- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2001

To most Americans, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi represents a past era and vaguely remembered tragedies. But a select few think of the Libyan dictator every day. He is the killer of their closest and dearest loved ones, those who traveled aboard Pan Am flight 103 in 1988, before it was ripped apart by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland. Most of the 270 people killed in the bombing were Americans.

A recent ruling by a Scottish court, which deliberated on the bombing case in the Netherlands, found Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi guilty of murder for his role in the terrorist act. The court determined that Mr. Megrahi was a Libyan intelligence agent "of fairly high rank" and that his activities and movements "form a real and convincing a pattern" that link him to the bombing, beyond a reasonable doubt. Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, a former manager of Libyan Airlines in Malta and Mr. Megrahi's fellow defendant, was told he was "discharged and free to go."

After more than a decade of waiting, the family members of the Lockerbie victims took much solace in the court's justice, even if that justice didn't reach Mr. Gadhafi. And although the court determined that Mr. Megrahi was a Libyan agent, Mr. Gadhafi still refuses to apologize for the bombing or to pay reparations to its victims. Given Mr. Gadhafi recalcitrance, the United States should keep sanctions on Libya in place and pressure the United Nations, which suspended sanctions after the two defendants were turned over in 1999, to do the same.

Prosecutors in the trial were unable to implicate other likely participants in the bombing, such as the clerical regime of Iran. All the same, the court's unanimous indictment of Mr. Megrahi will help the victims' families in their civil case against Mr. Gadhafi. And this trial showed the potential for resolving some acts of terrorism through courts of law, rather than through acts of war. Although the trial is inconclusive in that it doesn't penalize Mr. Gadhafi directly, it did prove, in a fair and impartial arena, the involvement of a Libyan agent in a heinous act of terrorism. The trial focused the world's attention on Mr. Gadhafi's brutality.

Was the justice handed down by the Scottish court more satisfying to the victims' families than an air strike would have been? That undoubtedly depends on whom you ask. There is little that can assuage the pain of losing someone in such an awful fashion, but hopefully, Mr. Megrahi's 20-year sentence will provide some satisfaction. That and keeping the screws on his terrorist sponsor.

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