On Meet the Press Vice President Cheney ticked off a list of attacks on Americans that have largely gone unanswered: the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the destruction of the Khobar Towers military complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the east Africa embassy bombings in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Cheney said that “each time there was almost no credible response from the United States to those attacks.”
He left one out ? the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 by Libya over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people, including 189 Americans. There may be a reason why he neglected to mention this. The Bush Administration has continued negotiations started by Bill Clinton that may settle this case by letting the dictatorship of Libya pay financial awards to families of the victims and take some form of responsibility for the crime. In return, the U.S. would agree to the lifting of U.N. economic sanctions against Libya.
The bombing occurred near the end of the Reagan Administration’s second term. The incoming administration of President George H.W. Bush developed the evidence linking Libya to the crime, but did not pursue military retaliation. Instead, it was turned over to the U.N., which imposed economic sanctions on Libya. The result years later under the Clinton Administration was a deal brokered by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that saw a Scottish court in 2001 convict a top Libyan intelligence agent, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, of the bombing and sentence him to life imprisonment.
Libya surrendered al-Megrahi over for trial after lengthy negotiations with Annan and the Clinton Administration. The deal included an agreement, which was kept secret for over a year, in which Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi was promised that the trial would not “undermine” his regime. This was viewed as a guarantee not to charge Gadhafi or his top aides. Dan Cohen, who lost his daughter Theodora in the bombing, responded, “Why shouldn’t we undermine the Libyan regime? The same group of murderous thugs who ordered the bombing are still there in Libya.”
William Burns, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, has been meeting with Libyan officials about the case, even after 9/11. The latest meeting took place in London on March 11, as the U.S. was planning a war on Iraq in part over its connections to terrorism. Burns has even met with Musa Kusa, the regime’s foreign intelligence chief who has been called the “Master of Terror.”
Susan Cohen has warned against any deal that lets Libyan dictator Gadhafi or his regime escape responsibility for the 1988 bombing. She says, “My child has been killed by Gadhafi, and I want to see him pay, not rehabilitated.” Of course she means “pay” with his life. If Cheney is correct about a new approach to terrorism, the prospect of rehabilitating Gadhafi after 9/11 makes absolutely no sense. The media should keep the Pan Am 103 case alive and hold the administration accountable. Letting Gadhafi off the hook will make a mockery of the war on terrorism.