Letter from America: Col. Gaddafi’s Anticipated Visit of the UN
Remember the words of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who on September 20, 2006, standing before the United Nations General Assembly, said, “Yesterday, the devil came here,” alluding to President George W. Bush’s appearance before the General Assembly?
Chavez continued, “Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.” In case anyone had missed the point, Mr. Chavez drove it home: “Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly.
As the owner of the world.” Those remarks, combined with his hand gestures, will probably never be forgotten by many of our generation. They produced much chuckles and applause in the assembly hall.
Every September, many of the world’s leaders come to New York to address the General Assembly sessions of the United Nations. The 192-member Assembly, U.N.’s supreme policy making body -- much diminished in stature since the 1990s and viewed more like a toothless tiger, has routinely served as a high-profile international theatre for world leaders who take the podium for few minutes to boost their political image back home.
There is rumor in the air that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya is coming to the UN this year. This would be his first visit to the UN. His fellow country man Dr. Ali Abdessalam Treky, Libya’s Secretary for African Union Affairs, has already been elected to serve as the president of the upcoming 64th session of the Assembly.
Like some other controversial leaders, the late Hafez al-Assad of Syria, the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq, and Kim Il Sung of North Korea, Gaddafi had scrupulously avoided the world body all these years. With lifting of the sanctions, easing of tensions between Libya and the West and the ensuing multi-billion dollar trade deals, things have been going rather well for the “brotherly leader and guide of the revolution” from Libya, until recently when his son accompanied Abdel-Baset Ali al-Megrahi – a prisoner released by the Scottish government on humanitarian ground – back to Libya.
So who is Megrahi and why is the West upset about his release? For that we have to turn our clock back to December 21, 1988 when a Boeing 747-121 (Pan Am flight 103) was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Eleven people in Lockerbie in southern Scotland (UK) were killed as large sections of the plane fell in and around the town, bringing total fatalities to 270. Within hours of the plane crash, several groups, including the Ulster Defence League claimed responsibility. However, because of the escalating tension with the USA, fingers were quickly pointed toward known suspects - Libya, Syria, the PLO and Iran as countries that might have sponsored the crime.
After a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway (UK) Constabulary and the FBI (USA), indictments for murder were issued on November 13, 1991 against Abdel-Baset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta.
Libya refused to hand over the suspects, insisting that it would instead try them in its own courts, unless the trial took place in a neutral country -- a position that was also echoed by Nelson Mandela of South Africa who objected to British position by saying: “I have never thought in dealing with this question that it is correct for any particular country to be the complainant, the prosecutor and the judge at the same time.”
Eventually, the UN’s punitive sanctions against Libya and negotiations with the Libyan leader secured the handover of the accused on April 5, 1999 to Scottish police at Camp Zeist, Netherlands, having been chosen as a neutral venue for their trial. On May 3, 2000, the trial of the two Libyans began. On January 31, 2001, a panel of three Scottish judges convicted Megrahi and sentenced him to 27 years in prison. Fhimah was acquitted.
The judgment stated: "From the evidence which we have discussed so far, we are satisfied that it has been proved that the primary suitcase containing the explosive device was dispatched from Malta, passed through Frankfurt and was loaded onto PA103 at Heathrow. It is, as we have said, clear that with one exception the clothing in the primary suitcase was the clothing purchased in Mr. Gauci’s shop on 7 December 1988. The purchaser was, on Mr. Gauci’s evidence, a Libyan. The trigger for the explosion was an MST-13 timer of the single solder mask variety.
A substantial quantity of such timers had been supplied to Libya. We cannot say that it is impossible that the clothing might have been taken from Malta, united somewhere with a timer from some source other than Libya and introduced into the airline baggage system at Frankfurt or Heathrow. When, however, the evidence regarding the clothing, the purchaser and the timer is taken with the evidence that an unaccompanied bag was taken from KM180 to PA103A, the inference that that was the primary suitcase becomes, in our view, irresistible.
