- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

The kindest thing one can say about Nelson Mandela's recent visit to convicted Pan Am 103 bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi is that he is loyal to old friends. Unfortunately, in this case his old friend is Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
On the morning of June 11, Mr. Mandela, followed by a horde of reporters, swept into Glasgow's Barlinne pri-son, ostensibly to check up on the conditions under which al-Megrahi is being held.
Barlinne is a grim Victorian edifice and most prisoners there endure hard time. Not so al-Megrahi. He is housed in a private apartment dubbed "Gaddafi's cafe" by other inmates. He has a living room, private toilet and shower, exercise room and a small kitchen. He has access to satellite TV, including Arab TV. His prison conditions are monitored by a U.N. observer. He has regular contact with an array of expensive lawyers and Libyan consular officials. The Gaddafi Foundation has even brought al-Megrahi's family to Glasgow. He is Scotland's most expensive prisoner, costing about $100,000 per year. Remember, this is the guy who blew up an American plane, killing 270 persons.
Mr. Mandela admitted that al-Megrahi was well treated by guards, but complained that he was subjected to "psychological persecution" because other inmates shouted abuse at him from their windows when he took outside exercise and because he was "lonely." Mr. Mandela said al-Megrahi should be allowed to serve the remainder of his sentence in a Muslim nation, where he would feel more at home.
Though Mr. Mandela did not come right out and say that al-Megrahi had been framed, he hinted at that broadly.
This was not Mr. Mandela's first foray into the Pan Am 103 case. He helped broker the 1999 deal that led to al-Megrahi and a co-defendant (who was acquitted) being turned over for trial in the Netherlands before a panel of Scottish judges. The deal also essentially gave Mr. Gaddafi and other high Libyan officials immunity from prosecution and spelled out al-Megrahi's cushy confinement conditions.
The Mandela visit was big news in Britain and in Arab and African countries. It marks the start of Mr. Gaddafi's latest campaign to make the world believe that Libya had nothing to do with the terrorist bombing and the whole "incident" should now be forgotten
Mr. Mandela said that he was going to try and meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush to discuss the case. The British turned down the request, and the White House says they have heard nothing from Mr. Mandela yet. Mr. Mandela's suggestion that the case be reviewed by the Privy Council or the European Court of Human Rights, will probably go nowhere for the moment, but over the next few months, who knows?
Jim Gilchrist, former lead investigator in the bombing, is clearly concerned. He denounced the Mandela visit as conferring the status of a political prisoner on a convicted mass murderer. Mr. Gilchrist noted that the Lockerbie case had seen "a series of political compromises." And, even though the United Kingdom and United States are now saying al-Megrahi will not be released, the Mandela visit "might ease the way to another U-turn."
A week after the Mandela visit, a delegation of senior Libyan politicians visited the prisoner before moving on to London to meet with British politicians and press for his release.
Mr. Mandela has promised to return to Scotland this month to meet with relatives of the bombing victims. It would be the British and Scottish relatives, of course, because some of them don't think Libya did it. Mr. Mandela has shown no interest whatever in seeing relatives of American victims. We have requested a meeting with him. So far no response.
Meanwhile, the Libyans are engineering a massive buy-out of Pan Am 103 victims' families. It will be $10 million to every family, just as soon as all sanctions, international and U.S., are lifted, opening the floodgates for U.S. investment and technology. Libya is supposed to admit responsibility, but watch the diplomats finesse this one.
So everybody wins, right? A mass murderer is restored to the bosom of his family. A vicious dictator is repackaged as a born-again anti-terrorist. Victims' families and their lawyers become rich. American oil companies and Arab diplomats are happy. What's not to like?
The victims? What the hell. The dead can't talk.

Daniel Cohen is the father of Theodora Cohen, one of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing. With his wife, Susan, he is author of "Pan Am 103."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide