Dr. Walid Phares
Lockerbie: Compassion for Petrodollars?
August 31, 2009
The release by Scottish authorities of convicted Libyan intelligence
agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison has created one of the most
negative emotional reactions in the United States and other countries.
Moved by anger toward the injustice displayed by Scottish authorities to
the families and survivors of the victims of the terror attack against
Pan Am Flight 103, Americans and large segments of international public
opinion are infuriated by the freeing of the convicted terrorist, even
under the so-called Scottish legal values based on compassionate release
due to terminal illness.
These exceptional stipulations, when applicable, are designed for
criminal cases where one person killed another individual under complex
circumstances. A sudden terminal illness is perceived as enough
punishment by nature or the divine to grant a severely conditioned
release to the family, without any affront to justice and pain to the
survivors of the victim.
But that is one thing. Granting freedom to a terrorist who murdered
hundreds of innocents civilians bound on an airplane is something that
no Scottish, British, American, or international legal value permits.
The statements made by Scotland’s minister of justice should not stand
in this case. This was no regular murder. This was a mass murder, and
compassionate release can only be granted by the survivors of the
victims, and should have been legally considered by the national
legislatures in Britain and the United States.
The United Kingdom should have superseded Scottish procedures to
humanity, not deployed alleged legal technicalities. Edinburgh was wrong
legally, and London was as wrong morally. But the matter is even more
serious than media and political sensationalism makes it to be. The
bigger picture is more ominous. It relates to the present crumbling of
Western strategic behavior. The diplomatic and political handling of the
oppressive Libyan regime is the root cause of the al-Megrahi’s scandal.
Here is why:
The Libyan regime, not the execution agent of Libyan intelligence,
should have been prosecuted years ago. No loyal Mukhabarat operative
would mount such an operation against civilian targets without orders
from a superior. And these orders cannot be produced outside a strategic
order to strike at the United States by the regime leader himself, Col.
Moammar Gadhafi. The initial framing of the Lockerbie settlement is
ridiculous: jailing an agent for a massacre ordered by the head of a
regime. This was an act of terror against international law and should
have been prosecuted by a special international tribunal at The Hague.
Among the first officials to have been summoned should have been the
dictator himself. Milosevic was brought in; Bashir was indicted; so
should have been Gadhafi.
Tripoli’s madman, as Anwar Sadat and many other Arab leaders have called
him, is not new to terrorism. Way before Lockerbie he funded scores of
terror organizations in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. He
has incited mass violence from the Philippines to India, let alone
adopted extreme anti-Semitic rhetoric.
In 1978 he lured Lebanese Shia top cleric, Imam Musa al Sadr to Libya
and executed him. He fomented coups in Tunisia and Egypt, and invaded
Chad. The list is too long but memory seems to be very short on both
sides of the Atlantic. Gadhafi’s prisons are tenfold Abu Ghraibs.
Hundreds of political prisoners languish in dark cells.
After repetitive Libyan sponsored acts of terror, including against
American military personnel in Germany, the U.S. responded on April 15,
1986, with an air raid on the regime’s military installations. Gadhafi
most likely ordered the destruction of an American airliner in December
1988 as revenge, and possibly as well in conjunction with Iranian
incitement. The massacre of Pan Am 103 was a regime-planned war crime,
but was never punished as such.
As the decade came to an end and Mikhail Gorbachev brought about
reforms, followed by the end of the Soviet Union, Gadhafi began a slow
behavior change, his main backer having crumbled. Libya shrunk but
didn’t end its involvement in terrorism and radicalization, particularly
But with the crumbling of Saddam Hussein’s regime and his capture,
Gadhafi moved quickly to cut a deal with the U.S. and the West. He let
go, for the time being, of his nuclear ambitions,
and accepted to offer financial compensation to the families of Pan Am
103. Instead of accepting responsibility, the Tripoli regime considered
al-Megrahi as the "single” operative to be prosecuted and jailed, so
that the case is closed.
For as long as the U.S. was on the offensive against "global terrorism,”
Gadhafi stayed on the defensive. But as soon as Washington changed
direction and opted for engagement with the regimes in the region,
particularly the oil-producing ones, Moammar rushed to consolidate his
regime at home and in the region. His chief goal was to show that he can
bring Western Governments to accept his diktat. In a speech (available
in video online) he revealed to his supporters that according to the
arrangements, all the compensation his government paid for Lockerbie was
returned to his coffers by oil companies hurdling back to do business in
"What I gave with my right hand, the other hand received back,” he said.
And to restore his image of unsanctioned dictator, he cut a deal on
Megrahi. He would be returned to Libya as a hero, even if chanceries in
the West will protest formally. Moammar is enjoying the new era of
engagement. "They won’t do anything against us,” he told cheering
supporters. Indeed, the Lockerbie compassion seems to be more for oil
dollars than so-called local values.