by Humayun Chaudhry (World, Crescent International Vol. 27, No. 13, Jumada' al-Ula', 1419)
The British foreign Office announced on August 24 that an agreement between the US and Britain had been reached to allow two Libyans accused of the 1988 Lockeribe bombing, to be tried at The Hague, Netherlands. The announcement, a volte face for the US and Britain, comes after much recent press speculation, and in the wake of a heightened media panic gripping the two countries over ‘acts of terrorism.’ As we went to press, Libya welcomed the decision and said it would respond positively to the offer without elaborating.
Since 1991, when Libyans Abdel Basset al-Magrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah were indicted for Pan-Am flight 103 bombing which went down over Lockeribe, Scotland, on December 21, 1988, Libya has rejected Anglo-American demands that the trial take place in Scotland or America. Libya leader colonel Mu’ammer Qaddafi (right) has maintained neither country could guarantee a fair and impartial trial. An alternative proposal, supported by some of the victims’ relatives, was that the pair be tried in a neutral country. This was repeatedly refused by the US and UK governments which had insisted upon total and complete Libyan compliance.
In April 1992, the UN (at the behest of the US) imposed an air and arms embargo on Libya and froze most of the country’s foreign assets. Sanctions on the country’s oil exports, however, were not imposed due to heavy western dependence. For the past six years, the west has tried vigorously to isolate the North African country but support for the Anglo-American stance has withered away. The Libyan economy continues to grow at more than 6 percent annually and relations with African neighbours have remained unchanged. No amount of isolation, pressure, or ‘destabilising’ has had any effect in changing Libya’s position.
UN sanctions have also long been seen by the Arab and African countries as another example of US arrogance, as in the case of Iraq. The Organisation of African Unity, no longer prepared to tolerate sanctions, ceased complying from September last year, along with Husni Mubarak of Egypt who recently visited Libya by breaking the no-flight ban. Even South African president Nelson Mandela saw Qaddafi last October.
According to Dr Jim Swire, a spokesman for the Lockeribe relatives, US and UK policy has all been about ‘requiring the surrender of Libya’ as precedence over any other solution. After all, what better bogey-man than colonel Qaddafi, perhaps the single Muslim dictator who hasn’t been as controlled or used, as Saddam Husain or Husni Mubarak have been. He has been personally targeted many times, most notoriously in the 1986 American bombing of Tripoli, again in 1994 by British Intelligence, according to former British agent David Shayler, and, again, just this past June (see Muslimedia International - Archives - "Qaddafi survives yet another attempt on his life", July 1-15, 1998).
The sudden U-turn, by both Britain and the US is designed less to concede to an impartial and fair trial in a neutral venue and more, in the words of one British newspaper, ‘to regain the whip hand over Libya.’ This perception was confirmed by Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of State, when she admitted that Libyan sanctions had failed and ‘the cause of justice is not being served.’
Coming in the wake of the African embassy bombings and America’s declared war on ‘militant’ Islam, the west’s new strategy will be to use the trial to raise, by association, the dangers of ‘Islamic terrorism’ in all its forms and guises and vindicate Britain and America over accusations that it is not doing enough to prevent ‘terrorism.’ A symbolic step has already been won: the (partial) agreement by Qaddafi to allow the trial to take place in the Hague, Netherlands, home to the International Court of Justice and the International War Crimes Tribunal investigating atrocities in Bosnia, of all places. According to the agreement proposed, the trial will be held under Scottish law, headed by a Scottish judge but with an international panel of judges instead of a jury.
However, a remaining quagmire still persists: all along there have been claims that it was not the Libyans. When the Lockerbie plane crashed, US ‘investigators’ sullied the inquiry within hours when they were reported at the crash site tampering with bodies and evidence, according to British newspapers. It has also been revealed that the US and British authorities were warned of a potential bomb threat, enabling VIPs, including American embassy staff, to cancel bookings on Flight 103.
But not everyone escaped. A CIA officer, major Mckee, was killed in the explosion along with a team of CIA ‘specialists’ who had been involved in the alleged ‘Lebanon hostages’ affair. Even some of the relatives of the bereaved concede that the issue is complicated. ‘We do not see the Libyans as the wicked perpetrators... but some see something much more complicated than that,’ admits Jean Barkwell, who lost her daughter in the crash.
Indeed, the prosecution’s case is shaky, the only thing they have connected to the two accused men is the fact that the bomb is known to have originated from Malta airport where the two men worked, one for airport security and the other for Libyan airlines. All the rest of the ‘evidence’ is circumstantial, yet to be proved. Many independent observers believe that it will not stand up in court.
Perhaps the one sure thing that may come out of a possible trial is that the damage to the Libyan people over the last six years has been significant, the US purpose of whipping up emotional bias against Muslims has been served, and the perpetrators of six years of unjustified sanctions are unlikely even to come to trial.
Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1998