As we have also said, the absence of an explanation as to how the suitcase was taken into the system at Luqa is a major difficulty for the Crown case but after taking full account of that difficulty, we remain of the view that the primary suitcase began its journey at Luqa. The clear inference which we draw from this evidence is that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the planting of the explosive device was of Libyan origin. While no doubt organisations such as the PFLP-GC and the PPSF were also engaged in terrorist activities during the same period, we are satisfied that there was no evidence from which we could infer that they were involved in this particular act of terrorism, and the evidence relating to their activities does not create a reasonable doubt in our minds about the Libyan origin of this crime." [Note: both the PFLP-GC and PPSF are Palestinian Marxist groups.]
The Libyan motive for the act is generally attributed to a series of military confrontations with the US Navy that took place in the 1980s in the Gulf of Sidra during Reagan era. In 1981 two Libyan fighter aircrafts patrolling over its territorial waters in the Gulf were shot down by the US Navy. Later two Libyan radio ships were sunk in the Gulf. On March 23, 1986 a Libyan Navy patrol boat was sunk in the Gulf of Sidra, followed by the sinking of another Libyan vessel on March 25, 1986. When on April 5, 1986 a bomb exploded in a West Berlin nightclub, La Belle, which was frequented by American soldiers, killing three and injuring 230, the Libyan leader was accused of retaliating to those sinkings of Libyan boats. On April 15, 1986 President Reagan ordered bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi inside Libya. Among dozens of Libyan military and civilian casualties, the air strikes killed Gaddafi’s adopted daughter.
Megrahi throughout his imprisonment in Greenock Prison maintained that he was innocent of the charges against him in the Pan Am Flight 103 plane crash. His appeal against his conviction was, however, refused on March 14, 2002, and his application to the European Court of Human Rights was declared inadmissible in July 2003. Later that year he applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) for his conviction to be reviewed, and on June 28, 2007 the SCCRC announced its decision to refer the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh after it found he “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.” On August 20, 2009, the Scottish Government released him after serving nearly nine years on compassionate grounds to return to Libya as he was suffering from terminal prostate cancer and had a life expectancy of less than three months.
After he left the Scottish soil, Megrahi released a statement protesting his innocence and expressing his sympathy for the families of the victims he was convicted of killing. Upon his return to Libya, Megrahi was welcomed by hundreds (a very small crowd by Libya’s standard), much to the chagrin of the British government and anger of the victims’ families. Many of the world leaders were also upset with Megrahi’s release from the Scottish prison and the reception he had received in Libya. [Even my own physician, a Jewish American, was upset. Last week, when I met him for my yearly physical checkup, he said, “Can you believe these Scotts? They have released a mass murder who had killed 270 people!” “If I had the gun,” he continued, “I would have killed that b--d. He should have served 270 life-terms and not released for his terminal cancer.”]
Two-thirds of the victims of the Lockerbie plane crash were Americans, which included many students from the north-eastern states. Before their death, 38 victims lived in the state of New Jersey, where Libyan officials were considering setting up a Bedouin-style tent at a Libyan-owned estate in the upscale suburb of Englewood to accommodate Col. Gaddafi and his entourage to attend the upcoming 64th Session of the General Assembly of the UN. Relatives of the victims had threatened to converge on New York to mount a protest when Gaddafi attends the United Nations General Assembly on September 23.
So, it is not difficult to understand why Gaddafi’s anticipated visit to New York and New Jersey has now become a big political debate in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election. The incumbent governor Jon Corzine and New Jersey federal legislators have joined an angry chorus of opposition to Gaddafi’s visit to the state. A columnist with the Star-Ledger wrote, “Moammar Gadhafi, the Libyan dictator, is arguably an accessory to murder... The issue is whether he should be arrested once he sets foot on American soil -- on New Jersey soil.” (August 26, 2009)
However, such an opposition to foreign leader’s visit to attend the UN session is illegal according to the host-nation agreement with the UN, which stipulates that the USA is obligated to allow foreign leaders, other officials and diplomats into the country to visit or work at the UN, with limited exceptions. However, the agreement allows U.S. authorities to restrict their movement to a 25-mile radius around U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. Englewood is 12 miles north of Manhattan, apparently placing it within the 25-mile radius.
The opposition to Gaddafi’s anticipated visit also ignores the fact that the case against Libya and Megrahi was hemmed around flimsy evidences, which led to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh to declare that it “may have suffered a miscarriage of justice.” Many intelligence experts from the CIA and German security service believed that the type of bomb used to blow up the plane came not from Libya, but bore all the hallmarks of the PFLP-GC.
