Saturday, 23 May 2015

Lockerbie as a diplomatic weapon

[What follows is an excerpt from Megrahi's death - An end to a century of mistrust? by Jason Pack of Cambridge University, published on the Aljazeera website on this date in 2012:]

In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in what was the deadliest "modern-style" terrorist attack of the 20th century. Since then, rather than searching for the genuine causes of the tragedy, the US and UK wielded Lockerbie as a diplomatic weapon against Libya. (...)

In the wake of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher - both of whom had long standing personal grievances with Gaddafi - decided to isolate Libya from the international system. They and their successors used Lockerbie as a pretext to pass crippling UN sanctions. From 1992-1999, Libya was literally cut off from the world. International flights into and out of the country were forbidden, GNP dropped by over a third, oil infrastructure rusted and many Libyans grew up nursed by Gaddafi's anti-Imperialist rhetoric.

The economic damage from the sanctions compelled Gaddafi to back away from his support for international terror and to turn over Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (and his co-suspect Lamin Fhima, who was later acquitted) to face a Scottish tribunal at Camp Zeist in Holland. Conclusive evidence has never existed that Megrahi was actually involved in Lockerbie. To this day, many experts believe that he was indicted on fraudulent evidence from a Maltese shopkeeper and that the CIA bribed witnesses.

In 2003, Libya agreed to formally accept responsibility for the bombing, pay over two billion dollars in compensation to victim's families and voluntarily surrender its WMD program. This initiated a limited detente with the West. Yet, the relationship remained plagued by mutual suspicion and backsliding was common.

Gaddafi hoped to receive a warmer embrace from Western leaders and a greater flood of investment. Western diplomats hoped for significant internal political change as a precursor for warmer relations. In August 2009, Megrahi was released on humanitarian grounds from Scottish prison due to a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer. He was accompanied back to Tripoli by Gaddafi's son, Saif al Islam. Cynics claim that the Scots released him to help BP secure a favourable contract.

American anger over the Scottish decision further poisoned US-Libyan relations (...)

Western politicians should bite their tongue and not engage in any grandstanding about Megrahi's passing.

In fact, they should no longer refer to Lockerbie when dealing with the new Libyan leadership. Furthermore, the sensationalist Western media should stop fueling the fire in an attempt to make the Megrahi controversy fresh again. Lockerbie is a decades-old sore. The time has come to stop picking the wound and let it heal.

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