Accuracy in Media

It was big news that beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad was convicted of murder and could be given the death penalty. Meanwhile, in a case that has received no attention from the U.S. media, a man found guilty of murdering 270 people, including 189 Americans, is living in a comfortable five-room apartment with a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, shower, sitting room, an office with a computer and bookshelves, and entertainment center with television.

His name is Abdel Baset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi. He is a former Libyan intelligence officer convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The luxurious accommodations are in a Scottish prison, where Al Megrahi was sentenced to a term of “life,” which may turn out to be far shorter than that, as little as 20 years.

Secretly filmed video footage that was smuggled out of the prison and handed to the News of the World, Britain’s biggest selling Sunday newspaper, shows that Al Megrahi has facilities that “rival a four-star hotel.” The paper reported that, “Fresh food and meat butchered in accordance with his Muslim faith is delivered for him to prepare himself. Other hot meals are delivered to his rooms.” The paper said that visitors to his suite have included former South African president Nelson Mandela and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mandela was always close to Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi, and Annan brokered the deal that resulted in Al Megrahi and another Libyan being turned over for trial as long as the prosecutors did not pursue the responsibility of Gadhafi and his regime for the terrorist crime. Clinton’s Department of State had originally “classified” the documents outlining the deal to prevent their release.

Critics called it a version of “Let’s make a deal,” and noted that Gadhafi was given, in effect, a “Get out of jail free” card, even though the British government reportedly had evidence that Gadhafi personally ordered the bombing. The deal resulted in U.N. economic sanctions against Libya being lifted. The U.S., however, still maintains sanctions and prohibits investment by U.S. companies in Libya.

The report of Kofi Annan’s meeting with Megrahi was greeted with outrage from Susan Cohen, who lost her daughter in the blast. She asked, “Why is Kofi Annan meeting with a mass murderer in his cell?” She said it is apparent that Annan regards Al Megrahi as a political prisoner who deserves compassion. Susan Cohen and other family members want compassion for their loved ones?the Americans, most of them college students, who were on their way home from studying abroad.

The Bush administration is considering departing from its customary full-year extension of a policy that restricts travel to Libya. Such a move would anger Pan Am 103 family members and many other Americans while we are fighting a global war on terrorism. The Gadhafi regime is one of seven countries still on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and is believed to be developing chemical weapons. But it serves as chairman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission.

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