight. Smith retained Gerson's law firm to push the idea, paying legal bills himself, out of the retirement money he'd gotten when the airliner went out of business.
Gerson wrote up a proposal, and gave it to the then Bush administration for consideration, but the idea was nixed. So Gerson and Smith decided the only other thing they could do was to sue Libya for damages in an American court. Libya, as expected, raised the defense of sovereign immunity -- and the United States filed a brief in support of Libya's position, because every government in the world, including America's, had an interest in supporting a system that protected it from lawsuits. The argument that a country that deliberately murdered civilians as part of its foreign policy had forfeited immunity from being sued was rejected by the courts. The only recourse was to change the law, which took until 1996, and the unexpected intervention of another national tragedy. As part of the anti-terrorism legislation following the Oklahoma City bombing, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act was amended to permit lawsuits like the one Gerson sought to bring against Libya.
For many of the families of the victims, the lack of a serious American
response to the bombing of Pan Am 103 felt like a betrayal by their own
government. Their demand to hold someone accountable for the murders led
them to the radical step of suing Libya in American courts, setting a precedent
for the use of legal remedies in the fight against terrorism -- and served
as a reminder to future administrations that justice is always a part of
the U.S. national interest.
(Read Newsweek's news releases at
http://www.Newsweek.MSNBC.com. Click "Pressroom.")