- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2000

The trial of two Libyan agents for the bombing of Pan American 103 in 1988 is a legal and moral cover-up for the dictator who rules their country. It was concocted by the five major members of the United Nations, using U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan as their conduit.

The goal was to make sure that Col. Moammar Gadhafi would never face a court himself even if his agents ever are willing to accuse him and sacrifice the lives of their families he holds hostage in Libya. It is even unlikely the cover-up would allow Scottish judges conducting the trail in The Hague to permit such testimony.

In a still-secret letter written to Col. Gadhafi by Mr. Annan and approved by the Big Five beforehand, the Libyan is promised the trial would not be allowed to "undermine" his government. That guarantees him immunity from any attempt to bring him before the bench.

The five have not given Mr. Annan the necessary permission to release the letter. Not one of them wants to make public the letter that betrays the 259 dead Americans, who were returning for the Christmas holidays in 1988, and 11 Scots killed by debris. The victims' families were praying for a verdict that would judge the big shark, not two guppies he sent to stand trial.

Britain, France, China and Russia are not in the habit of giving the public information their governments do not want it to have. And the U.S. stamped the letter "classified." The American public and press should fight determinedly for publication of the letter Washington has hidden. It is locked away by a perversion of the power granted to the government to protect security matters against enemies, not for them.

Why did all those privy to the letter sully themselves and their countries by not having the courage to reveal what they had done to protect Col. Gadhafi against "undermining"? The answer is in the payoff sentence of this sickeningly fascinating letter payoff to Libya and Western suppliers. It "suspends" the U.N. sanctions ordered when the plane was destroyed in the air.

The British say that means they are free to do business with Libya right away, and four countries are doing just that: Britain, China, France and Russia.

With an election approaching, the Clinton administration is embarrassed about what it has done for the Libyan dictator behind American backs. So it says business with Libya largely big oil and construction contracts should wait until there is a verdict about Col. Gadhafi's two agents, who sit in the courtroom in The Hague, dressed in religious clothes of pious white.

As the investigation went on over the years, American and foreign intelligence agencies told me the explosion originally was planned to be carried out by Palestinian terrorists quartered and supplied in Syria, and paid for by the Iranians. That would have made Syria, Iran and leaders of at least two bands of Palestinian terrorists internationally guilty of murder.

U.S. sources say the Germans were getting too close to Syrians and Palestinian conspirators. Then, they say, it was handed off to Libyan agents with explosive expertise who also were conveniently in the same city at the same times.

President George Bush made that line of investigation politically incorrect when he gave Syria the astonishing gift of saying it had received a "bum rap" on PanAm 103. U.S. agencies that dug for evidence to the contrary would be insulting the president.

But to this day they laugh unhappily at the courtroom fairy tale that two Libyan agents could all by themselves planned the bombing, created the explosive and got it aboard. And nobody else in Libya is supposed to have known, including the Libyan intelligence and terror apparatus, which reports straight to Col. Gadhafi. How strange.

A good question from John Bolton, an assistant secretary of state under Mr. Bush: Why did the United States allow the U.N. to take over the case when Washington did not dispute that agents reporting to Col. Gadhafi placed the explosive? Was the Reagan military response bombing Libya to punish its murder of U.S. soldiers in a German disco ever considered? And if so, how seriously and at what level?

The novelist Eric Ambler wrote that the important thing to know is not who fired the shot but who paid for the bullet. For a decade now I have written about PanAm 103, and agreed. Now I realize the most important thing to know is what will be the punishment of those who paid for exploding the plane. The answer is nothing. Nothing.



A.M. Rosenthal is the former executive editor of the New York Times.

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