- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2000

In the trial of two Libyans accused of blowing up Pan Am Flight 103, prosecutors have painstakingly presented tens of thousands of sometimes grisly pieces of evidence as victims' family members looked on, reliving anguish that dates to the moment the plane went down 12 years ago. After years of sanctions and diplomatic wrangling, Libya's dictator Moammar Gadhafi finally agreed one year ago to hand over Abdel Basset Ali Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, the two suspected terrorists charged with causing the death of the 259 persons aboard the plane and 11 persons on the ground.

The bomb, allegedly hidden in a Toshiba cassette recorder, exploded with such force that the jetliner left a trail of debris stretching more than 70 miles from Lockerbie, Scotland, to the North Sea. Witnesses from Lockerbie have described the horror that followed the explosion: corpses that fell from the sky and oceans of flame that engulfed their town.

Families sundered in the blast aren't optimistic that the Netherlands court hearing the case will do justice to it. George Williams, president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, is one of many family members who claims to have been told that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan promised Mr. Gadhafi in a letter that the trial would not "undermine" his regime. Many believe that the United States and Britain endorsed this agreement. Presumably, it would limit the scope of the trial, restricting any inquiry that could incriminate Mr. Gadhafi in the bombing. Many family members fear the current process is nothing more than a show trial to end the sanctions imposed on Libya in 1992. Paul Hudson, whose daughter died in the bombing, told Insight magazine, "It's like you convict the trigger man but don't go after the person who ordered the hit."

U.S. and U.N. officials adamantly deny signing onto any such deal with Mr. Gadhafi. But he apparently believes otherwise. Earlier this month, Mr. Gadhafi said in an interview with Britain's Sky TV network that the Netherlands court agreed with the U.S. and British governments "to judge [the two accused Libyans as individuals], not whether they are Libyan agents." He told Sky TV that the Clinton and Blair governments made the deal in return for his handing over the suspects for trial.

The Libyans seem to have a keen understanding of why the United States and other nations would like to put the trial behind them and normalize relations with their country. Ali Triki, Libya's secretary for African unity, said in April, "It was America that started the conflict. That's what happened. But now, with God's guidance, they have returned to their senses. They have realized that they have lost a lot of business opportunities."

Oil company representatives probably didn't need too much divine guidance to realize what they were missing. Speaking at a panel on U.S.-Libya relations, Conoco Senior Vice President J. Michael Stinson said, "We are the ones who have been injured in the name of disciplining Libya." Libyans are producing almost 500,000 barrels a day from Conoco properties and taking all the profits, he added.

Perhaps to rectify this situation, oil companies have contributed handsomely to the Democratic Party, the better to get access to officials who might be receptive to warming relations with Libya. The Center for Public Integrity has found that since 1992, Occidental Petroleum has given more than $470,000 in soft money to various Democratic committees and causes.

But any attempt to manipulate the trial for political purposes would constitute the basest brand of corruption. Out of respect for the dead and the victims' family members, the trial should proceed unfettered. After years of arduous waiting, they deserve nothing less than genuine justice.

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