It is true that on 29 May 2002, Libya offered up to $2.7 billion to settle claims by the families of the 270 killed in the Lockerbie bombing, representing $10 million per family. But the payment was made in good faith to lift off economic sanctions against the country. By now opposing Gaddafi’s visit to the USA, these relatives of the victims who had benefited personally from such big pay-offs are now setting a new standard in hypocrisy. If they had the moral higher ground, they should have denied the big pay-offs from Libya years ago. That would have been honorable and fair.
No less hypocritical is the stand of Robert Mueller, the ex-CIA director, who wrote a scathing letter to Kenny MacAskill, Scotland's justice secretary, for allowing Abdel-Baset Ali Al Megrahi to return to Libya. The director said the decision made “a mockery of justice” and gives comfort to terrorists around the world, according to US reports.
In response, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The US authorities indicated that although they were opposed to both prisoner transfer and compassionate release, they made it clear that they regarded compassionate release as far preferable to the transfer agreement, and Mr. Mueller should be aware of that. Mr. Mueller was involved in the Lockerbie case, and therefore has strong views, but he should also be aware that while many families have opposed Mr. MacAskill’s decision many others have supported it.”
Nor should we be oblivious of the victims of the Iran Air Flight 655 (IR655) that was shot down by the US Navy on July 3, 1988 over the Strait of Hormuz, inside the Iranian territorial waters. The civilian aircraft, an Airbus A300B2, was flying from Bandar Abbas, Iran, to Dubai, UAE, when it was destroyed by the U.S. Navy’s guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard, including 66 children, ranking it the among the deadliest airliner fatalities. The Vincennes was traversing the Straits of Hormuz inside Iranian territorial waters and at the time of the attack, IR655 was within Iranian airspace. As part of an agreement, reached in 1996, relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, the United States agreed to pay only $61.8 million in compensation for the Iranians killed ($300,000 per wage-earning victim, $150,000 per non-wage-earner).
The amount paid by the US government is peanuts compared to that made by Libya. In a show of typical arrogance, the USA also did not admit responsibility or apologize to the Iranian government. [Digression: The US forces have not paid anything to most of its civilian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan. And even when payments were made in some rare cases, the maximum payment was just couple of thousand dollars per victims.] In a July 13, 1992 article, Newsweek reporters John Barry and Roger Charles noted that Captain William C. Rogers III had acted recklessly and without due care. They also accused the U.S. government of a cover-up which Admiral Crowe denied. (Three years after the incident, Admiral William J. Crowe admitted on American (ABC) television show Nightline that the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters when it launched the missiles. This contradicted earlier Navy statements that were misleading if not incorrect.)
An analysis of the events by the International Strategic Studies Association described the deployment of an Aegis cruiser in the zone as irresponsible and felt that the expense of the ship had played a major part in the setting of a low threshold for opening fire. The Vincennes had been nicknamed “Robocruiser” by crew members and other US Navy ships, both in reference to its Aegis system and aggressive tendencies of its trigger-happy captain.
CIA’s ex-director Muller’s recent remarks are symptomatic of selective amnesia when we notice that in 1990 Captain Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit “for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989.” (Note: The award was given for his service as the Commanding Officer of the Vincennes, and the citation made no mention of the downing of IR655.)
I have never been an admirer of the Libyan strongman. But I am not sorry to stating that all this fuss around Megrahi’s release from the Scottish prison and opposition to Gaddafi’s anticipated appearance in the UN is nothing but blatant hypocrisy. Much that we may hate to admit, by paying handsomely the victims of terrorism, both at home and abroad, Gaddafi has set a higher standard than the USA on a comparable basis. For years, when the USA and Israel were Apartheid South Africa’s best friends, Gaddafi was a trusted comrade of Nelson Mandela’s ANC. He has more rights than any of the Israeli leaders that have had attended the UN General Assembly. If Governor Corzine (NJ) and Mayor Bloomberg (NYC) had no problem in letting such mass murderers to enter New Jersey and New York City, they should not set a double-standard now for Libya’s Gaddafi.
- Asian Tribune -