[What follows is excerpted from an article by Robert Fisk headlined How do rogue states get off the ‘terror list’? With cold, hard cash – just like the US and UK published today on the website of The Independent:]
How do you get off a “terrorist” list? It seems that hard cash helps.
Take Sudan. Its ministry of justice has just announced that it’s finalised a February deal with the families of the 17 US sailors killed in the suicide attack on the USS Cole in Aden harbour in October 2000. The dead Americans left 11 children behind them and so the reported $70m (£59m) settlement will care for them too. The relatives claimed that Sudan, under its then war criminal president Omar al-Bashir, had provided support to al-Qaeda, which claimed the attack. (...)
The most interesting aspect of the money to be paid out by Sudan – blood money, in Arab eyes – is that Sudan still does not regard itself as responsible for the Cole attack, or any other “terrorist” act.
The ministry of justice in Khartoum made this quite explicit in its formal statement this week. The agreement was made, it said, “because of the strategic interests of Sudan … so it can remove its name from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.” (...)
The problem in this case is that the precedent is not at all new. Most of us have now forgotten just how Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya got off the “terrorism” hook when – after Tony Blair had slobbered over the crackpot dictator and whose surrender of non-existent nuclear weapons was described as “statesmanship” by then-MP Jack Straw – it paid $1.5bn (£1.2bn) in compensation to victims of the Lockerbie Pan Am bombing (total dead: 270) and an attack on a Berlin disco that killed two US servicemen and a Turkish woman. Interestingly, this arrangement also called for $300m (£240m) in compensation for the Libyan victims of Ronald Reagan’s later airstrikes on Tripoli and Benghazi.
The man later imprisoned in Scotland for the bombing, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi (handed over with another agent by Gaddafi), was later released on compassionate grounds and allowed to return home with prostate cancer. A number of UK relatives of the Lockerbie dead doubted that Megrahi was in any way responsible, especially after they discovered that evidence at the trial did not, on later examination, appear credible. And despite the fact that Libya agreed to the compensation, Gaddafi’s son Saif specifically stated that Libya was not responsible for the Lockerbie bombing. Gaddafi also claimed he had not ordered the atrocity, although one former member of his cabinet – speaking after Gaddafi’s overthrow – said that the dictator was personally involved.
But the money had spoken. Even while still running Libya, Gaddafi’s regime shrugged off any responsibility once cash had been paid. He was only later blasted from power with the help of Nato, and then reaccused of crimes against humanity, including the mass hanging of opponents in Benghazi in the 1970s.
But Gaddafi was killed. Al-Bashir is still alive. (...)
I doubt if al-Bashir will ever come to trial for the bombing of the USS Cole – even if he was guilty by association – and, as we know, Gaddafi could not be made available for any personal prosecution even before his overthrow. The real question is whether nations can be held accountable. And how much “justice” can be seen to be done by financial transfers rather than real trials.
The US has a wad of “terror” accusations against Iran. Lockerbie might well have been one of them if the Americans had not dumped the blame on Gaddafi’s Libya.