By Rosemary Wolfe
Rosemary Wolfe is president of Justice for Pan Am 103, one of the groups that represents families whose relatives died in the bombing.
Sunday, October 26, 1997; Page C03 The Washington Post
Nearly nine years after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, there is no justice. We have half the truth and are left with the antics of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who is attempting to manipulate the Pan Am 103 families and the rest of the world community into believing that he is the wrongful victim of the U.N. sanctions. He would have us believe that he wants to cooperate by having an "international" trial for the two Libyan intelligence agents indicted in the bombing.
The real victims are the 270 innocents who were murdered on the night of Dec. 21, l988, and the families who still mourn them. My beloved, bright and talented stepdaughter, Miriam, was among them. She was just 20 years old and a musical theater student at Syracuse University. She was one of 189 Americans returning to the United States at Christmastime.
In November 1991, two low-level Libyan agents, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah and Abdel Basset Megrahi, were indicted by the United States and Britain with immediate demands that they be extradited for trial. When Gadhafi refused, the U.N. Security Council placed airline and diplomatic sanctions on Libya. These were followed by limited economic sanctions -- none of which were powerful enough to get Gadhafi to comply with the extradition demand.
From the outset, Gadhafi has attempted to create a facade of cooperation and compromise. At first he tried to get support for Fhimah and Megrahi to be tried in Libya -- an unlikely avenue to justice since the two indicted Libyans were agents of the Libyan government and Libya is on the U.S. list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Then he began pushing a proposal to hold a trial in a neutral country, rather than Scotland or the United States.
From the earliest days of the U.N. sanctions, Gadhafi has carried on a major public relations campaign to buy support from businessmen, lawyers, lobbyists and politicians around the world, including members of the U.S. Congress. He has spent millions of dollars in an effort to influence world opinion. Gadhafi apologists also made direct overtures to the Pan Am 103 families. I was approached in one such effort.
What I call the "charade of the compromise" continues to manifest itself in different reiterations. Over the years, the families have heard many different proposals -- such as getting the U.N. Security Council to pick the country and the jurors, or holding a trial at the International Court of Justice in the Hague with Scottish judges operating under Scottish or American law, or having an American chief judge presiding over a trial with U.N.-selected jurors.
Gadhafi wants to get out from under the sanctions. Although Libya's oil revenues are up, the sanctions are having an impact on Libyan business and travel, and they are hurting his credibility at home and abroad. His calls for an international trial have gained some support and sympathy from other African leaders and have created the false perception that he wants to comply. He knows that an agreement to hold an international trial would bring enormous pressure from the world community to drop the sanctions.
Gadhafi is a gambler. He knows better than most that there is no precedent or mechanism for an international tribunal for trying terrorist crimes. The legal obstacles would be insurmountable: How would you create a court, or decide who would sit on it and what the rules of evidence would be? After Fhimah and Megrahi are extradited, how would they be detained? If they were found guilty, what sentencing procedures would you use? How would you decide where to incarcerate them?
Under the proposals I have seen, there would be no trial by a jury of peers -- ordinary citizens. This is fundamental to the laws of the United States, Britain and Scotland and is essential to a trial free of politics. And if you could mix and match all these procedures for an international trial, all the nations involved would have to pass their own legislation to allow for their own laws to be circumvented -- a process that could take years or not happen at all.
In the end, if all the pieces fit together, is there any reason to believe that Gadhafi would allow Fhimah and Megrahi to be turned over and go to trial when they could implicate him and others in the bombing? Negotiation assumes trust, sincerity and accountability. How can we possibly trust Gadhafi?
Why should we, as Americans, allow the accused murderers of our sons, daughters, fathers, wives, brothers and sisters to choose where they will be tried? Why should we accept Gadhafi's premise that a trial in the United States, Britain or Scotland would be unfair? After all, by bringing Fhimah and Megrahi to trial, we are giving them more of a chance than our unsuspecting loved ones had as they flew over Scotland in the dark of night.
The traditional place for the trial of a crime is either the place where the crime occurred (in this case, Scotland) or the place where the victim lived (in this case, the United States). The majority of the Pan Am 103 victims were American citizens.
Why hasn't Gadhafi accepted the recent offer made by the British foreign secretary, which would allow international observers from the Arab League, Organization of African Unity, or any other body to attend a trial in Scotland to monitor its impartiality? To settle for anything less than a trial in the United States or Scotland would undermine our ability as Americans to be in a strong, defensible position to prosecute terrorists. It would set a terrible precedent. It would signal political defeat and the incapability of law enforcement to bring indicted terrorist suspects to justice. Will we allow the world to be fooled by the semblance of Libyan compliance?
Ultimately, the question is not, "Where do we try Fhimah and Megrahi?" but rather, "How do we get them for the trial they deserve?" Perhaps it is time for the United States to act unilaterally.