Originally created 02/03/01

Pan Am justice not there yet



Was justice done in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people, mostly Americans, 12 years ago over Lockerbie, Scotland?

Probably not, but the trial by a Scottish court in the neutral venue of the Netherlands was, by all accounts, honest, open and respectful of due process.

In 84 days it yielded 10,232 pages of testimony from 235 witnesses - and resulted in the conviction of a senior Libyan intelligence officer, Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 48, and acquittal of the other defendant, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, a Libyan airline official who, according to the three-judge tribunal that heard the case, was a dupe.

Victims' families, understandably, do not regard the verdicts as just. Even if the second defendant was innocent, the punishment for the intelligence officer, given the magnitude of the crime, was much too soft, even for Britain's justice system, which doesn't allow the death penalty.

Al-Megrahi received life in prison, but not really. He'll be eligible for parole in 20 years - hardly a harsh enough penalty to make a well-trained, tough-minded intelligence officer spill his guts to save his hide.

Even so, the real news coming out of the trial is how much of the evidence pointed to higher-ups being the genesis of the deadly sabotage, in particular Libya's cruel, erratic strongman, Moammar Gadhafi.

Full justice may yet be done if the British and U.S. governments continue their investigation, as they say they will. Perhaps they can use some of their own carrot-and-stick intelligence techniques to get Al-Megrahi to talk.

Some are suggesting giving him his freedom right away if he confirms Gadhafi's involvement. But what then? The dictator certainly wouldn't serve himself up to stand trial as he served up Al-Megrahi and Fhimah.

No, but it could persuade the civilized world to impose new and stiffer economic sanctions until he is toppled from power. It was this fear that prompted Ghadafi to turn over the two suspects in the first place.