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The United Kingdom should have superceded Scottish procedures to humanity, not deployed alleged legal technicalities.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 in Africa.
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 Libya.
“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.
Dr. Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of “The Confrontation: Winning the war against Future Jihad”.
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